A Student of History

July 12, 2006

Some in S.C. think there’s something rotten with Denmark

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 5:07 am

In an article from Cox News service, there’s some debate over the alleged Denmark Vesey slave conspiracy, in S.C. in 1822.  The piece begins:

There’s no likeness of him, no record of a word he wrote or said directly, no marked grave. The slave rebellion he allegedly plotted — which would’ve been the largest in U.S. history — was scotched before it happened. Some historians believe there was no plot — that the insurrection said to have called for the murder of every white in Charleston was concocted by white leaders for political advantage.

What isn’t disputed: Denmark Vesey, a freed slave, was hanged in 1822 with 34 co-conspirators. It’s believed to be the largest set of executions ordered by a U.S. court.  Scholars regard Vesey as a precursor both to the Civil War and the civil rights movement, but he is among the most divisive figures most Southerners have never heard of. Here, many blacks exalt him as a freedom fighter, while some whites condemn him as a terrorist.

The problem is that there’s an ongoing effort to erect a public monument to Vesey in Charleston, “a decade-long odyssey, with only a fraction of the $200,000 needed raised so far.”  those who know how these things play out should not be surprised that there’s plenty of opposition to it. 

[Denmark Vesey house]

The photo is of Vesey’s house in Charleston.  The rest of the article is here.   A PBS sight gives this info on DV:

On May 30, 1822, George Wilson, “a favourite and confidential slave” informed his master of a planned insurrection that involved thousands of free and enslaved blacks who lived in and around Charleston.

Charleston authorities subsequently uncovered evidence of the most extensive black insurrection in American history, planned for July, 1822. The city’s suppression of the African Church, which boasted a membership of over three thousand in 1820, provided the catalyst for revolt; Denmark Vesey began using his position as a respected free man and Methodist leader to organize other free and enslaved blacks. Among Vesey’s co-conspirators was Gullah Jack Pritchard, an African priest from Mozambique. Monday Gell, another of his lieutenants, wrote two letters to the president of Santo Domingo seeking support for the insurrection.

Once the plot was betrayed, Charleston officials moved quickly to arrest and question the leaders. Following a lengthy trial, Vesey and thirty-six others were hanged. On the day of Vesey’s execution, state militia and federal troops had to be called out to contain a demonstration by black supporters. Despite arrests and beatings, many blacks defied authorities by wearing mourning black as they witnessed the executions of the chief co-conspirators.

In August of 1822, the City Council authorized J. Hamilton, the city’s Intendant (Mayor) to publish an account of Vesey’s rebellion. Hamilton prefaced his account by noting,

“I have not been insensible…as to what it might be politic either to publish or suppress….I have deemed a full publication … as the most judicious course …. there can be no harm in the salutary inculcation of one lesson, among a certain portion of our population, that there is nothing they are bad enough to do, that we are not powerful enough to punish.”

Hamilton’s “Account” was sold for 25 cents, with a “discount by the hundred.”


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