Seeing the growing displeasure, the Sultan Selim III proclaimed fermans in 1793 and 1796 which gave more rights to Serbs. Among other things, taxes were to be collected by local Serbian rulers called knezes ("local dukes"), freedom of trade and religion were granted, and, most importantly, the Janissary corps were to leave Belgrade Pashaluk.
However, on January 30, 1799, the Turkish court allowed the Janissaries to return. They and their leaders, the dahias, showed little respect towards any authority, even the central Turkish government. After killing Vizier Hadži-Mustafa of Belgrade in 1801, they started to rule Serbia on their own. Recently-granted rights were suspended, and dahias exerted unlimited rule over Belgrade Pashaluk. Taxes were drastically increased, land was seized, forced labour (čitlučenje) was introduced, and many citizens fled the Janissaries in fear.
On February 14, 1804, in the small Šumadija village of Orašac, the Serbs gathered and decided to undertake an uprising. Karađorđe Petrović was elected as the leader of the uprising, which started immediately. That afternoon, a Turkish inn (caravanserai) in Orašac was burned and its residents fled or were killed. Similar actions were undertaken in surrounding villages and then spread further. Soon the cities Valjevo and Požarevac were liberated, and the siege of Belgrade started.
When he was informed about the uprising, Selim III started to negotiate with the rebels. Dahias escaped from Belgrade, but they were captured and killed on the island of Ada Kaleh in the Danube. Eventually, the negotiations failed, and the Sultan organised a military campaign against the uprising.
The first major battle of the uprising was the Battle of Ivankovac in 1805, where Karađorđe defeated the Turkish army and forced it to retreat toward Niš. The second major battle of the uprising was Battle of Mišar in 1806, in which the rebels defeated an Ottoman army from Bosnia led by Kulin Captain. At the same time, the rebels led by Petar Dobrnjac defeated another army sent from the southeast in the Battle of Deligrad. In December 1806, the rebels besieged Belgrade, which was liberated in the beginning of 1807.
In 1805 the Serbian rebels organized a basic government for administering Serbia during the combat. Rule was divided between the Narodna Skupština (People's assembly), the Praviteljstvujušči Sovjet (Ruling Council), and Karađorđe himself. Land was returned, forced labour was abolished, and taxes were reduced. The young state was modernised and by 1808 the Great School was founded, regarded as the foundation of the University of Belgrade.
Some of the leaders of the uprising later abused their privileges for personal gain, such as the reintroduction of forced labour in some places. There was dissent between Karađorđe and other leaders; Karađorđe wanted absolute power, while his voivods wanted to limit it. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-12 ended, the Ottoman Empire exploited these circumstances and reconquered Serbia in 1813.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, the First Serbian Uprising paved the way for the Second Serbian Uprising of 1815, which eventually succeeded in securing Serbian autonomy.