Letter from Governor Bull to the Royal Council regarding the Stono Rebellion, October 1739

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In 1739 a slave uprising known as the Stono Rebellion took place in the lowcountry of South Carolina. The militia was called in and successfully put down the rebellion, but the event shook the white population of the state. Governor William Bull penned the above letter to the Royal Council in England on October 5, 1739. In it he sought to describe the rebellion and to set forth suggested preventative measures that could eliminate such an event from happening in the future.


Bull, William, Governor of South Carolina, to the Royal Council, 5 October 1739. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.


5th Octob. 1739

My Lord,

By the Tartar Pink I am Honoured with His Majesty’s Commands under His Royal Sign Manual and also with your Graces letter further Signifying His Majesty’s Pleasure. I shall always endeavour in the best manner to answer his Majesty’s gracious Intentions by pursuing these Orders in every particular and by a Proclamation have made known the same.

I had the Hounour some time ago to lay before your Grace, some account of our affairs in regard to the desertion of our Negroes who are encouraged to it by a certain Proclamation published by the King of Spain’s Order at St. Augustine, declaring freedom to all Negroes who should Desert hither from the British Colonies; since which several parties have deserted and are there openly received and protected; many attempts of others have been discovered and prevented notwithstanding which on the Ninth of September last at night a Great number of Negroes arose in rebellion, broke open a store where they got arms killed twenty one White Persons and were marching in a daring manner out of the Province killing all they met and burning the Houses on the Road through which they passed, returning in any way from the Southward with four Gentlemen, I met these Rebels at Eleven o’clock in the forenoon so that I fortunately discerned the danger time enough to avoid it and to give notice to the Militia who on the Occasion behaved with so much expedition and bravery as by four o’clock the same day to come up with them, and killed and took so many as put a stop to any further mischief at that time. Fort four of the Rebels have been killed & executed, some few yet remain concealed in the Woods and expecting the same fate seem desperate. If such an attempt was made in a time of Peace and Tranquility what might be expected if an Enemy should appear upon our Frontier with a design to invade us? Which we have great reason to expect upon the first Notice of a Rupture, being so fully informed by several hands of the great preparations that were made some time ago at the Havana which according to an account I lately received lye ready waiting only for orders to put that Design in Execution, I have pursuant to His Majesty’s Orders given notice thereof to ye Commander of His Majesty’s Ships.

It was the opinion of his Majesty’s council with several other Gentlemen, that one of the most effectual means that could be used at present, to prevent such desertion of Our Negroes is to encourage some Indians by a suitable reward to pursue and if possible to bring back the deserters, and while the Indians are thus employed they would be in the way ready to intercept others that might attempt to follow, and I have sent for the Chicasaws living at New Windsor and the Catabaw Indians for that purpose.

From the Governor of New York I have advice that about the 10th of July an army consisting of Two hundred French and Five hundred Indians, was marched from Mount Real and was to be Enforced by other French and Indians on their March, that they were designed against some Indians situated near a Branch of the Missicipi River, in amity with His majesty’s Subjects and have a trade with the People of Georgia and Virginia. I imagine that the design of this army is against the Chickasaws who are a small but brave People living near the Missicipi River who have already twice withstood and defeated the French about three years ago. I have therefore sent to those Indians to give them notice of the dangers I apprehended to be coming on them. I have been informed that the French have a Design to cut off the Chickesaws entirely, and to reduce and subdue the Chactaws, if they should succeed in these attempts it would discourage the Indians in Amity with us from withstanding or opposing them in any attempt of the like nature.

The French have for a long time wanted an opportunity to get an Interest among the Cherokees and build a Fort there. As this army which the French now have on its March from Montreal will come down a branch of the Missicipi River which runs near the Cherokees, they will probably endeavor to get the consent of those People to build a Fort there which may enable them to have a Considerable Influence in that Nation as they have already among the Upper Creeks by their Fort at the Albamas.

I apprehend that the Limits of the Charter granted by His late Majesty King Charles the Second to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, since surrendered to His present Majesty, includes the Cherokees and your Grace best knows whether that is not a sufficient objection against the French’s taking possession of the Land by a Fort within the Limits thereof doubtless the French will endeavour by all means to accomplish this as soon as possible, as it will be such a Considerable step towards their grand design of Surrounding the British Colonies. As their success in these designs might interrupt the Security of His Majesty’s Subjects in case of a War I thought it my duty to acquaint your Grace therewith I am with the greatest Respect


                                    My Lord

                                                Your Graces

                                                Most Obedient and

                                                Most humble Servant

                                                William Bull.

Correlating Social Studies Academic Standards and Literacy Elements:

Standard 4-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of North America by Native Americans, Europeans, and African Americans and the interactions among these peoples

Indicator 4-2.7 Explain how conflicts and cooperation among the Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans influenced colonial events including the French and Indian Wars, slave revolts, Native American Wars, and trade.

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Lessons Using This Document:

Effects of the Stono Rebellion

Stono Rebellion

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