The colonists first learned of this purported slave conspiracy on May 20, 1720, when a black man named Andrew addressed the South Carolina Commons House.
The Primus Plot was South Carolina’s first alleged slave conspiracy. Word of this conspiracy surfaced while the colony’s atmosphere was tense. A Waccamaw Indian attack had recently been repelled. South Carolina was suffering from economic problems. After expelling the proprietary government in 1719, the colonists were awaiting an official response from England. Anxieties were further heightened by Spanish privateer attacks against Carolina shipping and rumors that Spain would invade South Carolina and, in the process, arm the colony’s slaves against its white inhabitants. All this occurred as South Carolina’s enslaved black majority, spurred by labor demands for rice cultivation, had quickly grown to nearly twice the number of its white population.
The colonists first learned of this purported slave conspiracy on May 20, 1720, when a black man named Andrew addressed the South Carolina Commons House. What Andrew said is unknown. Apparently it concerned an attempt by at least fourteen slaves from the upper Ashley River to run away to St. Augustine, which was the capital of Spanish Florida. In the ensuing panic, it was said that the runaways, who were led by a slave named Primus, conspired to destroy isolated plantations, recruit more followers, and then attack Charleston. What these would-be insurgents were going to do after seizing Charleston is unknown. As the slaves fled toward Florida, and away from Charleston, the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly authorized all whites, blacks, and Native Americans to pursue them and offered a reward of £20 for each slave taken–dead or alive. Then, in the midst of this purported slave uprising, the Commons House adjourned for two weeks.
By the time the assembly reconvened on June 7, the supposed plot had been suppressed. On June 9 Governor James Moore notified the Commons House that three slaves, Primus, Nero, and Robin, had been captured and were being held at Savannah Town. Moore wanted the accused rebels summarily executed. However, at the insistence of the Commons House, the slaves were taken to Charleston, where they were publicly executed, with Primus being hung alive in chains.
While existing evidence suggests that the Primus Plot was an effort by a group of slaves to reach freedom in Florida, rather than a planned rebellion, white South Carolinians regarded it as an insurrection in the making. The Commons House obviously believed that these slaves posed an immediate danger to the colony’s white inhabitants. Once recaptured, the slaves were punished as if they were insurgents. Even after the accused conspirators were executed, white South Carolinians would continue to worry about slave conspiracies into the 1730s and beyond.
Aptheker, Herbert. Negro Slave Revolts in the United States, 1526–1850. Rev. ed. New York: International, 1974.
Moore, John Alexander. “Royalizing South Carolina: The Revolution of 1719 and the Evolution of Early South Carolina Government.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1991.