Sunday, September 9th, 1739 was a pivotal day in history in the climb towards freedom for enslaved African Americans. On this day, what became known as the Stono Rebellion, was led by Jemmy, an Angolan literate slave. He was most likely owned by the Cato family, who lived just north of the Stono River, so he was also known as Cato. 20 other enslaved Africans congregated and made a plan to go to Spanish Florida where they sought the freedom offered in Saint Augustine for slaves who managed to successfully escape the British colonies.
But escape for slaves was no easy feat, and the Stono Rebellion was no exception. The rebels chanted “Liberty! ” and recruited more slaves as they went along. They raided a shop to acquire arms and ammunition, killing the two white storekeepers in the process. The group then burned down the Godfrey house and killed him, his son, and daughter. Some slaves joined the rebellion unwillingly, some were enthusiastic about the cause. One way or another, the count of the group rose to about 50. An alarm was raised, and by that night, about sixty slaves were either murdered or escaped.
They didn’t stay escaped for long though, as all but one were executed over the following months. The next year, the Negro Act of 1740 was put into effect. One effect of this law was that legislative approval was required for manumission. This meant that many less manumissions were put into action, as they were already scarce and difficult to achieve before this act. They also closed ports off because they believed the rebellion was due to the slaves being born elsewhere. Slaves were no longer allowed to earn money, achieve literacy, or grow their own food.
The only really positive benefit of this law was that slaveholders were finally being held accountable for how they treated their slaves, and fines were supposedly given for abusing and overworking slaves. But this rule was obviously ignored for the most part, as the brutal mistreatment of slaves over the course of their long enslavement period is well-documented. Gabriel’s assault was planned for August 30, 1800, but was never actually carried out. Whites were warned in advance of the coming rebellion and caused it to be shut down. Gabriel’s rebellion had similar origins to the Stono Rebellion, as Gabriel was also a literal slave.
Gabriel possessed blacksmith skills, so he had more freedom than other enslaved people on the plantation. This enabled him to try to set the rebellion into motion. His goal was to make Virginia more democratic, and expected to have around 1,000 enslaved join the rebellion. No whites were killed but Gabriel, and 26 other black people, were hung. One enslaved person said during his trial, “I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of my countrymen, and am a willing sacrifice in their cause. ” (ushistory. org) This quote explains the main cause of the uprising.
As Gabriel had previously written during his planning stages, “Death or liberty”. Both Jemmy and Gabriel were aware that was they were doing could very easily cost them their lives, but it was worth it to die fighting for their freedom, and the freedom of their people. The Haitian Revolution contrasts from earlier revolutionary efforts in that it was the most successful and the largest slave rebellion in the West. Unlike the failed Gabriel Rebellion and the bloody Stono Rebellion, The Haitian Revolution was comprised of multiple revolutions all happening at the same time for max effectiveness.
There were many cash crops being produced by slave labor in Haiti, such as indigo, cotton, sugar, and coffee beans. Growing tensions rose over not being allowed to trade with outside nations, and lack of representation. In Haiti, on August 21st, 1791, enslaved blacks rebelled. They were led by Toussaint l’Ouverture, who used to be enslaved, and knew all too well the suffering of his people. He conquered the Dominican Republic and abolished slavery there. Napoleon Bonaparte was determined to stop the rise of black freedom though, and made sure l’Ouverture was thrown in prison in 1803, where he later died.
Although he suffered an untimely demise at the hands of white people like previous rebels, he at least got to see the direct results his efforts had on the enslaved people of Haiti. Denmark Vesey’s plot was set to occur in Charleston, South Carolina around in July 1822. Vesey’s rebellion was similar to “Gabriel’s attack” as it was planned thoroughly and had support, but was never carried through due to growing suspicions of whites, and unloyal enslaved people. This was a complex operation, and around 1,000 enslaved were expected to participate (also similar to Gabriel’s plans).
Denmark Vesey was a Methodist, and similar to Gabriel, Denmark used his extra privileges to his advantage. 36 members of Vesey’s cohort (including Vesey himself) due to suspicions about an impending revolt. In addition, the AME church was terminated and burned down in the city because it was suspected to be a part of the rebellion. Worshippers still met in secret, however. Charleston also passed the Seamen’s Act of 1822, which basically prevented free blacks from coming in the city and interacting with/influencing enslaved people’s behaviors.
Nat Turner’s slave rebellion took place in Southampton County, Virginia, in the August of 1831. It was the bloodiest rebellions thus far, resulting in 55 to 65 white casualties in just a couple of days. Ending on August 23, this revolt was very different from the Haitian Revolution in the fact that it was short-lasting and contained, versus long-lasting and widespread, respectively. After the rebellion, 56 slaves suspected of being a part of the uprising were executed to prevent a future act of “disobedience. ” A total of around 200 black people were killed as a result of the rebellion’s chaos.
Like most of the previous revolters, Southampton county native Nat Turner was literate and religious. He was known as a bit of a gifted prophet and had a charm that helped him get along with white people. Like other rebels, he used his gifts to his advantage to make change. Turner pointed to Christianity as a reason for why slavery was morally wrong, and effectively communicated the truth that slavery was not a good and fair institution, as people in the South had been made to believe to strengthen the institution.
The Creole case and the Amistad case have similar origins in that they both took place on a ship. Aboard the Creole, 19 slaves revolted- killing John Hewell, a slave trader, and redirecting the ship’s course. They landed in the Bahamas, where the rebels were captured, later to be freed by a remorseful British government (except two that passed away during their time imprisoned. The 116 slaves that were compliant aboard the ship and did not revolt were set free. On the Amistad in July of 1839, slaves were being moved from Cuba.
A mutiny broke out quite similar to the one aboard the Creole and John Quincy Adams decided that the rebels weren’t at fault and let them go free. The Amistad and Creole cases both represent African Americans being given a fair listening from the government, and both times were seen as “worthy” to be free. These were small steps toward an eventual freedom from slavery, but small steps were exactly how the battle was won, and how the battle against injustice and racism continues to be fought today.