Lesson Plan: Overview

Stono Rebellion

Grade Level: 4th
Gov. Bull Letter - Page 1

Academic Standards

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.

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.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

E. Explain change and continuity over time.

K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret           social studies trends and relationships.

Essential Question

1. How did the Stono Rebellion affect treatment of slaves in colonial America?                                   

Historical Background Notes

The Stono Rebellion occurred near the Stono River, about 20 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, and was the largest slave revolt in colonial America.  Spain was offering freedom to any slave who reached Spanish territory (Smith 16), so slave escapes had been on the increase in the Carolinas, and slave revolts were feared by plantations owners.  Plans were being made to require whites to be armed and more vigilant.

The Stono Rebellion occurred during the early morning hours of Sunday, September 9, 1739.  While white families were in church, a slave called Jemmy (Greenlee 93) led a group of about 20 slaves who broke into a store, killed the store owner, and armed themselves with a supply of guns and ammunition.  From there the slaves moved southward from one plantation to another slaughtering whites and burning houses as they went.  Men, women, and children were killed.  Some were beheaded and their heads were left for display.  At one tavern, the insurgents spared the life of the innkeeper because he was known to be good to his slaves. At another, a slave hid his master and distracted the insurgents. (Smith 18)  As the slaves moved southward more slaves from the plantations joined the rebel force, which continued in military fashion displaying a flag and beating a drum. 

Lt. Gov. William Bull, who was traveling on horseback with four companions, happened upon the rebels about eleven o’clock in the morning.  Bull and his companions quickly fled for their own safety.  They alerted the militia and local planters, who then organized men to pursue the insurgents. At about four o’clock in the afternoon they came upon the group of slaves about ten miles to the south. (Bull 186)   Some slaves were resting.  Others were drunk on whiskey they had stolen in the raid.  The slaves fought hard, but the militia won the fight and ended the Stono Rebellion killing many of the slaves.  Slaves who escaped the scene were tracked down for months, and most were apprehended.   Those responsible for the revolt were executed.  One slave, July, who had saved the lives of his owner and the owner’s family was given his freedom. (Smith 18)  Forty-four blacks and twenty-one whites lost their lives as a result of the Stono Rebellion.

South Carolina responded to the rebellion by galvanizing an effort to control the behavior of slaves and prevent any further revolts.   Stricter slave codes were established with the Negro Act of 1740, dictating such things as how slaves were to be treated, punished, and dressed.  It forbade them from assembling with one another or being taught to read or write.  The 1740 slave codes were largely unaltered until emancipation in 1865.


Primary Sources

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

1740 South Carolina Slave Code.  Acts of the South Carolina General Assembly, 1740 #670.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

“TO BE SOLD,” “TO BE SOLD,” and “ON  WEDNESDAY”.  (Charleston) The South Carolina Gazette. Saturday June 2 to Saturday June 9, 1739.  p. 3, c 1.  Records of the States of the United States microfilm series.  Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Secondary Sources

Smith, Mark M., ed. Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.

Copeland, David A.  Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers:  Primary Document on events of the period. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Greenlee, Marcia M.  “National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form: The Stono River Slave Rebellion site,” May 30, 1974.  Prepared by the Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina, July 16, 2008.


• Paper

• Pencils

• Chart paper

• Magic markers

• Transcribed copies of primary sources

• Teacher-made flipchart to be used on the Promethean board

Lesson Plans

Note (day 1):  On the previous day, students participated in a discussion of the facts of the Stono Rebellion.  They looked at the rebellion from the opposing viewpoints of slaves versus plantation owners.  They contributed to a class discussion of the two viewpoints and contributed ideas for a class chart showing the contrast.

Procedures Outline (day 1) :

1. Teacher-led discussion addressing the increased use of slaves on southern plantations during the early 1700’s, emphasizing slave trade, slave treatment, and slave population size, and economic necessity of slave labor.

2. Primary source: 

Students were given individual copies of the newspaper ads showing announcements of slaves to be sold.  This led to a discussion of slaves as property and why slaves may want to escape.

3. Students and teacher made a comparison chart on whiteboard comparing plantation owners view of slavery with the viewpoint of the slaves.

4. Review - students referred to map showing English, French, and Spanish land claims in 1700. 

5. Connection - students learned of Spanish offer of freedom for escaped slaves who reached Spanish-held land and how this led to the Stono Rebellion.

6. Primary source:

 Students were given copies of Governor Bull’s letter of October 5, 1739 giving details of the Stono Rebellion and the aftermath.  Through discussion, students learned of the events and the horror of this rebellion. They also learned that Native Americans had been recruited with promise of reward if they caught and returned any of the insurgents.

7. Reflection - students and teacher worked together and made a flow chart on the white board cause/effect events leading up to Stono Rebellion. 

8. Students in small groups made predictions about how this rebellion would change things for the plantation owner and for the slaves.  These were recorded (along with their reasoning) and shared with the class.

Procedures Outline (day 2)

1. Introduction - List the dates 1739, 1963, and 2008 on the board.  Teacher will label and explain each date with significant events:  Stono Rebellion, Martin Luther Kings, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, and election of African American (Obama) as President.  Students will examine a political cartoon published the day after Obama was elected.  The cartoon shows Martin Luther King, Jr. saying “I have a reality.” Teacher will stress that there is almost 300 years between these events and encourage students to think about why it took almost 300 years to go from the slavery system to a point where an African American is elected President of the United States.  

2. Review - Through class discussion, students will review the facts of the Stono Rebellion of 1729 presented the previous day.

3. Discussion of results - guiding questions (displayed on Promethean board):

  • What happens to people when they misbehave at school?
  • What happens to people who break the law?
  • What happened to the slaves who were involved in the rebellion?

4. Display Governor Bull’s letter on the Promethean board.  Call attention to the parts that tell how the slaves were punished.

5. Discussion (questions displayed on Promethean board) : 

  • Do you think the harsh punishment of the rebels was fair?
  • Do you think this rebellion will encourage or discourage other slaves to try to escape?  Why?  Why not?
  • What actions can the plantation owners and merchants take to prevent another slave revolt?

6. Small groups:  In small groups, students will brainstorm ideas, then record in writing a list of actions that planters may take to avoid further slave rebellions.

7. Whole group:  Small groups will share their lists and explain reasoning.

8. Students will receive transcribed copies of a portion of the Negro Act of 1740. On each page important lines will be highlighted for students to read and interpret.  Through guided reading, the class will discuss the strict regulations placed on slaves by this act, and relate them to the prevention of insurgence. They will also be made aware that this Act provided some protection to slaves.

If time permits the class will continue with steps 9-11.  If not, we will wrap up the lesson by talking about the writing, and they will do it on day 3 of the lesson.

9. Written response assignment presented.  Writing prompt: “Explain the results of the Stono Rebellion and how it affected the lives of slaves in colonial America.”

10. Teacher will present and explain rubric.

11. Students will write independently.

Teacher Reflections

Being a participant in the TAHSC 2008 Upstate Summer Institute has definitely resulted in my increased interest in American history and that has influenced my teaching.  When I signed up for the institute, I thought it was just a two-week workshop that would give me new ideas for teaching social studies.  I did not need any type of recertification credit and was truly only interested in improving my teaching.  Well, I got more than I bargained for!  I have improved my teaching of American history because of the institute, but I have also developed more interest in history for history sake.  That interest is the direct result of information gained this summer and of using primary sources. 

One of the first benefits of the institute was the reaffirmation that I was knowledgeable about the portion of American history that I teach.  That in itself gave me more confidence in my teaching.  But even more important is that I learned so much more history that helped me make more sense of what I already knew.  It was history that I will not necessarily be teaching to elementary students, but the value was in the connections of my prior knowledge, the content instruction, the visits to cultural institutes and historical sites, and learning to access and use primary sources.

The content instruction has been especially valuable to me in “fleshing” out the bare-bones content presented in our fourth grade text book.  I have been able to show my students connections between events and contribute to their better understanding of cause/effect and timing of historical events.  I had always taught the Stono Rebellion lesson as a lead-in to slavery and the Civil War, but this time I was able to teach it in time sequence connecting it to the Spanish in colonial America.  I had not made that connection until the TAHSC institute. I have a better understanding of how events in colonial America were influenced by relations between countries in Europe. When preparing this lesson and others this year, I have not depended so heavily on the fourth grade textbook, but have referred to the notes I took during Paul’s instruction as well as to the various books I received.  I have utilized the www.teachingushistory.org website for lesson plan ideas and primary sources. 

The methods instruction has also carried over into my classroom.  Activities that we did with Amanda during the summer institute have been adapted to use with my nine/ten year olds.  One example is the activity that we did using old pictures of slave activity and acting out what we thought happened before or after the event in the picture.  Using an image taken from the SC United Streaming website I did the same activity when building background for the Stono lesson.  Such methods give me insight into how my students perceive historical events.  This has been a good diagnostic tool to help me correct their misconceptions.  As a result of the methods instruction, I am also using more political cartoons.  Because of this year’s historically significant presidential election, I have used many current political cartoons.  In the Stono lesson I used one of Martin Luther King, Jr. saying “I have a reality” that was published the day after Obama was elected President.  The students gained a better understanding of the purpose of historical political cartoons as primary sources.

The visits to cultural institutions helped me personally to learn about local history and also about available local resources.  For this lesson I gained information about the Stono Rebellion from the Strom Thurmond Institute.  I am planning a future lesson on Orr’s Rifles, and David Condon from the Anderson Museum has been especially helpful to me in providing primary sources for that lesson.  The support of South Carolina Department of History and Archives personnel has also been most helpful.  After observing my lesson on the Stono Rebellion, Don Stewart emailed me information about primary sources relating to the Denmark Vessey affair.  I plan to use these in later lessons relating this event back to the Stono event. 

Again the real value of my improved instruction this year has been in helping students make connections and see that history is a continually flowing story, not just a series of isolated events.  My students are developing more insight into why things happened.  They are showing more evidence of thinking about the cause or effects of events rather than just memorizing material for a test.  In their responses to the Stono Rebellion lesson, they clearly understood the connections of the revolt to the establishment of the 1740 Slave Codes.  One student, Breck, writes “It was a group of slaves in conflict with the plantation owners. After the Stono Rebellion the whites made up news(sic) laws called the Slave Code.  This changed everything.”  Another child, Alex, wrote about the conflict and some specific effects of the Slave Code.  Then he states “This made the plantation owners in more control.  The laws did’t(sic) change in about 100 years.”  A third child, Alexis, also understood that the laws protected the slaves in some ways.  She states “But the plantation owners had to face consequences too.”  One of my ESOL students, Floriberta, understood the influence of the Spanish in Florida.  In her broken English she writes “Then one Sunday morning in 1739 a group of black men.  Then they started a fight called Stono Rebellion.  The Stono Rebellion was a blooded and slaughter fight.  They started that rebellion because they wanted to escape to Florida.”   All of these kids were making connections and understanding cause and effect.

One other example of their making connections and really thinking occurred when we were discussing the Spanish, French and English effort to control land in colonial America.  According to the social studies supporting document, fourth grade students must be able to identify on a map land controlled by each of these groups in colonial America.  This year students were looking at the map and speculating that putting the debtors in Georgia was “pretty smart.”  It would keep the Spanish out of South Carolina because as one child put it, “Those debtors would fight them Spanish so they would not have to go back to England and be put in the king’s dungeon again.”  In looking at the Stono Rebellion, they reasoned that the Spanish wanted to weaken South Carolina’s plantation system, thus their economy, by helping slaves escape.  The amazing thing was that they were thinking of this on their own before I had explained the significance of these events.

Access to primary documents has improved the effectiveness of my instruction. Primary sources were the only items I used with the children for the Stono lesson, and I have used them for many of my lessons this year.  When I was teaching my students about the presidential election process laid out in the Constitution, we used the primary source showing the casting of South Carolina’s electoral votes when George Washington ran for president.  They were fascinated and they still look at that today.  After Obama was elected in 2008 and again after his inauguration in 2009, several of my students told me they were saving the newspapers from those days to show their grandchildren someday because newspapers are a primary source. (Of course, one of them is saving them because he thinks they will be worth a lot of money.) 

Using primary sources has raised student interest level and has made history real for them. The slave sale notices impressed upon them the reality of slaves as property.  Overall, the primary sources have given them a sense of the reality of historical persons and events.  Just lately when we were talking about the events leading up to the Revolutionary War and discussing quartering of soldiers, one of the children asked me, “Are there any primary sources to back that up?”  As I said, they are thinking, and that’s what teaching is all about.

To contribute to my future growth as a teacher, I am assembling files of primary sources for each major period of history I teach.  I have also learned to enjoy reading historical nonfiction more as a result of exposure during the Summer Institute.  I plan to continue this reading.  Completing everything for this course has not been easy, but I have certainly learned a lot.  I am grateful that I had the opportunity to participate.

Student Assessment

Teacher observation:

  • Participation in class discussion
  • Oral responses that indicate understanding
Rubric-based evaluation of writing

Examples of Students Work

Student Written Response Assignment

Student Brainstorming Assignment


Jackie Orr
Liberty Elementary
Liberty, South Carolina