5 Notable Rebellions by Enslaved People

One of the ways that enslaved Black people resisted their oppression was through rebellions. According to historian Herbert Aptheker's text, "American Negro Slave Revolts" an estimated 250 revolts, uprisings, and conspiracies have been documented. 

The list below includes five of the most memorable uprisings and conspiracies as highlighted in historian Henry Louis Gates' documentary series, "African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross."

These acts of resistance: The Stono Rebellion, New York City Conspiracy of 1741, Gabriel Prosser's Plot, Andry's Rebellion, and Nat Turner's Rebellion--were all chosen for their historical significance.

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Stono Rebellion

Stono Slave Rebellion
Public Domain

The Stono Rebellion was the largest rebellion organized by enslaved African Americans in colonial America. Located near the Stono River in South Carolina, the actual details of the 1739 rebellion are murky because only one firsthand account was ever recorded. However, several secondhand reports were also recorded and it is important to note that white residents of the area wrote the records. 

On September 9, 1739, a group of twenty enslaved African American people 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. 

Marching down St. Paul Parish with signs that read "Liberty," and with beating drums, the group was headed to Florida. It is unclear who led the group. By some accounts, it was a man named Cato, by others, Jemmy. 

The group killed a series of enslavers and their families, burning homes as they traveled. 

Within 10 miles, a white militia found the group. The enslaved men were decapitated, in front of other enslaved people. In the end, 21 white people and 44 Black people were killed. 

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The New York City Conspiracy of 1741

The New York City Conspiracy of 1741
Public Domain

Also known as the Negro Plot Trial of 1741, historians are unclear how or why this rebellion began. 

While some historians believe that enslaved Black people had developed a plan to end enslavement, others believe it was part of the larger protest against being a colony of England.

However, this is clear: between March and April of 1741, ten fires were set throughout New York City. On the last day of the fires, four were set. A jury found that a group of Black arsonists had started the fires as part of a conspiracy to end enslavement and kill white people.

Over one hundred enslaved African American people were arrested for burglary, arson, and insurrection. Of those, 13 African American men were burned at the stake; 17 Black men, two white men, and two white women were hung. In addition, 70 African American people and seven white people were expelled from New York City. 

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Gabriel Prosser's Rebellion Plot

Gabriel Prosser's Rebellion Plot

Gabriel Prosser and his brother, Solomon, were preparing for the farthest-reaching rebellion in United States history. Inspired by the Haitian Revolution, the Prossers organized enslaved and freed African American people, poor white people, and Native Americans to rebel against wealthy white people. But inclement weather and fear kept the rebellion from ever taking place.

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.

After telling Solomon and another enslaved man named Ben of his plans, the trio began recruiting other men. Women were not included in Prosser's militia. 

Men were recruited throughout the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, and Albermarle as well as the counties of Henrico, Caroline, and Louisa. Prosser used his skills as a blacksmith to create swords and molding bullets. Others collected weapons. The motto of the rebellion would be the same as the Haitian Revolution, "Death or Liberty." Although rumors of the upcoming rebellion were reported to Governor Monroe, they were ignored.

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 American people shared the plans with their enslavers. Landowners set up patrols and alerted Monroe, who organized the state militia to search for rebels. Within two weeks, almost 30 enslaved African American people were in jail waiting to be seen in the Oyer and Termini, a court in which people are tried without a jury but are permitted to provide testimony.

The trial lasted two months, and an estimated 65 enslaved men were tried. It is reported that 30 were executed while others were sold away. Some were found not guilty, and others were pardoned.

On September 14, Prosser was identified to authorities. On October 6, Prosser's trial began. Several people testified against Prosser, yet he refused to make a statement.

On October 10, Prosser was hung in the town gallows.

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German Uprising of 1811 (Andry's Rebellion)

Andry Rebellion
Public Domain

Also known as the Andry Rebellion, this is the largest revolt in United States history.

On January 8, 1811, an enslaved man by the name of Charles Deslondes led an organized rebellion of enslaved people 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 rebels killed two white men, burned down at least three plantations and accompanying crops, and gathered weapons along the way.

Within two days a militia of planters had been formed. Attacking the enslaved Black men at the Destrehan Plantation, the militia killed an estimated 40 freedom seekers. Others were captured and executed. In total, an estimated 95 rebels were killed during this revolt.

The leader of the rebellion, Deslondes, was never given a trial nor was he interrogated. Instead, as described by a planter:

"Charles [Deslondes] had his hands chopped off then shot in one thigh & then the other until they were both broken — then shot in the body and before he had expired was put into a bundle of straw and roasted!" 
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Nat Turner's Rebellion

Nat Turner's Rebellion
Getty Images

Nat Turner's Rebellion occurred on August 22, 1831, in Southhampton County, Va. Enslaved from birth, Turner learned to read and would preach to other enslaved people. He believed he received a vision from God to lead a rebellion. 

Turner's Rebellion refuted the lie that enslavement was a benevolent institution. The Rebellion showed the world how Christianity supported the idea of freedom for Black people. 

During Turner's confession, he 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.”
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Lewis, Femi. "5 Notable Rebellions by Enslaved People." ThoughtCo, Sep. 4, 2020, thoughtco.com/unforgettable-slave-rebellions-45412. Lewis, Femi. (2020, September 4). 5 Notable Rebellions by Enslaved People. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/unforgettable-slave-rebellions-45412 Lewis, Femi. "5 Notable Rebellions by Enslaved People." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/unforgettable-slave-rebellions-45412 (accessed May 31, 2023).