Denmark VeseyAntislavery Activist / Carpenter
Born: c. 1767
Died: 2 July 1822 (execution by hanging)
Best known as: Leader of South Carolina's 1822 slave rebellion plot
Denmark Vesey was executed on 2 July 1822 after being accused of planning a slave rebellion against slaveowners and other whites in Charleston, South Carolina. Denmark Vesey was a well-respected carpenter and minister who in his teens had been sold into slavery from the West Indies island of St. Thomas. For years he was the household servant to Captain Joseph Vesey, who settled in Charleston in 1783. Vesey won $1,500 in a lottery in the year 1800. He used the money to buy his freedom and set up a carpentry shop, where he prospered. Educated and financially successful, he also co-founded a separate black Methodist church in Charleston in 1816 (though it was closed by white authorities four years later). In 1822, Vesey was accused of being the leader of a secret plot to rebel against whites, a plot that supposedly involved 9,000 slaves and more than two years of preparation. The alleged plan was for the slaves to murder as many whites as they could, then set sail for Africa or Haiti. In the wake of rumors of the plot, Charleston authorities charged 131 people with conspiracy, convicted 67 and executed at least 35, including Denmark Vesey. Though the story of Vesey and the rebellion has long been taken for fact, a few historians have argued that no such rebellion ever was planned, and that Vesey and others were victims of false rumors that spread among nervous slaveholders.
Denmark Vesey’s birthplace and birthdate are uncertain, as are most of the details of his life before he was sold to Joseph Vesey in 1781.
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