In September 1739, 20 slaves, led by a man known as Jemmy, gathered on the banks of the Stono river near Charleston, in the colony of South Carolina. Carrying a banner bearing the word ‘Liberty’, they attacked a local store, killing its owner and seizing weaponry. More slaves joined Jemmy’s faction and he led them south towards the colony’s border with Spanish Florida, at that time a haven for escapees. On the way they burned plantations and killed more than 20 whites.
The insurrection ended in a pitched battle between the slaves and the well-armed local militia in which most of the rebels were killed. Nearly all of those slaves who survived the melee were executed later. The rebellion, sometimes known as Cato’s Conspiracy, was the largest slave uprising in the history of colonial America, and one of the earliest. Insurrection by slaves on the continent dates back as far as 1526, when African workers brought to what’s now Georgia rose up against the Spanish colonists.