South Carolina - Antebellum Key Events - Denmark Vesey Conspiracy

May or May Not Be Denmark Vesey
Some Sources Say Yes, Some Sources Assert This is Frederick Douglass
This Author Does Not Know Which is Correct
The Readers Must Decide for Themselves

Denmark Vesey (1767-1822), an African American who fought to liberate his people from slavery, planned an abortive slave insurrection. The results of the failed plot were to have long-lasting effects on the subject of slavery until their emancipation at the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865.

Denmark Vesey, whose original name was Telemanque, was born in West Africa. As a youth, he was captured, sold as a slave, and brought to America. In 1781, he came to the attention of a slaver, Captain Vesey, who was "struck with the beauty, alertness, and intelligence" of the boy. Captain Vesey, a resident of Charleston, SC, acquired the boy. The captain had "no occasion to repent" his purchase of Denmark, who "proved for 20 years a most faithful slave."

In 1800, the slave Demnark Vesey won a $1,500 lottery prize, with which he purchased his freedom and opened a carpentry shop. Soon this highly-skilled artisan became distinguished for his great strength and activity. He was always looked up to with awe and respect by both black and white Americans. He acquired property and became prosperous.

Nevertheless, Denmark Vesey was not content with his relatively successful life. He hated slavery and slaveholders. This brilliant man versed himself in all the available anti-slavery arguments and spoke out against the abuse and exploitation of his own people. Believing in equality for everyone and vowing never to rest until his people were free, he became the political provocateur, agitating and moving his brethren to resist their enslavement.

Selecting a cadre of exceptional lieutenants, Denmark Vesey began organizing the black community in and around Charleston to revolt. He developed a very sophisticated scheme to carry out his plan. The conspiracy included over 9,000 slaves and free blacks in Charleston and on the neighboring plantations.

The revolt, which was scheduled to occur on July 14, 1822, was betrayed before it could be put into effect. As rumors of the plot spread, Charleston was thrown into a panic. Vesey attempted to accelerate the date one month earlier, but that failed as well. Leaders of the plot were rounded up. Denmark Vesey and forty-six (46) other were condemned, and even four whites were implicated in the revolt. On June 23, 1822, Vesey was hanged on the gallows for plotting to overthrow slavery.

After careful examination of the historical record, the judgment of Sterling Stuckey remains valid:

"Vesey's example must be regarded as one of the most courageous ever to threaten the racist foundations of America.... He stands today, as he stood yesterday ... as an awesome projection of the possibilities for militant action on the part of a people who have for centuries been made to bow down in fear."

Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of slaves during the 1791 Haitian Revolution, and furious at the closing of an African Church, Denmark Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place on Bastille Day, July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and along the Carolina coast. The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and free blacks to slay their owners and temporarily seize the city of Charleston. Shortly after the rebellion was to take place, Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation. The plot was leaked by two slaves opposed to Vesey's scheme, and 131 people were charged with conspiracy by Charleston authorities. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.

One of his sons, Sandy Vesey, was transported, probably to Cuba, and his last wife, Susan, later emigrated to Liberia. Another son, Robert Vesey, survived to rebuild the city's African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1865.

In response to white fears, a municipal guard of 150 men was established in Charleston in 1822. Half the men were stationed in an arsenal called The Citadel. In 1842, the South Carolina legislature replaced the expensive guardsmen with cheaper cadets, and the arsenal was turned over to the newly-established South Carolina Military Academy, which later became known as The Citadel.


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