Vesey, Denmark

Vesey, Denmark

Vesey, Denmark, 1767?–1822, African-American leader. After many years as a slave he won (1800) $1,500 in a lottery and purchased his freedom. Intelligent and energetic, he acquired considerable wealth and influence in South Carolina. Using church meetings as a cover, he supposedly planned (1822) a slave insurrection with the intention of taking over Charleston, killing whites, and, if necessary, fleeing to Haiti. Accused by informers, Vesey was hanged along with 34 slaves. Some historians now doubt that Vesey's conspiracy ever occurred.


See H. Aptheker, American Slave Revolts (1943); J. Lofton, Insurrection in South Carolina (1964); R. S. Starobin, ed., Denmark Vesey (1970); D. R. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free (1999); D. Robertson, Denmark Vesey (1999).

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Vesey, Denmark (“Telemaque”)

(?1767–1822) insurrection leader; born probably on St. Thomas, West Indies. The property of Captain Vesey, a Charleston, S.C., slave trader and planter, he spent 20 years sailing with his master. In 1800 he purchased his freedom (allegedly having won a lottery), took up carpentry in Charleston, and prospered at his trade. By 1818 he was preaching to slaves at plantations throughout the region, and drawing on the Bible, he told them that, like the Israelites, they would gain their freedom. Although he would later deny it, he allegedly held meetings at his home to collect arms for an uprising he was planning for as many as 9,000 African-Americans in South Carolina. The plan was betrayed by several fearful slaves and he and others were seized. He defended himself ably at his trial but was sentenced and hanged along with about 35 blacks; some 35 others were sold to West Indian plantation owners. It would have been the largest slave revolt in U.S. history but its end result was the passing of even stricter laws against African-Americans.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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