Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What Was The Denmark Vesey Revolt?

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By Kathryn Neal

It is believed that Denmark, the leader of the Denmark Vesey Revolt, was born in the West Indies during 1767. As a young boy during 1781, he was sold to a Bermudan captain by the name of Joseph Vesey. He assumed the surname of his master as he traveled the seas with him. He eventually settled in Charleston with his owner and became a domestic slave.

Denmark won a lottery in the city during 1800 and this enabled him to purchase his freedom. As an educated black person, he was able to commence his training to become a carpenter. Although he was known to be of the Presbyterian faith, he soon founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This church was regularly closed down by the authorities in 1818 and again in 1820.

The founding of the church enabled him to spread his word. As this was the only independent church for black churchgoers in Charleston, he was able to grow the congregation. His congregation saw him as an educated teacher because of the sermons and the lessons he regularly delivered to them.

As the years passed Vesey became frustrated as being a free man was not providing him with the life he sought. His frustration and the closing down of the AME Church on a regular basis, is what kindled the thought to free his fellow blacks from the oppression that they were suffering. At this stage, he had a congregation of over 3,000 people in his church. He used his position as a church leader and a free man to rally a group of people. This group consisted of both those who were free from slavery and those who were not. He included both the black people from the plantations and the city in his plan to revolt.

It is reported that an African priest who hailed from Mozambique was one of his co-conspirators in the Denmark Vesey revolt. One of his lieutenants, Monday Gell, apparently sent two letters seeking support for the rebellion to the President of the Santo Domingo Republic.

It is reported that the plan was to gain arms by attacking the guardhouses and the arsenals. The weapons were a requirement to enable the members of the revolution to slay the slave masters and to liberate all the black members of the Charleston community. Unbeknown to the preacher, some of the slaves were not in agreement with his plans. These slaves reported his plans to their masters.

After this betrayal by some of the slaves, the authorities quickly arrested and interrogated several people linked to the Denmark Vesey revolt. The trial was a long one and Denmark opted to defend himself during the proceedings. Along with 35 of his fellow members, Denmark was found guilty, given a death sentence and they were later all hanged. Approximately 35 of the members who had been arrested were sold to West Indian plantation slave masters and the rest were put into prison. Included in the group who were arrested were four white males who were fined and imprisoned for encouragement of the plot.

Had the Denmark Vesey revolt been a success, it would have been listed as the largest in the history of the United States. However, the betrayal by those in disagreement only served to allow the authorities to enforce more stringent slave laws. After the hanging of the revolt leader, the African Methodist Episcopal Church was broken down.

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