A quick history of slave revolts in South Carolina



The historic roots of Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been mentioned quite a bit over the last few days given the tragedy that happen there. The deep roots of the church have also been mentioned quite a bit, but not much have been said about Denmark Vesey, one the founding members of the historic church as well as the slave rebellion(s) that happen in South Carolina. Vesey rebellion, if carried out, would of been one of the largest seen in North America. This rebellion would follow in the footsteps of one of the most famous rebellions in North America history, the Stono Rebellion. Below is a quick history of Denmark Vesey and the Stono Rebellion.

Denmark Vesey

Vesey, who was free through  purchasing his freedom from a lottery winning  was a skilled carpenter. Vesey was sold into slavery at 14, however during this time learned French, Spanish and English. Vesey married an enslaved woman and started a family. However his children were seen as slaves since slavery was “linked” to the mother under the principle of partus sequitur ventrem. It was said that Vesey was planning to liberate slaves in the surrounding area of Charleston and sail to what was then the free black republic of Haiti. However, before the revolt could happen, two slaves told the plans to their slave owners. Vesey and several of his followers were quickly rounded up, put on trial and hanged for their involvement in the planning of the rebellion. In total, 67 men were convicted of planning the rebellion, 35 were hung, 31 were deported.


In 1820, South Carolina passed another group of laws to further restrict blacks, who at the time outnumber whites in the state. Slaves could no longer purchase their freedom, if free blacks left the state they could no longer come back into the state, and free blacks in the state needed “white guardians” to vouch that they were really “free”. In 1822, South Carolina also passed the Seaman’s act of 1822, which captured free black sailors who docked in Charleston and held them in jail until their ship was ready to leave.

Stono Rebellion

Starting on Sept. 9 1739, in at the time, the colony of South Carolina was the largest slave uprising in the British colonies as the end of it, 22 whites and 44 black died in the rebellion (Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831 ended up being a slightly larger rebellion).


Factors that lead up to the rebellion

Because of the rapid expansion of cotton and rice, slave imports to South Carolina were at an all time high. In addition because of the ongoing tension between the British and the Spanish, the Spanish promise freedom and a piece of land to any escaped slaves that made it to Spanish Florida.  Jemmy one of the leaders of the rebellion was thought to be of congolese descent, and might of had a military background.


Stono and the Aftermath

On the Sept 10th the group of slaves seized weapons and ammunition from two white local shop owner and started to make their way to Spanish Florida. On route the recruited more slaves, ending up with a group as large as 80 people in some reports. As they traveled they burned several plantations and killed dozens of slave owners. The slaves were found out by a white onlooker, Lieutenant Governor William Bull  who went back to gather the militia and stage a defense against the rebels. The next day the militia confronted the rebellion and ended up killing many of the slaves. However, the slaves did not go down without a fight, killing some of the white militia. Several of the slaves got away but were later found several miles away and killed. As a warning to other slaves, the colonist decapitated the slaves and put their heads on a stakes that lined major roadways in South Carolina. In addition, they passed the Negro Act of 1740 which required a ratio of one white to ten blacks on any plantation, prohibited slaves from growing their own food, assembling in groups, outlawed drumming, earning money, or learning to read and empowered whites to make decisions about any blacks who were traveling outside a plantation without passes to take action/kill them. South Carolina also banned slave trade from the Congo for 10 years, believing that children born into slavery were easier to manage than newly arrived Africans.