In 1781, at the age of fourteen, a young Denmark Vesey was purchased from his home in St. Thomas by a slave owner named Captain Joseph Vesey. Denmark was one of 390 slaves Captain Vesey brought from St Thomas to Haiti to work in a sugar plantation. After working on the sugar plantation briefly he would pretend to have epilepsy to get out of work. This caused the slave masters to view him as unfit to work outside in such gruesome conditions.
His new job would be the personal servant to Captain Vesey. During that time, he traveled on voyages with Captain Vesey between Africa and the west indies getting to witness the horrors of the slave trade first hand. In 1783, Captain Vesey decided to settle in Charleston, South Carolina and Denmark went with him. He would remain the Captain’s personal servant for seventeen years.
In 1800, he won $1,500 playing the lottery and used that as an opportunity to purchase his freedom, which he did for $600.00. Denmark utilized the remaining funds to set up a carpentry shop. After proving to be an extremely skilled carpenter he would grow wealth from the trade. In 1816, along with other free blacks, he established a separate black Methodist church in Charleston.
By 1820, the church had over 3,000 members, and Denmark Vesey was the minister and even though he enjoyed being a preacher, he felt he could do more. As a child, he admired the bravery and courage displayed by the Haitians during the Haitian Revolution
He began to wonder if the Haitians could overthrow their oppressors, why can’t the slaves in Charleston achieve similar results? He used his pulpit to relay revolutionary messages urging his congregation to break free from slavery, even quoting verses from the bible to establish his point. His church was ultimately shut down by the white power structure after word got out about the messages in his sermon’s. In 1822, he decided to devise a slave revolt with a carefully planned attack after gathering a supply of weapons from his supporters in Haiti.
Denmark chose Sunday, July 14th as the day of the uprising because the plantation hands could come to town without any suspicion. By the end of May, he had recruited close to 9,000 free blacks and slaves to his underground army. They planned to strike at midnight, seizing the guardhouse and other key points, as well as blocking all the bridges. Other members of the army would ride around on horseback killing whites who could possibly foil their plan. Denmark made it a point to leave house slaves out of the picture because he knew they had an undying loyalty to the slave masters.
Regrettably, so many people were involved in the plot that the house slaves eventually found out and alerted the slave masters. During the next few weeks, hundreds of people were rounded up, including Denmark Vesey. He was condemned to death, and his execution took place on July 2nd, 1822. Throughout history, the melanated community has produced several heroic figures that have placed their life on the line attempting to obtain the equality and freedom that melanated people need to compete in this society. Denmark Vesey is one of them and his life and legacy should never be forgotten.