There were many instances of violent slave revolts during the American colonial period. These were very desperate actions, because they were doomed to fail. The most famous slave revolts were led by Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, and Denmark Vesey.
The first major slave uprising in America happened in 1739. In the early morning hours of September 9, approximately twenty slaves gathered at the Stono River near Charleston, South Carolina. After killing two storekeepers, they marched along the main road, burning plantations and shooting and killing more than twenty whites. They marched for over ten miles without being stopped. But later that afternoon, the group, which had grown to one hundred slaves, was surrounded by armed whites who shot the slaves and cut off their heads, which they put up on spikes along the road as a warning to other slaves.
The largest slave rebellion in U.S. history was the Louisiana uprising of 1811. It involved over 300 slaves near New Orleans. Beginning at the plantation of a slave owner called Major Andre, the slaves marched toward the city, burning plantations and killing two or three whites. Soldiers killed sixty-six of them immediately, and sixteen other leaders were later tried and executed. Again, their heads were cut off and placed on spikes along the road.
The white abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) was very much against slavery, like his father had been. His opinion was that slavery could only be ended by force. On October 16, 1859, Brown and eighteen men, including several of his sons and five blacks, seized control of the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), as well as the town. After the group was surrounded by the local militia, ten of Brown’s men, including two of his sons, were killed; Brown was wounded and forced to surrender. Arrested and charged with various crimes, including treason and murder, Brown was convicted and hanged.
After each rebellion, slave codes were made stronger and punishments became more severe.
In 1831, Nat Turner led sixty slaves in the most famous slave revolt in American history, which left at least fifty-seven people dead. The revolt had a tremendous impact on the South and led to harsh restrictions.