September 9th, 1739

Enslaved Black People Rebel in South Carolina Colony

During the eighteenth century, the South Carolina colony’s economy was based on rice and cotton, which relied heavily on slave labor. Due to the slave trade that brought many black laborers from West Africa and the Caribbean, the territory’s enslaved black population outnumbered the white population in the 1730s. 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 blacks who fled bondage in English colonies for Florida.

Possibly motivated by Spain’s promises, a literate, enslaved African known as Jemmy, along with at least twenty other Africans enslaved in South Carolina, planned to rebel. Jemmy and his comrades were natives of the Kingdom of Kongo, a central African nation that practiced Catholicism, and sharing a common religion with the Spanish may have helped motivate their preference for Florida. The rebels planned to attack plantations on a Sunday, when their white captors were most likely to be unprepared.

On September 9, 1739, the group met by the Stono River and began their attack at a store near the Stono River Bridge, killing two whites and taking firearms. The group of rebels grew to over 80 people, who burned seven plantations and killed more than twenty whites. They were then confronted by a militia and in the ensuing fight, forty-four rebels were killed, along with twenty militia men. Most of the surviving rebels were executed, and the rest were sold to planters in the West Indies. The uprising, which came to be known as “Cato’s Rebellion” or “Stono’s Rebellion,” was the largest uprising of enslaved blacks in the American colonies prior to the American Revolution.