Twenty Black Carolinians Meet Near The Stono River

Early on the morning of Sunday, September 9, 1739, twenty black Carolinians met near the Stono River, approximately twenty miles southwest of Charleston.

At Stono's bridge, they took guns and powder from Hutcheson's store and killed the two storekeepers they found there. "With cries of 'Liberty' and beating of drums," historian Peter H. Wood writes in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, "the rebels raised a standard and headed south toward Spanish St. Augustine…Along the road they gathered black recruits, burned houses, and killed white opponents, sparing one innkeeper who was 'kind to his slaves.'" Thus commenced the Stono Rebellion, the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution.

Late that afternoon, planters riding on horseback caught up with the band of sixty to one hundred slaves. More than twenty white Carolinians and nearly twice as many black Carolinians were killed before the rebellion was suppressed. As a consequence of the uprising, white lawmakers imposed a moratorium on slave imports and enacted a harsher slave code.

Slaves frequently resorted to insurrection, first in the British colonies and later in the southern United States. At least 250 insurrections have been documented; between 1780 and 1864, ninety-one African-Americans were convicted of insurrection in Virginia alone. The first revolt in what became the United States took place in 1526 at a Spanish settlement near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in South Carolina.

The Stono Rebellion (sometimes called Cato's Conspiracy or Cato's Rebellion) was a slave rebellion begun on Sunday, September 9, 1739, in the colony of South Carolina. It was the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution. One of the earliest known organized rebellions in the present United States, it was led by native Africans who were Catholic and likely from the kingdom of Kongo, and some of whom spoke Portuguese. Jemmy (referred to in some reports as "Cato") was a literate slave who led 20 other enslaved Kongolese, who may have been former soldiers, in an armed march south from the Stono River (for which the rebellion is named). They recruited nearly 60 other slaves and killed 22-25 whites before being intercepted by a South Carolina militia near the Edisto River. In that battle, 20 whites and 44 slaves were killed, and the rebellion was suppressed. A group of slaves escaped and traveled another 30 miles before battling a week later with a militia; most of the slaves were executed; a few survived to be sold to the West Indies.

In response, the South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Act of 1740 restricting slave assembly, education and movement. It also enacted a 10-year moratorium against importing African slaves, and established penalties against slaveholders' harsh treatment of slaves. It required legislative approval for manumissions, which slaveholders had previously been able to arrange privately.