The Stono Rebellion (sometimes called Cato’s Conspiracy or Cato’s Rebellion) was a slave rebellion that commenced on 9 September 1739, in the colony of South Carolina. It was the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution.
One of the earliest known organized rebellions in the present United States, the uprising was led by native Africans who were Catholic and likely from the Kingdom of Kongo, which had been Catholic since 1491. Some of the Kongolese spoke Portuguese. Their leader, Jemmy (referred to in some reports as “Cato”, and probably a slave belonging to the Cato, or Cater, family who lived just off the Ashley River and north of the Stono River) was a literate slave who led 20 other enslaved Kongolese, who may have been former soldiers, in an armed march south from the Stono River (for which the rebellion is named).
They recruited nearly 60 other slaves and killed 22–25 whites before being intercepted by the South Carolina militia near the Edisto River. In that battle, 20 whites and 44 slaves were killed, and the rebellion was largely suppressed. A group of slaves escaped and traveled another 30 miles (50 km) before battling a week later with the militia. Most of the captured slaves were executed; a few survived to be sold to the West Indies.
In response to the rebellion, the South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Act of 1740 restricting slave assembly, education, and movement. It also enacted a 10-year moratorium against importing African slaves, and established penalties against slaveholders‘ harsh treatment of slaves. It required legislative approval for manumissions, which slaveholders had previously been able to arrange privately.