This Day in History: June 16th

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Denmark Vesey’s Plans For Rebellion Fail

Denmark Vesey planned what would have been the largest slave revolt in U.S. history on June 16, 1822, in Charleston, South Carolina. Vesey, along with other church leaders, planned to seize Charleston’s arsenals and guardhouses and set the city ablaze.

Vesey was sold into slavery at age 14, to Captain Vesey, a Charleston slave trader and planter. He spent 20 years sailing with his master before he won the lottery and bought his freedom for $600. Despite buying his own freedom, Vesey was unable to purchase the freedom of his wife and children (some claim that this was the motivation for his crusade to end slavery). 

In 1800, he purchased his freedom and was able to prosper in carpentry. Vesey joined the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817. He would even preach to small groups in his home as a “class leader”  during the week. However, the church was constantly monitored and disrupted during services.

The disrespect angered Vesey and he began preaching from the Old Testament more. He gave special focus to the book of Exodus and taught his followers that they were the New Israelites, the chosen people who would gain their freedom. 

The home of Denmark Vesey is a National Historic Landmark.

Vesey considered leaving Charleston to start a new life in Africa, but he decided to stay and preached that freedom for the enslaved would be realized. He soon enlisted the help of Gullah Jack, an Angolan priest and healer, to help him recruit members to join the rebellion. Jack was respected among the other enslaved people for his supernatural abilities and this allowed Vesey to reach many more recruits. 

The men began planning a revolt that was scheduled to take place on July 14, with a goal of killing white residents and setting the city on fire. However, by June there were already nervous members of the rebellion who wanted to leak the information to their masters. After word of their plan began to spread, Vesey changed the date to June 16, but it was stopped by white officials.

Vesey was captured a few days later. He defended himself at trial but was sentenced and hanged along with 35 others, including Gullah Jack. Following Vesey’s rebellion plan, churches were burned down and laws were passed to further restrict the rights of the enslaved. 

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