The following narrative of the Stono rebellion in South Carolina in September 1739 is the fullest contemporary account available of the most violent black uprising on the continent during the colonial period.1 It is also Oglethorpe’s most effective response to the pleas of the Georgia malcontents that the Trustees should alter their policy and allow the use of black slaves in the colony—a change to which most of the Trustees and Oglethorpe in particular were adamantly opposed. These malcontents had been represented in England since early 1740 by Thomas Stephens, son of the Trustees’ secretary in Georgia; and he had delivered their yet unpublished protest to members of Parliament.2 The continued funding of the Georgia colony was in doubt.
The Stono rebellion, followed within a year by two others in the province, provided the evidence that Oglethorpe needed. As Peter H. Wood remarks, “For several years after the outbreak in St. Paul’s Parish, the safety of the white minority, and the viability of their entire plantation system, hung in serious doubt for the first time since the Yamasee War.”3 Phinizy Spalding aptly asks: “Could Georgia have survived a Stono?”4 Although Oglethorpe has apparently not been credited with this account, there can be little question of his authorship or his intent to publish it. He enclosed it in a letter that he wrote to Verelst on October 9, 1739, and he added the postscript: “I [desire] you would have the Inclosed account [of the] Insurrection of the Carolina Negroes inserted in some News papers.”5 Four days after Verelst received the letter, the account appeared in the London Daily Post, and General Advertiser on March 17, 1740.6 In order to reproduce the account as Oglethorpe wished it to appear, I use his original.7
Sometime since there was a Proclamation published at Augustine, in which the King of Spain (then at Peace with Great Britain)8 promised Protection and Freedom to all Negroes Slaves that would resort thither. Certain Negroes belonging to Captain Davis escaped to Augustine, and were received there.9 They were demanded by General Oglethorpe who sent Lieutenant Demeré to Augustine,10 and the Governour assured the General of his sincere Friendship, but at the same time showed his Orders from the Court of Spain, by which he was to receive all Run away Negroes. Of this, other Negroes having notice, as it is believed, from the Spanish Emissaries, four or five who were Cattel-Hunters, and knew the Woods, some of whom belonged to Captain Mackpherson,11 ran away with His Horses, wounded his Son and killed another Man. Those marched thro Georgia, and were pursued, but the Rangers being then newly reduced, the Countrey people could not overtake them, though they were discovered by the Saltzburghers, as they passed by Ebenezer. They reached Augustine, one only being killed and another wounded by the Indians in their flight. They were received there with great honours, one of them had a Commission given to him, and a Coat faced with Velvet. Amongst the Negroe Slaves there are a people brought from the Kingdom of Angola in Africa, many of these speak Portugueze (which Language is as near Spanish as Scotch is to English,) by reason that the Portugueze have considerable Settlements, and the Jesuits have a Mission and School in that Kingdom and many Thousands of the Negroes there profess the Roman Catholick Religion. Several Spaniards upon diverse Pretences have for some time past been strolling about Carolina, two of them, who will give no account of themselves have been taken up and committed to Jayl in Georgia.12 The good reception of the Negroes at Augustine was spread about, Several attempted to escape to the Spaniards, & were taken, one of them was hanged at Charles Town. In the latter end of July last Don Pedro, Colonel of the Spanish Horse,13 went in a Launch to Charles Town under pretence of a message to General Oglethorpe and the Lieutenant Governour.
On the 9th. day of September last being Sunday which is the day the Planters allow them to work for themselves. Some Angola Negroes assembled, to the number of Twenty; and one who was called Jemmy was their Captain, they surprized a Warehouse belonging to Mr. Hutchenson at a place called Stonehow;14 they there killed Mr. Robert Bathurst, and Mr. Gibbs, plundered the House and took a pretty many small Arms and Powder, which were there for Sale. Next they plundered and burnt Mr. Godfrey’s house, and killed him, his Daughter and Son. They then turned back and marched Southward along Pons Pons, which is the Road through Georgia to Augustine, they passed Mr. Wallace’s Tavern towards day break, and said they would not hurt him, for he was a good Man and kind to his Slaves but they broke open and plundered Mr. Lemy’s House, and killed him, his Wife and Child. They marched on towards Mr. [Thomas] Rose’s resolving to kill him, but he was saved by a Negroe, who having hid him went out and pacified the others. Several Negroes joyned them, they calling out Liberty, marched on with Colours displayed, and two Drums beating, pursuing all the white people they met with, and killing Man Woman and Child when they could come up to them. Collonel Bull Lieutenant Governour of South Carolina, who was then riding along the Road, discovered them, was pursued, and with much difficulty escaped & raised the Countrey. They burnt Colonel Hext’s house and killed his Overseer and his Wife,15 They then burnt Mr. Sprye’s house, then Mr. Sacheverell’s,16 and then Mr. Nash’s house, all lying upon the Pons Pons Road, and killed all the white People they found in them. Mr. Bullock got off, but they burnt his House; by this time many of them were drunk with the Rum they had taken in the Houses. They increased every minute by new Negroes coming to them, so that they were above Sixty, some say a hundred, on which they halted in a field; and set to dancing, Singing and beating Drums, to draw more Negroes to them, thinking they were now victorious over the whole Province, having marched ten miles & burnt all before them without Opposition, but the Militia being raised, the Planters with great briskness pursued them and when they came up, dismounting, charged them on foot. The Negroes were soon routed, though they behaved boldly, several being killed on the Spot, many ran back to their Plantations thinking they had not been missed, but they were there taken and Shot.17 Such as were taken in the field also, were after being examined, shot on the Spot, and this is to be said to the honour of the Carolina Planters, that notwithstanding the Provocation they had received from so many Murders, they did not torture one Negroe, but only put them to an easy death. All that proved to be forced & were not concerned in the Murders & Burnings were pardoned. And this sudden Courage in the field, & the Humanity afterwards hath had so good an Effect that there hath been no farther Attempt, and the very Spirit of Revolt seems over. About 30 escaped from the fight, of which ten marched about 30 miles Southward, and being overtaken by the Planters on horseback, fought stoutly for some time and were all killed on the Spot, The rest are yet untaken. In the whole action about 40 Negroes and 20 whites were killed. The Lieutenant Governour sent an account of this to General Oglethorpe,18 who met the advices on his return from the Indian Nation. He immediately ordered a Troop of Rangers to be ranged, to patrole through Georgia, placed some Men in the Garrison at Palichocolas, which was before abandoned, and near which the Negroes formerly passed, being the only place where Horses can come to swim over the River Savannah for near 100 miles, ordered out the Indians in pursuit, and a Detachment of the Garrison at Port Royal to assist the Planters on any Occasion, and published a Proclamation ordering all the Constables &ca. of Georgia to pursue and seize all Negroes, with a Reward for any that should be taken. It is hoped these measures will prevent any Negroes from getting down to the Spaniards.