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Denmark Vesey (1767-1822), antislavery insurrectionist, organized an unsuccessful slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1822; he and 34 other Black* conspirators were hanged. Telemaque (his real name) was born on the island of Hispaniola. He was purchased by a Charleston slave agent, Captain Vesey, who traded between the islands of St. Thomas and Hispaniola. In 1800, Denmark purchased his freedom with money won in a lottery and settled in Charleston as a carpenter. As a lay reader in the newly organized African Methodist Episcopal Church, he was able to speak to large numbers of Negroes without being questioned by the white plantation owners. His deep-seated hatred for slavery inspired him to spread dissatisfaction and revolt among the slaves. Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolt in the islands deeply impressed him and became his pattern for a detailed, well-organized plot. For five years, he organized and planned, hoping to ensure the success of his revolt.

            His chief assistant, Peter Poyas, a ship’s carpenter, was placed in charge of recruiting them into cell units in which only the leaders were trusted with the details of the plot. Weapons were made and stored; wigs and false beards were made. Te cell leaders recruited approximately 9,000 slaves over a radius of about 100 miles around Charleston. The date for the revolt was set for July 16, 1822, but, two weeks before this day, the insurrectionists were betrayed by a house servant. The whites of the city rounded up hundreds of Blacks* and eventually forced one of the slaves to reveal the names of some of the leaders. Vesey and 35 of his men were captured; one escaped hanging because he confessed. Vesey and Peter Poyas spurned the offer of leniency if they confessed; they admonished the others to die as they did, with sealed lips.


Source: International Library of Negro Life and History by Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Publishers Company, Inc., New York, Washington, London under the auspices of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1967. *Black has been substituted for the word “Negro” originally used in this citation.




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