Stono Rebellion 1739 (see textbook pages 133-140)


“Throughout the 18th century, by far the most North American slaves lived in Virginia or Maryland….But the highest proportion of enslaved workers lived in South Carolina, where Africans began outnumbering Europeans as early as 1708. By 1750 this black majority constituted more than 60 percent of the colony’s population. Almost all had arrived through…Charleston” (Jones p. 135). Many of these West African slaves were from the Gambia River region and brought with them the knowledge and skills of rice cultivation; because of their know-how, rice became South Carolina’s staple crop.

“Outnumbered by their enslaved workers, South Carolina’s landowners passed strict Negro Acts patterned after those of the Caribbean. Legislation prohibited slaves from carrying guns, meeting in groups, raising livestock, or traveling without a pass…. Everywhere, patrols enforced the regulations with brutal severity. [In the face of these restrictions] in South Carolina and elsewhere, enslaved African Americans pushed against the narrow boundaries of their lives…. and used every possible means to negotiate slivers of freedom.” (Jones p. 135).

In the early 18th century they were two major waves of slave uprisings and revolts across the American colonies, including plots for uprisings that were discovered before they could be carried out. See pages 135 and 136 for descriptions of planned revolts in Louisiana, South Carolina, and New York.


The largest slave uprising in colonial North America was the Stono Rebellion outside of Charleston. Several factors may have sparked the rebellion

(a) by 1739 blacks outnumbered whites in South Carolina 2 to 1

(b) working conditions & slave restrictions had worsened steadily as rice production increased and the importation of enslaved workers increased

(c) for decades Spanish Florida, specifically St. Augustine and Fort Mose, offered escaped slaves the rights and privileges of Spanish subjects

(d) in 1739, right before the rebellion erupted, word had spread that England and Spain were at war (this was part of the Seven Years War)

Early on a Sunday morning in 1739 a band of 20 slaves (from a work crew on the Stono River) broke into a local store to seize weapons. Armed, these men marched south, burning selected plantations, executing selected whites, and gathering about fifty more slave recruits. (These men did not kill indiscriminately – for example, a white slave-owning innkeeper was spared because he was known to be kind – in another case, slaves hid their master from the rebels). On their way to Florida, the rebel slaves were halted by armed white colonists who killed about half of the slave rebels. The other half who managed to flee were tracked down during the next six months by Indians hired by the white colonists and executed (one man remained at large for 3 years). Another Negro Act was quickly finalized and approved after rebellion. No longer would slaves be allowed to grow their own food, assemble in groups, earn their own money, or learn to read. Some of these restrictions had been in effect before, but had not been strictly enforced. The fear that the Stono Rebellion inspired in white colonists led to increasingly repressive slave restrictions throughout the South.