Slavery in the Nineteenth Century Questions and Answers

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What were the causes of the Stono Rebellion?

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The Stono Rebellion was a slave rebellion in South Carolina in 1739. While it isn’t totally clear why this rebellion occurred, there are a few possible explanations. One possible explanation is that the Spanish were advertising that any slave who escaped to St. Augustine, Florida would be given freedom and land. When England and Spain went to war, some slaves hoped that by escaping to Spanish Florida, they would get the land and freedom they heard Spain was promising.

Another factor that may have contributed to the Stono Rebellion was the fear many white people had of a slave rebellion occurring. When the Security Act was passed, white men were required by law to carry guns with them to church on Sundays. If they didn’t carry a gun, they could be fined. Prior to the passage of the Security Act, white men didn’t carry guns to church, and slaves were allowed to work for themselves on Sundays. The passage of this law may have angered slaves.

As a result of this revolt, about 20-25 whites were killed. Around 60 slaves were killed, either on the day of the revolt or after they were caught. The Negro Act that was passed later further limited the privileges slaves could have.

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The basic cause of the Stono Rebellion was the fact that society in South Carolina was changing with large numbers of new slaves being brought to the colony.  This influx put whites in fear of slave rebellions and led them to implement stricter controls on slaves.  Paradoxically, these tougher measures ended up bringing about a rebellion.

As more slaves were brought to South Carolina, the population came to have a very high percentage of slaves who were relatively new to the colony.  Whites feared these new slaves and feared that outside agitators like the Spanish would foment rebellion.  Eventually, a smallpox outbreak (and the deaths it caused) combined with news of conflict between Spain and England to encourage a group of slaves to rise up in hopes of killing whites and escaping to Spanish Florida.

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