On Sunday, September 9, 1739, a group of twenty African slaves were toiling away on a road project outside of Charles Town, South Carolina. While this may not seem out of the ordinary for the southern American colonies, there was something a bit abnormal about today: there was no white overseer present. Overseers were, for the most part, Christian and Sunday is a day of rest. This rest, however, did not extend to the “heathen” slaves who were not permitted to be baptized. On this particular Sunday, one of them, a man named Jemmy, decided enough was enough. Jemmy had been enslaved when he was captured in his native Angola in Central Africa, but had not let his horrible experience get the best of him. He spoke with his fellow laborers and convinced them that it was time to fight for their freedom.
Jemmy led his followers from the Stono Bridge upon which they were working to a nearby store where they stole guns and gunpowder and killed the proprietors. The Stono Slave Rebellion had begun. Over the rest of the day and into Monday, the men attacked and killed 20 – 25 more whites who had the reputation for treating their slaves poorly and the rebels’ numbers increased to about 100. One interesting incident during this period of violence involved the slave army coming upon Wallace’s Tavern. Jemmy’s men did not touch Wallace or his family, but rather killed several families that lived around the inn. The reason for this was that Wallace was good to his slaves and treated them humanely.
Authorities in Charles Town were understandably worried about this situation. A militia of about 100 men left the city under the leadership of Lt. Gov. William Bull marched out to meet the uprising. The colonial militia met up with “Captain Jemmy” and a firefight ensued. When the smoke cleared 30 of Jemmy’s men lay dead along with about 14 of the Charles Town militia. The rest of the slaves escaped into the woods. Over the next few months, many were captured and executed for their role in the Stono Rebellion. Jemmy’s fate is unknown – he may have been killed in the skirmish or he may have reached Spanish Florida and freedom. The Stono Rebellion was the bloodiest slave rebellion (for whites) in the history of Anglo-America and led directly to some strong legislation that forbade education, assembly, and other rights to slaves held in South Carolina.