Stono Rebellion (1739)

The Stono Rebellion Roadside Marker
Stono Rebellion road marker, South Carolina, July 2009
Photo by Henry of Saussure Copeland (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On Sunday, September 9th, 1739 the British colony of South Carolina was shaken by a slave uprising that culminated with the death of sixty people. Led by an Angolan named Jemmy, a band of twenty slaves organized a rebellion on the banks of the Stono River. After breaking into Hutchinson’s store the band, now armed with guns, called for their liberty.  As they marched, overseers were killed and reluctant slaves were forced to join the company. The band reached the Edisto River where white colonists descended upon them, killing most of the rebels.  The survivors were sold off to the West Indies.

The immediate factors that sparked the uprising remain in doubt. A malaria epidemic in Charlestown, which caused general confusion throughout Carolina, may have influenced the timing of the Rebellion.  The recent (August 1739) passage of the Security Act by the South Carolina Colonial Assembly may also have played a role. The act required all white men to carry firearms to church on Sunday. Thus the enslaved leaders of the rebellion knew their best chance for success would be during the time of the church services when armed white males were away from the plantations.

After the Stono Rebellion South Carolina authorities moved to reduce provocations for rebellion.  Masters, for example, were penalized for imposing excessive work or brutal punishments of slaves and a school was started so that slaves could learn Christian doctrine.  In a colony that already had more blacks than whites, the Assembly also imposed a prohibitive duty on the importation of new slaves from Africa and the West Indies.  Authorities also tightened control over the enslaved.  The Assembly enacted a new law requiring a ratio of one white for every ten blacks on any plantation and passed the Negro Act of 1740 which prohibited enslaved people from growing their own food, assembling in groups, earning money they, rather than their owners, could retain or learning to read.