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In 1822, Denmark Vessey organized the most elaborate and well-planned slave insurrection in the history of the United States. Had it succeeded, it also would have been the most violent. Nine years before Nat Turner's slave revolt in Virginia's Tidewater district, and thirty-seven years before John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, Vesey planned to seize the United States arsenal and ships at harbor in Charleston, then the fifth largest city in the nation. 

In preparation for this attack, he recruited perhaps nine thousand slaves to his cause. He preached to them the doctrine of negritude, the shared spiritual identity of all people of color, whether in Africa, the Americas, or the West Indies. Three months before the date of the planned uprising, he corresponded with the president of the new black Republic of Haiti, in hopes of obtaining that nation's military aid in his rebellion. 

On the night of the uprising, trusted house servants who were among his closest co-conspirators were to assassinate the governor of South Carolina and other important state officials as they slept in their Charleston homes. Vesey had prepared six infantry and calvary companies of armed slaves to roam through the streets of Charleston following these deaths, and murder the entire white population, including children. The city itself was to be burned to its foundations with explosives and incendiaries he had obtained for that purpose. The sole whites to be spared would be the captions of the ships seized after the revolt to carry him and his followers to Haiti or Africa. 

He failed, and in the summer of 1822, Vesey and seventy-seven of his followers were hanged or imprisoned. But when the details of the Vesey plot and the fact of its near-success became known outside of Charleston, his planned actions had consequences throughout nineteenth-century American history. The then U.S. president, James Monroe, withheld diplomatic recognition of the Republic of Haiti after he learned of the plot; the United States would not grant recognition to this republic, founded on the same revolutionary principles as the United States, until 1863. 

A former U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson, saw in the events at Charleston a melancholy confirmation that black slavery inevitably would sunder the nation which he, in his generation, had worked to make whole; and the secretary of war in 1822, John C. Calhoun, quietly began transferring sympathetic U.S. officers and troops southward to support slaveholding states in the coming crisis. 

Denmark Vessey made no confession, and he spoke no final words on his gallows. Throughout his trial, as former conspirators were brought into the small upstairs room to tell what they knew, "he remained immovable," his judges wrote: "he folded his arms and seemed to pay great attention to the testimony given against him, but with his eyes fixed on the floor." After each witness finished, Vesey requested and received permission from the court to conduct his own cross-examination. In questioning each witness closely about the dates of supposed conversations, he displayed what his judges characterized after his death as "great penetration and sound judgement." 

But Vesey never categorically denied the existence of a plot such as the witnesses described in their testimony against him; and he and his three coconspirators "mutually supported each other," according to his judges, with their shared byword repeated among themselves in their prison cells: "Do not open your lips! Die silent, as you shall see me do." 

Denmark Vesey's life cannot be dismissed by regarding him as a personal of social aberration. Such apparently also was realized by his judges, who shortly after publishing their account of his trial and that of his coconspirators changed their minds and sought to recall the book: An Official Report of the Trials of Sundry Negroes,Charged with an Attempt to Raise an Insurrection of the State of South Carolina.   

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Denmark Vesey
Memorial Statute
Charleston, S.C.
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Denmark Vesey: Legacy of a Black Nationalist Insurrectionist

Court records at Denmark Vesey's 1822 trial in which he was convicted of a major slave revolt, indicated he was born around 1767, on the island of St. Thomas. At that. Thomas was a colony of Denmark. 

Denmark was purchased at the age of 14 by Captain Joseph Vesey, a Bermudan sea merchant, who renamed him Telemarque'. Later he was sold to a Haitian planter, but was returned back to Joseph Vesey, when Telemargue' had epileptic seizures.  
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Telemaque worked as a personal assistant and interpreter in the slave trade which required traveling between Bermuda, Charleston, South Carolina, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Telemarque' spoke and wrote fluently in French and English, and spoke in Creole, Spanish and other European languages. Following the Revolutionary War, Captain Joseph Vesey retired to Charleston, as did Telemargue,' 

On November 9, 1799, Telemaque won $1500 in a Charleston city lottery and purchased his freedom for $600. Keeping his Vesey surname, Telemaque, began working as an independent carpenter and built up his own business. 

In 1818, after becoming a freedman, he was among founders of a congregation on what was known as the "Bethel circuit" of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME Church). This had been organized in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1816 as the first independent black denomination in the United States.

In the early 1800s, the state legislature had voted to reopen its ports to importing slaves from Africa. This decision was highly controversial and opposed by many planters in the Lowcountry, who feared the disruptive influence of new Africans on their slaves. Planters in Upland areas were developing new plantations based on short-staple cotton and needed many workers, so the state approved resumption of the Atlantic trade. The profitability of this type of cotton had been made possible by the invention of the cotton gin just before the turn of the 19th century. From 1804 to 1808, Charleston merchants imported some 75,000 slaves, more than the total brought to South Carolina in the 75 years before the Revolution. Some of these slaves were sold to the Uplands and other areas, but many of the new Africans were held in Charleston and on nearby Lowcountry plantations.

​According to author David Robertson, Telmarque' "received no formal education, but as an adult he...had extensive familiarity with the Bible, and he collected pamphlets on the abolition of the slave trade. He closely read the transcripts of the debates in the U.S. Congress throughout 1819-1821 on whether to admit Missouri as a slave state.  

Denmark Vesey reportedly planned the insurrection to take place on Bastille Day, July 14, 1822. This date was notable in association with the French Revolution, whose victors had abolished slavery in Saint-Domingue. News of the plan was said to be spread among thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and for tens of miles through plantations along the Carolina coast. (Both the city and county populations were majority black; Charleston in 1820 had a population of 14,127 blacks and 10,653 whites.) Within the black population was a growing upper class of free people of color or mulattos, some of whom were slaveholders. Vesey generally aligned himself with the slaves.





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Denmark Vesey - Biography