Early on the morning of Sunday, September 9, 1739, twenty black Carolinians met near the Stono River, approximately twenty miles southwest of Charleston. At Stono’s bridge, they took guns and powder from Hutcheson’s store and killed the two storekeepers they found there. “With cries of ‘Liberty’ and beating of drums,” historian Peter H. Wood writes in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, “the rebels raised a standard and headed south toward Spanish St. Augustine…Along the road they gathered black recruits, burned houses, and killed white opponents, sparing one innkeeper who was ‘kind to his slaves.'”
Thus commenced the Stono Rebellion, the largest uprising of enslaved people in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution. Late that afternoon, planters riding on horseback caught up with the band of sixty to one hundred insurgents. More than twenty white Carolinians and nearly twice as many black Carolinians were killed before the rebellion was suppressed. As a consequence of the uprising, white lawmakers imposed a moratorium on slave imports and enacted a harsher slave code.
Enslaved people resorted to insurrection, first in the British colonies and later in the southern United States. At least 250 insurrections have been documented; between 1780 and 1864, ninety-one African Americans were convicted of insurrection in Virginia alone. The first revolt in what became the United States took place in 1526 at a Spanish settlement near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in South Carolina.
Between 1800 and 1831, African Americans instigated several ambitious rebellions in the American South. Among these were Gabriel’s Revolt, which began north of Richmond, Virginia, on August 30, 1800, and Vesey’s Rebellion, an 1822 conspiracy to incite as many as 9,000 plantation and urban enslaved people in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina. Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the most effective revolt, erupted in Southampton County, Virginia, on the night of August 21, 1831. Nat Turner and his followers killed nearly sixty white people as they moved toward an armory at Jerusalem, Virginia. Halted mere miles from their goal, the approximately seventy-five insurgents were soon killed or captured by the militia. Turner’s November execution failed to assuage fears of continued insurrection. Across the South, renewed legislative efforts to forbid education and greatly restrict movement and assembly further constrained the lives of enslaved people.
- African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection is a rich source of documents pertaining to the history of slavery; to explore this resource, search the collection on the keyword slavery. The collection also contains an address entitled “ Nat Turner’s Insurrection,” delivered by Indiana lawyer George H. Burks in 1885.
- Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former enslaved persons. Browse the collection by Locations to read narratives and see photos from those areas.
- Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories is a collection of almost seven hours of recorded interviews of twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, who discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of enslaved people, their families, and freedom.
- The interviews recorded in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 include several recollections of the antebellum South from the perspectives of both white and black Southerners. Some of those interviewed were born before the Civil War and offer personal memories of that era, while others relate the experiences of their parents and grandparents before, during, and after the Civil War. Search the collection on slave or plantation to find these documents.
- Find more photographs documenting the history of the antebellum South. Search the collections of photographs and prints on slave or plantation.
- The African-American Mosaic: a Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History & Culture contains additional resources for the study of African-American history and includes special sections on the movement to colonize American enslaved people in Africa and the movement to abolish slavery in the United States.
- Learn about black America’s quest for equality. Visit the online exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship. It includes sections on the history of slavery in America and on free blacks in the antebellum period.