On this day in 1739 , the Stono Rebellion (sometimes called Cato’s Conspiracy or Cato’s Rebellion) erupted near Charleston, South Carolina, becoming the largest slave rebellion in the Thirteen Colonies.
The uprising took place among African-born slaves, most likely from the Kingdom of Kongo, led by a literate slave named Jemmy (referred to in some reports as “Cato”). He and 20 other enslaved Kongolese, possibly former soldiers, obtained arms and marched south from the Stono River to Spanish-ruled Florida, where they were promised freedom and land at St. Augustine. (Spain’s made such offer to British owned slaves in an effort to destabilize their rivals hold on North America.)
Along the way, Cato and his men recruited another 60 or so slaves, burned seven plantations, and killed 20–25 whites, before being intercepted and defeated by the South Carolina. Some of them managed to escaped and travel another 30 miles before battling with the militia a week later. Most of the survivors were executed, with a few sold to the West Indies.
The rebellion, which was far deadlier than most others, led South Carolina to pass the Negro Act of 1740, which restricted the assembly, education, and movement of slaves; ceased the importation of African slaves for at least a decade; and established penalties against slaveholders’ harsh treatment of slaves (which was recognized to have been a major catalyst for the uprising). Slaveholders were also barred from freeing their slaves without legislative approval first.
Learn more about this and other slave rebellions in American history here.