Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina.  What a beautiful place to visit.  Shady walks with old, old oak trees covered with Spanish moss.


Beautiful pond with ducks and a fountain.


But also a place of history.  I recently wrote about the first Memorial Day celebration in the park.

Former Slaves and the First Memorial Day Celebration

In exploring the park, we also found more history that was never in the history books in school.  We turned a corner in one of the walkways and there was a statue of a black man with a book under one arm and a bag of tools in his other hand.  Who was he and what was a statute of him doing in this beautiful park?


Denmark Vesey, a self-educated slave who planned a massive rebellion.  In one hand is a Bible and a bag of carpenter tools is in the other.

Being history nuts, my husband and I could not walk away without knowing this man’s story.

Denmark Vesey was sold when just a young boy to a slaver captain, Joseph Vesey in 1781.  Assuming his master’s name, Denmark accompanied his master on several voyages before they settled in Charleston, South Carolina.

Denmark was able to purchase his freedom in 1800 and began working as a carpenter.  He taught himself to read and soon read about the Haitian slave revolt in the 1790’s.  He joined the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817 becoming a leader and preaching in his own home every week.  Whites in Charleston constantly monitored the meetings often disrupting services and arresting members.

Vesey preached from the Old Testament telling the story of the Israelites enslavement in Egypt and how Moses led them to freedom.

At almost every meeting, it was said, Vesey or one of his comrades ‘read to us from the Bible, how the children of Israel were deliveredy out of Egypt from bondage.’  That them was struck insistently; the deliverance from Egyp, the movement of God among his captive people.  (No wonder, then, that in some black tradition it was said that Vesey or his fellows were the inspiration for the ageless black song of faith and struggle, ‘Go Down, Moses.’)…..Vincent Harding, There is a River

Frustrated because he was not allowed to purchase freedom for his family, unhappy with being a second-class citizen and knowing first hand the oppressive conditions of the slaves, he organized a revolt.  The plan called for the slaves to attack guardhouses and arsenals, seize their arms, burn and destroy the city and free all the slaves.

Scholars do not agree on how many blacks were actually involved in the planned rebellion but estimates say it could have been as many as 9,000.

Warned by a house servant, the rebellion was thwarted before it could begin.

Some 130 blacks were arrested with 35 hanged after a trial that you have to wonder was probably very unfair.  Vesey was one of those 35.

Angry whites burned the African church and restricted even further the few rights the slaves in Charleston had.  One thing they tried to do was prevent the African ministers from preaching from the Old Testament.  Guess they thought it was a great danger for blacks to believe that their bondage was not in line with God’s Word and to pray for a deliverer to set them free.

Vesey became a martyr for African-Americans and a symbol for the abolitionist movement.  The increased loss of freedom and added oppression of the slaves helped to continue to pull the country toward Civil War.

Question:  Why had I never heard of this man and would never have known the story of this desperate attempt at freedom if I had not accidently wondered into this park?  Wonder how many other stories like this we have never been taught?

12 thoughts on “Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

  1. What a fascinating story about such a brave man. I’m so glad you shared his story. I wonder how many statues there are of African Americans in the U.S.? In Britain, if you discount royal women (Queen Victoria), there are more statues of men named John that there are of women. I imagine a similar disparity in the states with regard to African Americans.


  2. Interesting site and beautiful statue. Thanks for the history. I hadn’t heard of him. With Frederick Douglass’s 200th birthday celebration this year, our town (in Maryland) has been honoring his legacy. We even featured a Frederick Douglass impersonator in our town’s 4th of July parade. As you mentioned above, it sure is an interesting time in the U.S. with the removal of confederate statues. I lived in Richmond, VA for a long time–lots of monuments there (I spoke about on my blog). Thanks for this great post!


    • Sorry so long in answering but I have been out of town and away from computer. He took his last name from the man who first owned him as a slave before he purchased his freedom. Not sure on the first name. Enjoying your blog


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