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The most violent slave rebellion of the colonial period took place in 1739 at Stono, South Carolina. Anchorage municipality Metro Map An African-born slave named Cato or Jemmy led twenty men and women to an armory on the Stono River near Charles Town; there, they captured weapons and began marching toward Florida, attracting eighty more slaves to their cause by beating messages on drums.

The rebels were initially successful in driving off the militia, but after marching about 12 miles, they stopped to rest and thus gave their attackers time to regroup and re-engage them. In the end, between seven and twenty-five whites and about fifty slaves were killed either in the fighting or the subsequent criminal trials. These events had such a traumatic effect on white South Carolinians that many of them seriously considered completely abolishing slavery, even though slaves made up over half the colony’s population and were the backbone of its economy. Slavery would ultimately survive this crisis, but so did slave resistance.

In the end, all of colonial Country’s slave revolts failed to overthrow the institution. Many plots were betrayed by fellow slaves seeking freedom, financial reward, or white favor. Sheer demographics were an even greater problem; slaves never amounted to more than one-third of the colonial population, and most lived in small groups on isolated plantations. The white population was heavily armed, quick to respond to any real or imagined threat of insurrection, and unrepentant about punishing suspected rebels with torture or painful execution.

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