Sample History Essays on History Paradox: Stono Rebellion

From world wars to revolutions, slavery, and rebellions, the history of global communities is characterized by a collage of paradoxical ingredients. The Stono Rebellion is a classic illustration of the historical paradox. During the slave rebellion, many of the rebelling slaves and slave owners were killed and maimed in the name of creating greater freedom for the slaves. It is logically paradoxical that the slaves who believed in the right to life and liberty pursued their goal by denying the same rights to others including fellow slaves who were unwilling to join their cause.

Stono Rebellion

Also known as the Cato’s Rebellion in reference to the slave who instigated the rebellion, the Stono Rebellion was a slave revolt that took place in South Carolina. The uprising began in the first week of September 1739 and lasted for barely a week. However, it left a lasting mark on the history of slavery. The revolt was instigated by Jemmy, who teamed up with slaves who were predominantly of Angolan and Congolese descent. Driven by the promise of freedom and land by the Spanish who had colonized parts of Florida, the slaves sought to fight their way from the British controlled South Carolina to Spanish Florida (Vox, 2018; Foner, 2013). Historically the largest slave revolt in the history of the British colony, the Stono Rebellion, was named after Stono River, where the primary battle during the revolution was fought.

The enslaved Africans marched southwest, armed with guns, most of which they seized from local stores, killing local shopkeepers. As their revolt gathered momentum, the rebelling slaves were joined by other slaves. The number of revolting slaves increased significantly, which gave them the impetus to take on the British colonialists and local militias. Particularly, some groups of Native Indians who were hired by the local leader to suppress the rebellion. By the time the conflict ended, the rebelling slaves had killed 23 whites. However, up to 76 slaves were caught before crossing to Spanish Florida, and most of them were murdered in cold blood while the remaining few were auctioned off in slave markets (Vox, 2018; Foner, 2013). The slave owners chopped off the heads of some of the 47 slaves who were killed and staked in public places to instill a sense of fear among the slaves.

The Paradox of Stono Rebellion

The Stono Rebellion was a landmark and historical event that left an indelible mark on the history of slavery and American in general. As the first of its kind in terms of magnitude, the revolt set in motion a cascade of events that changed the quest for ending slavery. For example, it inspired many slaves in other colonies to start insurgencies (Vox, 2018). Paradoxically, the high-handed reaction by the local governor and the slave masters who even hired militias to quell the revolt and deter future rebellions only served to inspire more slave revolts. The response by the slave masters and the lieutenant governor only served to steel the resilience of the slaves in other areas to push for their freedom and liberties.

Additionally, the stipulations of the Negro Act of 1740 passed in the wake of the Stono Rebellion had paradoxical results for both the slaves and the slave owners across various British colonies. Under the new legislation, the working conditions for the slaves were improved, and penalties for slave owners who mistreated their slaves were introduced. The bill was premised on the idea that better working conditions would lead to less revolt. Essentially, the bill passed by the colonial government gave the slaves some of the liberties they were fighting for. On the other hand, it also rolled back the freedoms and liberties of the slave owners had over the slaves including mistreating them. The law also rolled back the manumission gains as free slaves were perceived as motivation for even more slaves pushing for freedom and hence revolution. Any manumission effort had to be approved by the lawmakers (Vox, 2018). Logically, such a bill ought to have favored the slave owners who had greater political influence in the colonies.

The revolt was intended at freeing souls and achieving liberty and freedom. However, it is paradoxical that such a noble cause aimed at preserving human life was sought through shedding of blood. Souls were sacrificed in order to save and free other souls. It is ironical that the slaves forced other slaves to join them in a quest for freedom. Freedoms and liberties were sacrificed for others to gain freedom.

Human history is rich with events with paradoxical intentions and outcomes. The events the preceded the Stono Rebellion, and its aftermath crystallized the paradox of human history. The rebelling slaves sought to extend the freedom and right to self-determination and paid labor to the slaves. At the time, slavery was the status quo. Owning slaves was primarily reserved for the whites. Slave ownership was a right and freedom that only whites enjoyed. The Jemmy-led slaves’ revolt essentially challenged this norm. Nonetheless, that lives had to be sacrificed for slaves to push for their freedom is paradoxical.




Foner, E. (2013). Give me liberty!: An American history Vol. 1 (Seagull 4th Ed). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Vox, L. (2018 August 28). Impact of the Stono Rebellion on the lives of slaves. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from