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Slave Rebellions

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Uprisings by slaves didn't happen often. But a few notable incidents made a constant fear of slave rebellions resonate deeply in the American South.

The Stono Rebellion, in 1739, was the largest slave revolt in colonial America. Slaves along the Stono River in South Carolina, some of whom had served as soldiers in Africa before being sold into slavery, planned their actions carefully.

After seizing weapons, the slaves, in military formation and flying flags, tried to march south to Florida. The local militia located and attacked them, killing many.

Nearly a century later, Nat Turner's Rebellion in 1831 terrified Virginians. Turner, a slave who spoke of having religious visions, led a band of about 50 men, seizing weapons and murdering whites.

A local militia attacked Turner and his men, and Turner was eventually hunted down. After a trial he was hanged.

When the fanatical abolitionist John Brown seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859, it sent a shock wave through southern society as the fear of slave rebellions had always been so pervasive.

Indeed, laws which had been passed to prevent slave rebellions, and the violence unleashed to put them down, demonstrated that slavery was not the benign and human institution its supporters often claimed.

Illustration: Capture of Nat Turner/Getty Images


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