Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Stono Rebellion, 1739

In September 1739, an event greatly feared by most white colonials took place twenty miles from Charleston, South Carolina: the slaves in the region revolted. A small group of them broke into a store, stole the store's supply of guns and ammunition, and murdered the store's owner. The severed head of the slain merchant was left on the steps of his store.

The slaves, now equipped with a deadly arsenal, headed south toward Florida. The slaves no doubt thought that if they could move through South Carolina and Georgia and into Spanish-controlled territory, they would be free of the shackles of slavery. As the rebellious slaves traveled, they were joined by like-minded slaves who were willing to fight for freedom. They killed more whites. Soon, the rebellious slaves numbered between sixty and one hundred.

Even though white South Carolinians were always apprehensive about slaves, the size of this slave revolt, which was called the Stono Rebellion, called for a collective response from plantation owners. About one hundred of them moved south to head off the slaves and to keep them from increasing the size of their forces. When the white planters encountered the main body of slaves, a battle ensued between the two groups, and the whites successfully halted most of the rebellious slaves. More than twenty whites and forty slaves were left dead. Even though small groups of slaves continued the rebellion and the quest to reach Florida, the insurrection was doomed.

When the fighting and revolt ended, the South Carolina legislature quickly enacted a harsh slave code and granted total immunity to anyone

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