On this daySep 09, 1739
Enslaved Black People Rebel in South Carolina Colony
On September 9, 1739, African people enslaved in the colony of South Carolina staged an uprising known as the Stono Rebellion. At the time, the South Carolina colony’s economy was based on rice and cotton, and those crops relied heavily on enslaved labor. The slave trade trafficked many kidnapped black people from West Africa and the Caribbean, and by the 1730s, South Carolina's enslaved black population outnumbered the white population.
At the same time, Spain and England were in dispute over their claims to North American territories; Spain controlled Florida and, in an effort to undermine the English colonies’ supply of enslaved labor, promised land and freedom to black people who fled bondage in English colonies for Florida. Possibly motivated by these promises, a literate, enslaved African known as Jemmy joined with at least twenty other Africans enslaved in South Carolina to plan a rebellion.
Jemmy and his comrades were natives of the Kingdom of Kongo, a central African nation that practiced Catholicism; as they made plans to fight back against the dehumanizing and brutal system of chattel slavery, the Africans may have also been attracted to Florida as a destination because they shared a common religion with the Spanish.
On September 9, 1739, the rebels gathered by the Stono River. They began the attack at a store near the Stono River Bridge, killing two white people and seizing firearms. Their forces soon grew to more than eighty people, as they moved through the area burning plantations and killing more than twenty white people. When the militia arrived to defend the colony, a bloody fight killed forty-four rebels and twenty militiamen. After the uprising was put down, most of the surviving rebels were executed, and the rest were sold to planters in the West Indies.
Though defeated, Stono's Rebellion was the largest uprising of enslaved black people in the American colonies prior to the American Revolution and inspired resistance among enslaved black people for generations afterward. Rebellions, revolts, and running away were just some of the ways that black people asserted their humanity and fought against enslavement in America.