The Stono Rebellion was a violent albeit failed attempt by as many as one hundred slaves to reach St. Augustine and claim freedom in Spanish-controlled Florida. The uprising was South Carolina’s largest and bloodiest slave insurrection. While not a direct challenge to the authority of the state, the Stono Rebellion nevertheless alerted white authorities to the dangers of slave revolt, caused a good deal of angst among planters, and resulted in legislation designed to control slaves and lessen the chances of insurrection by the colony’s black majority population.
The revolt began on Sunday, September 9, 1739, on a branch of the Stono River in St. Paul’s Parish, near Charleston. Several factors influenced slaves’ timing of the rebellion, including a suspicious visit to Charleston by a priest who contemporaries thought was “employed by the Spaniards to procure a general Insurrection of the Negroes,” a yellow fever epidemic that swept the area in August and September, and rumors of war between Spain and England. It is also probable that the Stono rebels timed their revolt to take place before September 29, when a provision requiring all white men to carry firearms to Sunday church services was to go into effect. In addition, several of the insurgents originated from the heavily Catholic Kongo, and their religious beliefs influenced the timing of the uprising.
Whatever the slaves’ reasoning, the revolt began early on Sunday when the conspirators met at the Stono River. From there, they During the first week of May 1865, Palmer’s brigade entered South Carolina from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and moved toward Spartanburg, which fell without significant resistance or damage on May 2. Moving into Greenville, Palmer was joined by Brown’s brigade. Palmer then moved across the Tugaloo River into Georgia, while elements of Brown’s brigade occupied Greenville and seized Anderson. In each case the raid came almost as a complete surprise, as the upstate had been largely isolated from news of the conflict since the destruction of Columbia in February 1865. In Greenville physical damage and civilian casualties were minimal, but cavalrymen plundered shops and warehouses along Main Street throughout the day. The Soldier’s Rest Hospital, stripped of scarce medical supplies, served as a temporary headquarters for the raiders. However, apart from the plundering, it appears that the raiders did not inflict significant destruction or terror upon the town or its people.
In Anderson resistance to the raiders seems to have been sharper. Accounts indicate that Colonel Brown failed to maintain discipline among his soldiers, resulting in the harassment and beating of many citizens, the plundering of homes and businesses, and at least two casualties. As was the case in Greenville and Spartanburg, however, Anderson was spared burning.
Anderson was evacuated the day following its capture, and the federal units remaining in upper South Carolina were ordered back to Tennessee. Though Davis eluded capture in the Palmetto State, he eventually fell into Union hands on May 9, 1865, in Irwinville, Georgia.
Cooper, Nancy Vance Ashmore. Greenville: Woven from the Past. Sun Valley, Calif.: American Historical Press, 2000.
Huff, Archie Vernon, Jr. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
Keys, Thomas Bland. “The Federal Pillage of Anderson, South Carolina: Brown’s Raid.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 76 (April 1975): 80–86.
Mason, Frank H. “General Stoneman’s Last Campaign and the Pursuit of Jef- ferson Davis.” In Sketches of War History, 1861–1865: Papers Prepared for the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1888–1890. Vol. 3 Cincinnati, Ohio: Robert Clarke, 1890.