July 5 1816: Camden Slave Rebellion

On July 5 1816, five slaves, known by their first names of Cameron, Isaac, Jack, March and Spottswood, are hanged. They were convicted the day before of attempting “an insurrection amongst the slaves” of South Carolina. The planned rebellion was to have taken place on the Fourth of July in Camden, South Carolina. The rebellion was betrayed and suppressed. Another slave by the name of Ned will later be hanged for the rebellion. His trial will commence on July 5, then adjourned to July 9, on which day he is found guilty, and he is hanged alone on July 12 1816. 

The details of the attempted slave rebellion are described The Camden African-American Heritage Project [1] as follows: 

In the summer of 1816, a group of slaves in Camden planned their own uprising.14 They planned to seize weapons at the unguarded arsenal in the heart of town on the fourth of July turn them on the whites, most of whom they knew would be inebriated at Independence Day celebrations, and make their escape. Contemporary accounts from white Camden indicated that the object of the plot was to destroy the town, murder all the white male inhabitants, and violate the white women. Scipio, a slave of Colonel James Chesnut, warned his master of the plot in mid-June. The white authorities in the town conducted a quiet investigation until they had enough evidence to arrest and try those they believed responsible for the plot. On 2 July a posse of young men arrested the suspects, and the town council met to question them. Beginning on 3 July and continuing for two weeks, a special court composed of two justices of the peace and five landowners tried the cases of fourteen slaves. Six were found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged in front of the town jail. One slave, Big Frank, was found guilty but sentenced to one year in irons in solitary confinement. Another slave, Stephen, was found guilty and sentenced to death, but, curiously, he was set free after all the others had been executed. Nine others were found not guilty and released to their owners. Scipio was rewarded for his service in betraying the plot; an 1817 act of the General Assembly gave him freedom and a lifetime allowance of fifty dollars a year.

Little is known of the condemned six except for their names and those of their owners, all prominent Camden citizens. Ned belonged to Sarah Martin, the elderly widow of a Revolutionary doctor. Cameron and Isaac were the property of another widow, Sarah Lang. Her son Thomas Lang, a prominent planter, owned Jack. Thomas Lang‘s father-in-law, Duncan McRae, owned Spottswood. March belonged to Chapman Levy, a lawyer and legislator. All but one of the conspirators were hanged on 5 July; Ned‘s sentence was carried out on 12 July. The Camden Gazette reported that ―those who were most active in the conspiracy occupied a respectable stand in one of the churches, several were professors [of Christianity] and one a class leader. Significantly, at least two of the convicted plotters were literate. Another contemporary account said:

Two brothers engaged in this rebellion could read and write, and were hitherto of unexceptional characters. They were religious, and had always been regarded in the light of faithful servants. A few appeared to have been actuated solely by the lust of plunder, but most of them by wild and frantic ideas of the rights of man, and the misconceived injunctions and examples of Holy Writ.

Like the slave insurrectionists in St. Domingue and elsewhere, the Camden plotters appear to have imbibed the ―wild and frantic ideas of the rights of man‖ of the American and French revolutions, as well as the liberatory teachings of the Bible. At least one of the leaders of the plot, Isaac, was a drummer for the local militia company. He had accompanied the militiamen to Charleston in 1814 when the city was under threat of British attack, and likely had at least some familiarity with weapons.

Notes

1. Crawford, Lindsay; Guinn, Ashley; Kubly, McKenzie; Maybin, Lindsay; Shandor, Patricia; Thompson, Santi; and Venters, Louis, “The Camden African-American Heritage Project” (2006). Books and Manuscripts. Book http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/pubhist_books/2

2. More information about the rebellion can also be found at “An Insurrection Plotted by Slaves in Camden, South Carolina.”

3.The image of two legs of hanged men in @1816now is from the mural in Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster by the artist Lori LeMare with respect to the Bloody Assize in Ancaster  of  June 1814.

4. The image above is of unknown provenance, and I do not know if it is real.

3 thoughts on “July 5 1816: Camden Slave Rebellion

    • The images used, either in the blog or in @1816now, are always illustrative, and only in very rare circumstances purport to be contemporaneous representations of the event discussed. Sometimes, the image is meant to provide a comment or make an ironic point with respect to the event or text. Sometimes, they are crude visual puns that only I find funny. Sometimes, I just like the image. Put it in another way, the images are meant to capture a mood or comment by contrast to the text. Ethically, my main concern is that the image is interesting. I also feel ethically obliged to provide appropriate credit for or indicate the origin of image. I admit that this is an ongoing struggle, given the flood of images available. In case of the photograph above, I have indicated in the notes that I do not know its provenance or if it is authentic. I found it here: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/ff/2a/21/ff2a2185722b4ab3afae8c2f8387475b.jpg Thank you for your interest.

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