South Carolina’s white population saw its gravest fears confirmed when a group of about twenty slaves began a rebellion near the Stono River, twenty miles from Charleston, on the morning of September 9. The insurrection appeared to be coordinated with the outbreak of war between England and Spain.
While the local planters were attending Sunday church services, the slaves pillaged a store for weapons, then started moving south along the road to the recently founded colony of Georgia, hoping to reach the city of St. Augustine in Spanish Florida. As their ranks swelled, the band gained confidence, chanting slogans, burning houses, and killing any whites they encountered. In
order to keep the alarm from spreading, the rebels made hostages of slaves who resisted joining them.
After marching more than ten miles and meeting no real resistance, the troop came to a halt in an open field that afternoon, certain that such a display of force would attract enough other slaves to make the group unstoppable. But the rebels had now made themselves vulnerable to a mounted assault by a militia of several dozen hastily assembled planters, whose firepower overmatched their own. The planters quickly killed all but a handful of the rebels. Many of the slaves who tried to return to their plantations were seized and shot; according to one account, the planters “cutt off their heads and set them up at every Mile Post they came to.” Approximately twenty whites and fifty slaves were killed during the confrontation.
Escaped slaves inspired by the Stono uprising continued to roam through the South Carolina countryside for several months, prompting many white families to move into towns, and the colony’s slave trade came to a standstill for most of the next decade.