Stono Rebellion

On Sunday September 9, 1739, there was a slave uprising in the British colony South Carolina on the banks of the Stono River (where the rebellion gets its name). A man named Jemmy led the slaves in an uprising in which there were a fair number of people killed, 42-47 whites and 44 blacks to be exact. The slaves were able to overtake the overseers at their own plantation and move forward, only to be met by a group of whites at Edisto River, where the rebellion was put to rest. The cause of the Stono Rebellion is fairly unknown; however the new law enacted that forced whites to bring their guns to church could have been a reason for why the uprising was on a Sunday. The slaves may have seen this as a chance to attack the less privileged white folk whom did not have guns, because most of the gun-owning whites were at church. In researching through America’s Historical Newspapers, finding information about the Stono Rebellion was very difficult, and proved to be a daunting task. The biggest reason for the lack of information about this rebellion could do with the fact that Charleston, South Carolina did not have a newspaper being published at the time of the rebellion. I used search terms such as “Stono” and “?tono” because that was the river the rebellion was named after and came up with no hits. I researched a little more and found the leader of the rebellion was nicknamed Cato so I used that as a search term and continued to find nothing written in regards to this slave uprising. After using “ “Charle?town” and the year 1739 as search terms and still coming up with nothing, I decided maybe search terms were not the right approach to this event. I decided to look at the issues of papers in September and October 1739 in the newspapers that were being published at that time (which I found to be only a few).  After conducting this method of research, my results continued to be the same, finding no results on the Stono Rebellion.  What I kept on finding in my research about Charleston was that St. Augustine had freed all of its white servants and black and Indian slaves, which was a major cause of concern for the colonists because they felt it was the first step to an eventual attack. This information was reprinted a few times in different newspapers, showing that it was significant information for people to learn.  (Cite newspapers here)

From my research, I can conclude that there was no information about the Stono Rebellion in the newspapers. I can infer from the lack of information about the Stono Rebellion that the uprising was not important to the three publishing powers (Boston, Philadelphia, and New York) at that time.  There seemed to be a three-way monopoly on the newspaper industry in 1739 and these three communication powers controlled what the people knew about far-away places. The coverage of this topic was not available, showing that there was a lack of the colonies working together to communicate large events that did not happen near the three powers.  Another interesting observation that I found from the newspapers at this time was that there was much more information about cities abroad than there was about cities not named Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. This must go to the fact that publishers felt it was a waste of space to print about local topics because the people can learn about that by word of mouth, for the information people wanted to know was the events happening overseas that would be difficult for a colonist to learn about.  In 1739, it is clear that the communications systems had a long way to go in order to circulate information throughout the country and away from the three big printing cities. [1]


[1] Boston News Letter, September 27-October4, 1739.

Boston Evening Post, October 8, 1739.

[Boston] New-England Weekly Journal, October 9, 1739.

[Philadelphia] The Pennsylvania Gazette, October 18, 1739.


2 thoughts on “Stono Rebellion

  1. Pat, do you think also there is not much media coverage because it was a slave uprising and white folks were afraid that if others heard about it across the colonies that other slaves may have be inspired to rise up as well? That would not be good on the slaveholders part.


  2. As I mentioned in class, one problem you faced (without realizing it) was that few southern papers are in that database. There was a South Carolina Gazette at that time, and also a Virginia Gazette published in Williamsburg (and digitized by Colonial Williamsburg). So the most likely places to publish news aren’t in our database.

    But I do find it interesting that there was less coverage in the North. If someone who took Colonial America last spring sees this, could you fill us in a bit on what your group discussed with respect to coverage of the Rebellion?


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