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Denmark Vesey's statue, Hampton Park
Born Telemaque in St. Thomas, the Danish West Indies, he was sold in 1781 to a Bermuda slave captain named Joseph Vesey. Young Denmark, who was self-educated assumed his master's surname, accompanied him on numerous voyages, and in 1783 settled with his owner in Charleston.
In 1799, Vesey was allowed to purchase his freedom with $600 he had won in a street lottery. He was already familiar with the Haitian Slave Revolt of the 1790s, and while working as a carpenter he read anti-slavery literature. Dissatisfied with his second-class status as a freedman and determined to help relieve the far more oppressive conditions of others he knew, Vesey planned and organized an uprising of city and plantation Blacks.
The plan reportedly called for the rebels to attack guardhouses and arsenals, seize their arms, kill all whites, burn and destroy the city, and free the slaves. As many as 9,000 Blacks may have been involved, though some scholars dispute this figure. Warned by a house servant, white authorities on the eve of the scheduled outbreak made massive military preparations, which forestalled the rebellion. During the ensuing two months, some 130 Blacks were arrested.
In the trials that followed, 67 were convicted of trying to raise an insurrection; of these, 35, including Vesey, were hanged on July 2, 1822, in Charleston, and 32 were condemned to exile. In addition, four white men were fined and imprisoned for encouraging the plot.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Twenty-fourth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.