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10 Things To Know About Denmark Vesey, Who Bought His Freedom And Plotted A Slave Revolution

10 Things To Know About Denmark Vesey, Who Bought His Freedom And Plotted A Slave Revolution

Denmark Vesey
The story of Denmark Vesey and 34 other slaves is now known as one of the first and most sophisticated collective plots against slavery in the U.S. The Denmark Vesey House in Charleston, S.C., is shown on April 18, 2007. Image: AP Photo/Bruce Smith

The story of Denmark Vesey, a Black carpenter who bought his freedom after winning the lottery and then secretly plotted a slave rebellion in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, is riddled with controversy as the narrative is only told by third parties.

Though the rebellion never actually happened, after a slave told authorities about the plan, the story of Vesey and 34 other slaves is now known as one of the first and most sophisticated collective plots against slavery in the U.S.

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Here are 10 things you should know about Denmark Vesey.

He was of Ghanaian origin

His given name at the time of his birth in 1767 was Telemaque. Douglas Egerton, a historian, suggested that Vesey could have been of Ghanaian origin. He later assumed his former slave master’s name — Joseph Vesey.

Pretended to be ill

Vesey was bought as a slave at the age of 14 by Joseph Vesey. Joseph later sold him to a farmer in St. Domingue but Denmark Vesey was returned because he was said to be ill, suffering from epilepsy. However, some records say that he was pretending to be ill so he could be returned to his former master.

Plot to kill slaveholders

He was an alleged leader of a planned slave revolt. The group was supposed to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves and sail to Haiti for refuge.

Founder of independent African Methodist Episcopal Church

He was among the founders of an independent African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1818. The church was later known as Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and it had the support of the white clergy in the city.

He won $1,500 in a lottery

At the age of 32, Denmark Vesey won $1,500 in a city lottery. He used $600 of the money to buy his freedom from Joseph Vesey. He then started working as an independent carpenter and grew his business.

His children were born into slavery

He was married to Beck, who was an enslaved woman, therefore, their children were born into slavery as that was the case at the time. If an enslaved woman had children, the children would also be slaves even if the father was a free man. Vesey worked hard and later tried to buy the freedom of his wife and children, but her master would not sell.

Breaking the bonds of slavery

Although Vesey was a free man, he continued to socialize with slaves and his main goal was to help his friends break from the bonds of slavery. Vesey held numerous secret meetings and eventually gained the support of both slaves and free men throughout the city and countryside who were willing to fight for their freedom.

He taught liberation theology

He had organized weekly meetings held in his home where Vesey taught a radical new liberation theology. In the year 1818, white authorities disrupted one of the meetings attended by free Black ministers from Philadelphia and arrested people. He considered leaving Charleston for Africa, but he decided to stay. With new urgency, he preached that freedom for slaves would be realized, and he began plotting a rebellion.

Betrayed by fellow slaves

At the age of 55, Vesey was betrayed by two slaves who were against the idea of a rebellion. The two testified against him and other leaders, thereafter the mayor launched an offensive against them, many people were arrested, including Vesey.

Sentenced to death and hanged

Vesey defended himself ably at his trial but was sentenced to death and hanged along with about 35 others. Other slaves who were not sentenced to death were sold to West Indian plantation owners. If the rebellion had been successful, it would have been the largest slave revolt in U.S. history.

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