Denmark Vesey (c. 1767?-1822)


On this day in 1822, Denmark Vesey and and five of his comrades were hanged for their role in a plan to liberate enslaved Africans in Charleston, SC. Vesey his co-conspirators had plans to seize the city’s two armories, put down the slave owning population, burn Charleston, and commandeer a ship which would take them to freedom in Saint-Domingue, (modern day Haiti), the site of a successful insurrection in 1791.

The majority of the population of Charleston in the 1820’s were slaves, as the 1808 ban on the importation of new slaves to the US, led to the stockpiling of humans in southern, coastal cities. Vesey, who was remarkable in many regards, was probably multilingual, epileptic and enjoyed a relatively high level of privilege, having bought his freedom using $1500 in lottery winnings and worked as carpenter, and founded a branch of the AME church, whose closing by authorities may have been instrumental in Vesey’s decision to tun his privilege against itself.

Vesey’s inner circle was comprised of Ned and Rolla Bennett, slaves of South Carolina governor Thomas Bennett, Monday Gell and Peter Poyas and “Gullah” Jack Pritchard, a shaman who was believed to be bulletproof. Their dreams of freedom were shattered by an informant, to whom freedom was a nightmare.Despite, being largely forgotten, there are a few good books on Vesey, and a PBS special. Although not usually mentioned by name, the legacy of Denamark Vesey and those whose names are lost to time, lives on, in some unfortunate ways. This failed uprising led to the formation of one of the first professional police forces in the US, whose mission has not changed much, as well as the establishment of a garrison which is still used as a military school for the children of southern slaveholders and their northern counterparts.

Alternative History Questions:

Had Denmark Vesey not played the lottery when he did would we have a paid police force today? Who would wear phony military uniforms and grope sweaty girls in hoop skirts at balls, if there was no Citadel?