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Stono Rebellion

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Stono Rebellion

As the population of enslaved Africans in the American colonies grew in the late 1600s and early 1700s, so did the social anxiety of the white farmers, planters, and plantation owners who controlled these enslaved peoples' labor production and lives. Their concern stemmed from racial fear, cultural differences, and the enslaved population outnumbered white colonists. These anxieties and worries came to fruition in the Stono Rebellion. What happened in this rebellion, when was it, and how significant was this rebellion for enslaved people? Let's find out.

Stono Rebellion Definition

The Stono Rebellion was a significant slave rebellion in South Carolina in 1739 near River Stono. It was not only a large rebellion but the largest in the history of the American Colonies.

Its causes and effects are an essential case study into the treatment of enslaved people and the tensions in the colonies.

Stono Rebellion A map of the Stono River region of South Carolina StudySmarterA map of the Stono River region of South Carolina. Library of Congress

Stono Rebellion Causes

By the early 1700s, in plantation areas of the colonies that grew sugarcane, rice, and other high labor crops, the ratio of enslaved Africans to European colonists was eight to one. Enslavers imposed harsh restrictions and punishments on enslaved Africans to maintain control over them. Most enslaved people were not allowed or able to be educated, accumulate material possessions, or create associations with other enslaved people.

Stono Rebellion: Treatment of Enslaved Africans

Enslaved Africans who challenged these restrictions did so with the possibility of severe punishment. White planters punished enslaved people who refused to work through physical violence; others turned to the dismemberment of toes, feet, fingers, hands, or ears.

The extent of white violence depended on the size and density of the enslaved population. In the northern colonies, where there were fewer enslaved Africans, white violence was sporadic. However, plantation owners and overseers in the sugar and rice-growing areas, where Africans outnumbered whites, routinely whipped assertive enslaved people.

Enslavers prohibited their workers from leaving the plantation without special passes and called on poor white neighbors to patrol the countryside at night for those enslaved people attempting to run away.

Enslaved people dealt with their plight in several ways:

  • Some newly arrived Africans fled to the frontier, where they established traditional villages to marry into Indigenous tribes.
  • American-born Black people adopted English as their primary language as they fled to other towns to pass as free men and women.
  • Africans who remained enslaved often bargained with their masters over the terms of their enslavement; some bartered extra work for better food and clothing; others seized small privileges such as books and dared the master to revoke them.
  • In this way, Sundays gradually became a day of rest- asserted as a right, leaning on a master’s Christianity, rather than granted as a privilege.
  • Other Africans, provoked beyond endurance, killed their owners or overseers. In the 1760s, an enslaved person in Virginia killed four white planters, and other small plots to kill owners were successful.
  • Some Africans even planned all-out revolts and uprisings. These uprisings and rebellions have been studied extensively by historians of abolition and social historians.

Stono Rebellion: The Promise of Freedom

The governor of the Spanish colony of Florida bordering South Carolina contributed to the Stono Rebellion by promising freedom to fugitive slaves.

The governors of Spanish Florida instigated unrest in the southern colonies to force England to use resources to quell the issues. At the time, Spain and England were at odds over trade, and Spain explored ways to disrupt that trade. Fugitive slaves who made it to Florida would be granted freedom in exchange for service in the Spanish militia and converting to Catholicism. By February 1739, at least sixty-nine enslaved people had escaped to St. Augustine in Florida.1

In September, before the Rebellion took place, the War of Jenkins Ear (1739-1741) broke out between England and Spain, further encouraging the governor of Florida to cause issues in the English colonies.

The Stono Rebellion 1739

The rebellion occurred on Sunday, 9 September, which is significant as Sunday was the enslaved people's day of rest. Let's look at how the rebellion played out.

  • Around twenty enslaved people, led by a slave named Jeremy, seized guns and ammunition from a local store, killing the storekeepers and nearby planter families.
  • Many of these enslaved people were from the Kongo and had military experience - decades of slave raiding in their home region of Central Africa had militarized the society.
  • The rebels began the march to Florida with military drums accompanying them.
  • Other enslaved people from the area joined them to find refuge in the Spanish colony.
  • By midday, white colonists in the area had sounded the alarm. In the late afternoon, a militia troop caught up with the fugitives, then numbering about one hundred, and attacked them, killing some and dispersing the rest.
  • The white colonists finally captured most of the remaining rebels a week later. Many were killed on the spot, others executed later, but there were rumors of rebels still at large for more than two years after the rebellion.
  • More than 20 white colonists were killed, and around 50 slaves were killed in the rebellion.

What were the effects of this violent slave rebellion?

The Effects of the Stono Rebellion

Stono Rebellion, Drawing that shows the execution of people for conspiring the burn down of New York, StudySmarterIn 1741, authorities in the Province of New York executed 34 people for conspiring to burn down the city. Thirteen African men were burned at the stake and another seventeen black men, two white men, and two white women were hanged. An additional seventy blacks and seven whites were banished from the city.

The Stono Rebellion shocked white South Carolinians and residents of other colonies.

It was especially shocking when coupled with the history of a revolt in New York City in 1712, during which about twenty enslaved Africans set fire to a building, killing nine white colonists and others who came to put out the fire. The Stono Rebellion contributed to the paranoia of the 1741 New York Conspiracy. The white population was convinced enslaved people and poor white people were conspiring to burn down the city. Thirty black people and four white people were executed, with around eighty more people exiled.

The Stono Rebellion exemplified the precariousness of white colonists clinging to power over their slaves. In reaction to these revolts and growing fears, white colonists cut the imports of newly enslaved people and tightened plantation discipline and slave codes of conduct.

Responses to the Stono Rebellion

White colonists, especially in the south, were all too aware that the enslaved people they had brought to the colonies outnumbered them eight to one. To combat these fears, plantation owners increased the harshness of their disciplinary actions against unruly enslaved people. Many choose to afflict great harm on one individual as an example for others instead of mass physical violence.

Notably, in 1740, the "Negro Act" was introduced in South Carolina in direct response to the rebellion. Under this act, enslavers were allowed to kill any rebellious slaves. The act also forbade enslaved people to:

  • assemble in groups,
  • grow their own food,
  • earn money,
  • move abroad,
  • learn to write.

In addition, there was a systematic culture change in how plantation owners “civilized” their enslaved labor. A more concerted effort was made to eradicate their language and customs. It became the practice for masters to create a psychological environment that forced people to forget family ties by:

  • selling away family members,
  • forcing a new colonial name on enslaved people,
  • forcing conversion to Christianity as a method of breaking language and culture.

However, many enslaved Africans defiantly held on to their language, customs, and religions for as long as they could.

Many Southern plantation owners also began to adopt the practice of northern planters of purchasing more female enslaved labor to produce more slaves naturally within their plantation and purchase fewer imported slaves. Though there was a decline in the importation of newly enslaved people between 1750 and 1808, this period still saw approximately 100,000 to 250,000 new slaves imported from Africa and the Caribbean.

Stono Rebellion - Key Takeaways

  • As the population of enslaved Africans in the American colonies grew in the late 1600s and early 1700s, so did the social anxiety of the white farmers, planters, and plantation owners who owned and controlled these enslaved people.

  • Planters whipped enslaved people who refused to work; others turned to the dismemberment of toes, feet, fingers, hands, or ears—the extent of white violence depended on the size and density of the enslaved population.

  • Around 100 Africans rose in revolt in 1739. Initially, around 20 slaves seized guns and ammunition from a local store and killed storekeepers and nearby planter families. More slaves later joined this group. Many of these Africans were from the Kongo and demonstrated their skills as soldiers due to decades of slave raiding.

  • The rebellion was stopped by a white militia, with many African rebels being killed or executed for their role in the revolt.

  • The reaction of the white colonists to this rebellion is telling of their fear of an uprising. Plantation owners increased the harshness of their disciplinary actions against unruly slaves. Policies about the conduct of enslaved Africans were also made more strict.


1. Henretta, J. A., & Brody, D. (2009). America: A Concise History, Combined Volume. Bedford/St. Martin’s., pg 84.

Frequently Asked Questions about Stono Rebellion

The Stono Rebellion was the largest slave revolt in the British colonies. Up to one hundred enslaved Africans in South Carolina rebelled against their owners, killing many, and then attempted to march to Spanish-controlled Florida where fugitive slaves would be granted freedom. The revolt was quelled by a militia and many of the rebels were killed. 

The Stono rebellion took place on September 9, 1739.

The causes of the Stono Rebellion were the changes in the treatment of the enslaved Africans in South Carolina and the Spanish governor in Florida proposing freedom to fugitive slaves from the American Colonies. 

The Stono Rebellion was led by a slave named Jeremy, who, along with approximately twenty other Kongoese slaves, revolted against their captors. Along their march to Florida, they were joined by other fugitive slaves, numbering up to one hundred total before they were stopped. 

The impact of the Stono rebellion was threefold. First, there was a change and increase in the violence and disciplinary measures used to punish rebellious enslaved Africans, as a method of controlling the enslaved population through fear. Second, there was an increase in disciplinary codes and practices to keep control over the enslaved population. Third, there was a decline in the importation of new slaves as plantation owners centralized control over their enslaved labor. 

Final Stono Rebellion Quiz

Question

True or False: the Stono Rebellion was the first uprising of enslaved Africans in the British American Colonies

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Answer

False

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Question

What year did the Stono Rebellion take place?

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Answer

1739

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Question

Which of the following was the most influential factor in Jeremy and other enslaved Africans rebelling against their South Carolinian captors?


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Answer

Their violent treatment and disciplinary actions towards slaves

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Question

Which of the following was a practice of slave owners in the northern colonies that was later adopted more fully by southern plantation owners?


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Answer

The practice of using enslaved women to produce newly enslaved people born in the American colonies

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Question

Which of the following best describes the influence of the changing disciplinary measures southern plantation owners used on their enslaved labor after the Stono Rebellion?


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Answer

Southern plantation owners increased the violence in which they disciplined infractions, usually choosing to do much harm to a few individuals as a means of warning the others

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Question

In what year did a revolt in New York City results in the burning down of a building and the deaths of approximately nine white colonists at the hands of rebelling enslaved Africans?


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Answer

1741

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Question

Which of the following could be considered an immediate reaction to the Stono Rebellion and the rising fears of a slave uprising?


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Answer

The New York scare of 1741

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Question

Where did the Stono Rebellion originate?


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Answer

The American Colony of South Carolina

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Question

Which of the following was most influential in the initial violent success of the Stono Rebellion?


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Answer

The fugitive slaves were of Congolese origin, a nation in Africa that had been militarized by conflict, so they had some military experience

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Question

Use the Following Primary Source to Answer the following Multiple Choice Questions: 


“….On the 9th day of September last being Sunday which is the day the Planters allow them to work for themselves, Some Angola Negroes assembled, to the number of Twenty; and one who was called Jemmy was their Captain, they surprised a Warehouse belong to Mr. Hutchenson at a place called Stonehow [Stono]; they there killed Mr. Robert Bathurst, and Mr. Gibbs, plundered the House and took a pretty many small Arms and Powder, which were here for Sale. Next they plundered and burnt Mr. Godfrey’s house, and killed him, his Daughter and Son. They then turned back and marched Southward along Pons Pons, which is the road through Georgia to Augustine, they passed Mr. Wallace’s Tavern towards day break, and said they would not hurt him, for he was a good Man and king to his slaves, but they broke open and plundered Mr. Lemy’s House and killed him, his wife, and child. They marched on towards Mr. Rose’s resolving to kill him, but he was saved by a Negroe, who having hid him went out and pacified the others…”


-The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia on the Stono Rebellion (1739)


The events described in the primary source above were primarily caused by:

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Answer

The dehumanizing nature of slavery

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Question

Use the Following Primary Source to Answer the following Multiple Choice Questions: 


“….On the 9th day of September last being Sunday which is the day the Planters allow them to work for themselves, Some Angola Negroes assembled, to the number of Twenty; and one who was called Jemmy was their Captain, they surprised a Warehouse belong to Mr. Hutchenson at a place called Stonehow [Stono]; they there killed Mr. Robert Bathurst, and Mr. Gibbs, plundered the House and took a pretty many small Arms and Powder, which were here for Sale. Next they plundered and burnt Mr. Godfrey’s house, and killed him, his Daughter and Son. They then turned back and marched Southward along Pons Pons, which is the road through Georgia to Augustine, they passed Mr. Wallace’s Tavern towards day break, and said they would not hurt him, for he was a good Man and king to his slaves, but they broke open and plundered Mr. Lemy’s House and killed him, his wife, and child. They marched on towards Mr. Rose’s resolving to kill him, but he was saved by a Negroe, who having hid him went out and pacified the others…”


-The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia on the Stono Rebellion (1739)


Which of the following examples is a continuation of the efforts described in the excerpt?


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Answer

Colonial legislatures began passing laws restricting the liberties of slaves

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