Denmark Vesey

Denmark Vesey was a free man, credited with planning a slave revolt in Charleston 1822. Rumours of the proposed uprising were leaked from a fellow slave resulting in the swift execution of Denmark Vesey and his conspirators on 2 July 1822. Despite almost two decades of controversial debates as to whether Denmark Vesey deserved to be remembered in the failed uprising, in acknowledgement of his efforts to help the enslaved, a statue of Denmark Vesey was finally erected in 2014 in Hampton Park, Charleston, away from the area most frequented by tourists.

See below for quick facts about Denmark Vesey.
Date of Birth and Parents:
Born Telemaque in c.1767 St Thomas, United States Virgin Islands. Little is known about Denmark Vesey's childhood and parentage, however, according to manuscripts from the trial, he was purchased from Bermudian sea captain, Joseph Vesey at the age of fourteen.

Date of Death:
Denmark Vesey was executed on 2 July 1822, Charleston, after being found guilty of inciting a slave rebellion.

Trade:
Denmark Vesey was hired out as a carpenter in 1783, when Joseph Vesey retired to Bay Street, Charleston. By this point Denmark Vesey was literate and could speak French, English, Danish and Creole.

Slave Status:
Denmark Vesey was able to purchase his freedom for $600 on 31 December 1799 after winning $1500 in the East Bay Street lottery. The proceeds were used to open a carpentry shop, which enabled him to accumulate significant wealth.

Religion and The Denmark Vesey House:
Denmark Vesey co-founded the second largest AME Church in America in 1818; this was occasionally shut down due to fears that slave laws were being broken. According to the 1821 City Registry, Denmark Vesey also rented 20 Bull Street from Dr Trezevant; however, the property today credited with being the Denmark Vesey House is likely to have been built in the 1830's, some years after Denmark Vesey's death.

The Rebellion:
In 1820, Denmark Vesey along with some slaves, conspired to overthrow the slaveholders; drawing upon Denmark Vesey's followers in the church to add to their numbers. News spread to neighbouring areas for miles, allegedly creating over nine thousand supporters. The revolt was to take place on 14 July 1822, where they were to storm the city, kill the white people within and set Charleston alight to create a distraction whilst they fled to Haiti.

However, two slaves by the name of George Wilson and Joe La Roche fed this information back to their masters, verifying the report made by fellow slave Peter Prioleau.

The Aftermath:
Militias patrolled the streets for weeks until the majority of suspects had been arrested at the end of June, where they were held in the Charleston workhouse until sufficient evidence could be gathered. There was little published by the newspapers during this time until Denmark Vesey, along with five of his co-conspirators were hung on 2 July 1822.

The church that he had co-founded was razed to the ground amid fear that religion had contributed toward the rebellion. As a result of the proposed uprising, stringent laws were in place for slaves and freemen alike; the Negro-Seaman's Act 1822 required free black sailors in to South Carolina to be housed in jail until their ship departed, limiting their influence over slaves and freemen. If the captain did not pay the jailer's fee for room and board, the free sailor would be sold in to slavery. Free black migrants were required to pay special taxes, and free men required a white guardian.

Controversy:
Governor Thomas Bennett and his brother in law, Justice Johnson were not satisfied with the efforts of the court as the suspects were not given fair trials, but Bennett was advised by the Attorney General of the State that slaves were not protected by the same rights as freemen. By the time the trials were concluded, 35 men were hung, including Denmark Vesey, 32 were deported and 53 men were acquitted.

It has since been suggested by historian Robert Wade that given certain discrepancies and lack of material evidence, that it is possible that there was not a large scale rebellion in place, but simply 'angry talk' which was blown out of proportion.


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