The Stono Rebellion of 1739 was known as the largest slave rebellion in history before the American Revolution.
The South Carolina revolt was led by native Africans of the Congo, one in particular named Jemmy, a.k.a. Cato. Jemmy formed a mob of 100 slaves, many who were soldiers. They would eventually slay over 40 whites before being intercepted.
Their actions would lead to the Negro Slave Act of 1740, which barred any large gathering of slaves in assembly or education or the growing of their own food. However, the law also stopped slave importation from Africa for 10 years.
With promises of freedom in south Spanish Florida and the spread of malaria that weakened the masters’ families of the area, then was a good time for revolt.
Not to mention, slaves in South Carolina had outnumbered masters two to one.
On Sept. 9, 1739, the celebrated day of the Virgin Mary’s nativity, Jemmy gathered 20 slaves near the Stono River and began a march while holding a sign that read “Liberty!”
The group chanted and marched to a local store, where they killed two storekeepers and hung their heads in front of the store after stealing ammunition.
As the chanting slaves made their way to Florida, they nearly captured the state’s lieutenant governor.
Jemmy and his group gathered 80 more rebels, burned seven plantations and killed the 20-plus whites who got in the way.
One day later, an angry mob of slavemasters caught up with them, killing about 44 blacks. But in the midst of their battle at Edisto River, over 20 more whites were killed.
The remaining white slaveowners mounted the heads of the slaves on stakes along the roads to serve as a symbol. Indians were hired to capture the remaining slaves, who were executed.
South Carolina is now the home of the Stono River Slave Rebellion Site at Hutchinson’s warehouse, where the revolt began.
It was declared a national historic landmark in 1974.
Below are excerpts from two books on the rebellion.
“The fears of the Stono residents would never be entirely stilled, and the colony would never be quite as comfortable with its peculiar institution after the uprising. Two years after the Stono violence, the assembly composed a report on South Carolina’s part in the invasion of Spanish Florida. The expedition had not gone well, and Florida remained in Spanish hands, but the assembly had a ready scapegoat: Stono.”–From “Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739,” by Peter Charles Hoffer.
“Whether they killed the insurgent slaves immediately upon encountering them, after slow torture, or following a court trial, the planters performed the same spectacular violent ritual. Obsessively, collectively, they chopped off the heads of the slave corpses and put them on display. By the end of January, around 100 dismembered bodies decorated the levee from the Place d’Armes in the center of New Orleans forty miles along the River Road into the heart of the plantation district.”–From “American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt,” by Daniel Rasmussen.
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