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.

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Beautiful pond with ducks and a fountain.

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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?

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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.

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.  Vesey was one of those 35.

Angry whites burned the African church and resticted even further the few rights the slaves in Charleston had.

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.

Former Slaves and the First Memorial Day Celebration

Hampton Park in Charleston, South Carolina, is a beautiful place to walk or just sit and enjoy the many flowers, trees and the fountain.  When we spent a few months in Charleston during the winter of 2016 we walked almost every day in the park.  At 60 acres, there are plenty of walkways.  Just six months out from a knee replacement surgery, I found it a great way to get some exercise to build up my physical strength, but also a wonderful place to just sit and reflect on God’s creation.

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But the park is also full of history.

Originally part of a plantation owned by John Gibbes, the portion that is now Hampton Park was purchased by the South Carolina Jockey Club and a race course was built.  Named the Washington Race Course, the one-mile loop is now a roadway that runs around the park.  Featuring some of the best horse racing in the South, it became the social event of the year during Race Week held every February.

During the Civil War it became a camp for Union prisoners of war.  At least 257 Union soldiers died at this location. Facing disease and the advance of the Union Army, Confederate guards hastily buried the dead in an unmarked mass grave.  Most white residents abandoned the city and it was ironic that the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street was the 21st U.S. Colored Infantry.

Days later, free black residents and former slaves walked to the mass grave and reburied the Union soldiers in proper graves. Erecting a marker and a small fence around the burial ground they built a memorial arch which read:  “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

On May 1, 1865, black Charlestonians, many former slaves, along with white missionaries and teachers and Union soldiers staged a parade to the race course.  They laid flowers on the graves, listened to speakers of both races, and picnicked on the grass.

This celebration has been called by many America’s first Memorial Day. After the war, the as the cemetery suffered neglect, the soldiers’ bodies were again exhumed and buried in 1871 in South Carolina’s national cemeteries at Beaufort and Florence.

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Interesting that this celebration conducted by former slaves honoring the Union soldiers who died for their freedom has been buried in history and credit for this day of remembrance goes to others.

I would never have known of this Memorial Day celebration had we not walked in that park so full of history

And there’s more history there – but that calls for another blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Remember Polio?

When I was in second grade the vaccine for poliomyelitis was declared effective and safe, and a nationwide inoculation campaign began.  Children were the first to get the vaccine because the disease was known as “infant paralysis” mainly affecting children.

This disease attacks the nerve cells and sometimes the central nervous system, often causing muscle wasting and paralysis and even death. Since 1900 there had been cycles of epidemics, each seeming to get stronger and more disastrous.  It seemed to attack more during summer and I remember the panic as a child when several cases appeared in my home town.  Most people recovered quickly from polio but some suffered temporary or even permanent paralysis or death.

One of our neighbors had a little boy who had contacted polio.  He was five years old and could not walk.  His parents could not afford expensive leg braces so the little guy crawled everywhere he went.  He had a sister my age and I remember playing with his sister outside as he would try to keep up with us crawling behind.  He would wear out the knees in his pants from crawling all over outside.

When my school announced that the children would be given the vaccine my parents and many others were not sure if this was safe.  They were told that we would be injected with the polio vaccine.  The idea was that they would take the polio virus, kill several strains of it and then inject the benign viruses into the bloodstream.  The person’s immune system would create antibiodies to the virus and he/she would be able to resist future exposure to poliomyelitis.

My parents were afraid of the very idea of me being injected with the polio virus, even a benign form.  The very idea of polio was frightening.

Besides our neighbor’s son who was crippled from polio, we also had a friend whose body was twisted from the polio and she walked with braces on her legs and using crutches.

We heard of people who had to be placed in an iron lung when their chest muscles would not work enough to help them breath.

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After many long discussions they agreed to let me have the vaccine.  On the day we were to be vaccinated a bus came to our school.  We were taken down town to the civic center where there were doctors and nurses all lined up at tables and we walked through one at a time to get our shot.

I was terrified!

Just the thought of a shot was scary, but even more the realization that they were injecting the polio virus into my body.  My parents explained to me that it was not a “live” virus and it would not give me polio.  Still, I was scared.  This was all a new thing.

What if they were wrong?

What if I could not walk like our little neighbor boy?

What if I ended up wearing leg braces and using crutches like our friend?

The vaccine at that time consisted of three shots given a few weeks apart.  So, we were all scheduled to go back down town in a couple of weeks for the second shot.

However, the night after I was given the vaccine I began running a fever.  I complained to my mother that my legs were hurting me and I had to lay down.  Panic-stricken my mother called our family doctor.  He believed that I was somehow allergic to the shot and told my parents I should not get the other two vaccines.  He wrote a note telling the school I was not to participate in future vaccinations.

My parents and I worried over the next few years when we would hear of someone getting polio praying I would not come in contact with anyone who might pass the virus on to me.

Thankfully, that fear of polio was soon gone.

Following the vaccination of school children, there was a rapid decrease in cases of polio.

In 1955 there were 28,985

In 1956, 14,647

In 1957, 5,894

Because of widespread polio vaccination in this country, polio has been eliminated.

There is always danger of someone from another country bringing the polio vaccine with them when they travel to the USA.  But if we keep our program of polio vaccination current, we can rest assured there will be no epidemics again.  No children left crippled.

What is even more encouraging is that we have shared this vaccine with the world and today few countries have any current cases of polio.

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I rejoice in that knowledge because many of these poorer countries do not have access to good medical care that patients of polio would need.

When I remember the fear we had of polio and all those who were crippled because of it – people I knew – the fear the very word “polio” brought to us –

and now I see that to my children and grandchildren it is only a word – something they read about –

I’m thankful to God for the knowledge He has given us to win the battle over this dreadful disease.

I pray it always remains just a word to future generations.

Historic Henderson House

I am a history nut!  That is, American history.  My library is full of biographies of presidents, secretaries of state, senators – the players in our country’s political life.  As I read of our country’s past, it is interesting to note that much of our current political events are really not new.  Attempts to destroy your opponent by rumors of bad conduct (both true and false) began with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and have continued throughout our history.

While many are frustrated with the lack of action from Congress, that too is nothing new.  The writer of Ecclesiastes was not referring to American politics, but his commentary on life certainly is true with our political history.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Loving history as I do, I was so excited when I was able to live in the Henderson House in 1969 for several months.  My husband and I were married in March of that year shortly after his return from 13 months in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corp.

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Me and my Marine!

After our wedding, we packed our wedding presents and our clothes into our 1966 Chevelle and headed for Quantico, Virginia where my husband would be stationed for the rest of his enlistment term.

The base at Quantico is where the Marines train their officer candidates and the FBI also does training exercises on the base.

Just young crazy kids in love, we headed out with no idea of where we would stay when we arrived.  After living in a small efficiency apartment for a few weeks we heard that the owners of the Henderson House had an apartment for rent in the town of Dumfries, just outside the base.  At the time we had no idea of the history of this house, we just needed a nice place to live.

The house had a huge hallway running completely down the center of the house.  On the front of the house it opened onto a beautiful large porch with comfortable chairs and a swing.  In the back it opened onto a large well landscaped back yard.  One side of the hallway had originally been the large formal parlor with a more informal music room on the other side.  The current owners lived in the rooms on one side of the hallway and rented the other side to us.

How excited I was as I talked to the owners and found that this house had been built by the father of Archibald Henderson the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Alexander Henderson built this home in the late 18th century near the Old Post Road (King’s Highway).

During the American Revoluntary War the Hendersons entertained many of the leaders of the revolution.  Both the Confederate and Union armies used the house as a hospital during the Civil War depending on which army occupied the area.  The owner showed us a hole in the side of where a cannonball had struck the house during the Civil War.  It had remained lodged in the west wall for about 100 years until a souvenir hunter stole in the 1960’s.

My imagination ran wild as I would sit on that front porch and imagine the wounded solders that had stayed in the same rooms I was now staying in.  I wonder if George Washsington or John Adams had sat on this same front porch sipping a glass of wine while discussing the fight for independence from England.

I was just a young bride then and while I loved the idea of living in such a historic place, I did not fully appreciate the history of that entire area.  Learning much later that the town of Dumfries received its charter on May 11, 1749 and was the oldest continuously chartered town in Virginia, I wish I had done more exploring of the area.  Dumfries was  the second leading port in Colonial America receiving tobacco from the upland, it rivaled New York, Philadelphia and Boston. But long before my arrival in 1969 the town had lost its importance.  The Revolutionary War, erosion and siltation, and the shift in the main shipping commodity (from tobacco to wheat and sugar) led to its demise as a major port and today it is just a small town of about 5,000 people.

Guess it is just getting old myself, but when I reflect on how this once prosperous and important port became just a small town that most would drive through without taking a second look, I realize how quickly life comes and goes.  How quickly what is important today may become just a memory or a point in history.  How much we should enjoy this moment before it is gone!

Don’t miss today by regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.