5 Unforgettable Slave Rebellions

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Written by Ann Brown
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There were an estimated 250 slave revolts, uprisings, and conspiracies have been documented, according to Herbert Aptheker’s “American Negro Slave Revolts.” Photo: Haitian Revolution, Public domain

Slavery in America lasted from the 18th century through the 19th century. And throughout this time there were several slave rebellions in which there were uprisings by slaves. There were an estimated 250 slave revolts, uprisings, and conspiracies have been documented, according to historian Herbert Aptheker’s “American Negro Slave Revolts.”

Here are five slave rebellions you should know. 

Stono Slave Rebellion

Never heard of the Stono Slave Rebellion? Well, it is actually the largest rebellion organized by enslaved African-Americans in colonial America. It took place near the Stono River in South Carolina in 1739 rebellion. All the details of the uprising have never been fully revealed as there was one only one firsthand account was recorded. 

“On September 9, 1739, a group of 20 enslaved African Americans met near the Stono River. The rebellion had been planned for this day and the group stopped first at a firearms depot where they killed the owner and supplied themselves with guns,” ThoughtCo reported. 

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It is believed a man named Cato (or Jemmy) led the rebellion. The group killed a number of slave owners and their families and burned homes as they marched toward Florida.  A white militia ultimately caught the group of enslaved men and decapitated them in front of other slaves. When all was done, 21 whites were killed and 44 Blacks. 

The New York City Conspiracy of 1741

The New York Conspiracy of 1741, which is also known as the Negro Plot Trial of 1741, took place between March and April of 1741, during which 10 fires were set throughout New York City. 

It is not really known how and why the uprising took place.

“Some historians have dismissed the idea that slaves actually conspired to overthrow chattel bondage and gain their freedom, while others have argued that the events in New York were part of a mixed rebellion of the Atlantic proletariat. What is clear about this incident is that it is an example of an abuse of power and a misuse of law and community values by white colonists,” Black Past reported.

According to a grand jury, the fires due to the act of a group of Black arsonists who were linked to a larger conspiracy to burn the city and murder all the white people.  

“More than a hundred slaves were brought into the basement of the city hall on charges of burglary, arson, and insurrection. Thirteen slaves were burned at the stake, and 70 others were sold into the backbreaking slavery of the Caribbean.  Two white men and two white women were also hanged.  Seven other whites were permanently expelled from New York City,” Black Past reported.

Gabriel Prosser’s Rebellion Plot

Gabriel Prosser and his brother, Solomon, were inspired by the Haitian Revolution to form what came to be known as the farthest-reaching rebellion in United States History. The motto of the American rebellion was the same as the Haitian Revolution –“Death or Liberty.” The brothers organized enslaved and freed African-Americans, poor whites, and Native Americans to fight against wealthy whites. Inclement weather and fear, however, thwarted the rebellion.

“In 1799, the Prosser brothers hatched a plan to take possession of Capitol Square in Richmond. They believed that they could hold Governor James Monroe as a hostage and bargain with authorities,” ThouhgtCo reported. 

Men (no women) were recruited throughout the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, Albemarle, as well as the counties of Henrico, Caroline, and Louisa. 

“Prosser planned the revolt for August 30, 1800. However, a severe thunderstorm made it impossible to travel. The following day the rebellion was supposed to take place, but several enslaved African-Americans shared the plans with their owners. Landowners set up white patrols and alerted Monroe, who organized the state militia to search for rebels. Within two weeks, almost 30 enslaved African-Americans were in jail waiting to be seen in the Oyer and Terminir, a court in which people are tried without a jury but can provide testimony,” ThoughtCo reported.

An estimated 65 enslaved men went on trial and 30 were executed and others were sold away. There were some who were found not guilty, and others were pardoned.

Gabriel Prosser was hung.

German Uprising of 1811 (Andry’s Rebellion)

The German Uprising, or the Andry Rebellion, is the largest revolt in United States’ history.

“On January 8, 1811, an enslaved African-American by the name of Charles Deslondes led an organized rebellion of slaves and maroons through the German Coast of the Mississippi River (about 30 miles from present-day New Orleans). As Deslondes traveled, his militia grew to an estimated 200 revolters. The insurgents killed two white men, burned down at least three plantations and accompanying crops and gathering weapons along the way,” ThoughtCo reported.

A militia attacked the enslaved African-American men and killed an estimated 40 enslaved revolters. Others were captured and executed. In the end, an estimated 95 Blacks were killed.

The leader of the rebellion, Deslondes, had his hands chopped off then shot in one thigh & then the other until they were both broken. He was then “shot in the body and before he had expired was put into a bundle of straw and roasted,” according to reports.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Probably the most famous rebellion is Nat Turner’s Rebellion. It took place on August 22, 1831, in Southampton County, Va. Turner was a slave preacher who thought he had gotten a vision from God to launch a rebellion. 

Turner described it as: “the Holy Ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me—For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew—and as the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand.”

Though inspired by God, the rebellion was “one of the bloodiest and most effective in American history,” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported. “Over the course of two days, dozens of whites were killed as Turner’s band of insurrectionists, which eventually numbered over fifty, moved systematically from plantation to plantation in Southampton County. Most of the rebels were executed along with countless other African Americans who were suspected, often without cause, of participating in the conspiracy. Nat Turner, though, eluded capture for over two months. He hid in the Dismal Swamp area and was discovered accidentally by a hunter on October 30. He surrendered peacefully.”