See H. Aptheker, American Slave Revolts (1943); J. Lofton, Insurrection in South Carolina (1964); R. S. Starobin, ed., Denmark Vesey (1970); D. R. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free (1999); D. Robertson, Denmark Vesey (1999).
(born circa 1767, probably St. Thomas, Danish West Indies—died July 2, 1822, Charleston, S.C., U.S.) U.S. insurrectionist. Born into slavery, he was sold to a Bermuda slaver captain, with whom he sailed on numerous voyages. They settled in Charleston, S.C., and Vesey was allowed to purchase his freedom for $600 in 1800. After reading antislavery literature, he determined to oppose the oppression of slaves. He organized city and plantation blacks (up to 9,000 by some estimates) for an uprising in which they would attack arsenals, seize arms, kill all whites, burn Charleston, and free the slaves on surrounding plantations. After a house servant warned the authorities, the insurrection was forestalled and 130 blacks were arrested; Vesey was tried and hanged with 35 others.
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Many antislavery activists came to regard Vesey as a hero. During the American Civil War, abolitionist Frederick Douglass used Vesey's name as a battle cry to rally African-American regiments, especially the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Sandy Vesey, one of Denmark's sons, was transported, probably to Cuba. Vesey's last wife Susan later emigrated to Liberia. Another son, Robert Vesey, survived to rebuild Charleston's African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1865.
In response to white fears, a municipal guard of 150 men was established in Charleston in 1822. Half the men were stationed in an arsenal called the Citadel. In 1842, the South Carolina legislature replaced the expensive guardsmen with less expensive cadets. The arsenal was turned over to the newly established South Carolina Military Academy, which later became known as The Citadel.
Johnson also asserted that aside from questionable court records, no other material evidence existed of Vesey's plans to lead the revolt. Most specialists, however, observe that a number of blacks familiar with Vesey or the Reverend Morris Brown, especially free black carpenter Thomas Brown, spoke about the plot in later years.
In 2004, historian Robert Tinkler, a biographer of Mayor Hamilton, reported that he uncovered no documentation to support any view besides the one that "James Hamilton believed there was indeed a Vesey plot."
Several PBS documentaries have included material on Denmark Vesey, particularly Africans in America and This Far By Faith.
Vesey was the subject of the 1980s made-for-television drama, Denmark Vesey's Revolt, in which his character was played by the Cameroon-born actor Yaphet Kotto. Vesey's character also appeared in the 1991 TV movie Brother Future, in which he was played by the then-too young Carl Lumbly, who was forty-years-old at the time.
Denmark Vesey is the name and basis for a character created by Orson Scott Card in The Tales of Alvin Maker, a series of books which detail an alternate history of America. The character Denmark emerges in Book Five, Heartfire, in which his slave rebellion comes under threat by mistakes made by Alvin’s brother, Calvin Miller/Maker. Vesey's conspiracy also formed the basis of John Oliver Killens' brief novella, Great Gittin' Up Morning. He appears briefly in John Jakes' Charleston, where he is mischaracterized as a mulatto.
After Denmark, a play by David Robson, is a contemporary take on the the historical Denmark Vesey. In it, a young editor--who may be related to Vesey--travels to the Deep South to confront questions of racism and identity. The play first appeared at the 2008 Great Plains Theatre Conference. A workshop production by Yellow Taxi Productions is planned for the fall of 2008.