9 September 1739

The Stono Rebellion is the biggest revolt of its kind in British North America


Early in the morning of 9 September 1739, almost two dozen men gathered in the fields near the Stono river, some 20 miles south-west of Charleston, South Carolina. All of them were slaves. Their self-appointed leader was known as Jemmy; contemporaries called him ‘Angolan’, but he had probably been shipped west from the kingdom of Kongo, in central Africa. It was Jemmy who had roused his fellows by appealing to their thirst for freedom; it was probably also Jemmy who gave them their motto, ‘Liberty!’

At first, Jemmy and his fellows made good progress. Their first move was to raid Hutchenson’s Stores at the nearby Stono River Bridge, where they killed two men and stole a large consignment of guns and ammunition. Heading south, they paused to burn the white residents’ houses as they passed, killing somewhere between 20 and 30 people. Tellingly, they spared the man who kept Wallace’s Tavern, because he was known to be relatively kind to his own slaves.

By midday, the fugitives’ numbers had swollen to between 50 and 100. Whenever they encountered whites, they generally killed them. One who got away, though, was the state’s lieutenant governor, William Bull, who rode off to raise the local militia. The next day, Bull’s men caught up with the slaves near the Edisto river. There, he reported to London, his men “killed and took so many as to put a stop to any further mischief at that time, 44 of them have been killed and executed”. The rest, he wrote, “remain concealed in the woods expecting the same fate”.

None of the fugitives made it all the way to Spanish Florida and freedom. Within a couple of weeks, all had been either killed or captured. So ended one of the greatest slave rebellions in the history of British America.

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