A Social History of the American Negro eBook

Benjamin Griffith Brawley
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 546 pages of information about A Social History of the American Negro.

[Footnote 2:  “Rev. Dr. Richard Furman’s Exposition of the Views of the Baptists relative to the Coloured Population in the United States, in a Communication to the Governor of South Carolina.”  Second edition, Charleston, 1833 (letter bears original date, December 24, 1822).]

[Footnote 3:  Address “On Abolition,” February 7, 1839.]



We have already seen that on several occasions in colonial times the Negroes in bondage made a bid for freedom, many men risking their all and losing their lives in consequence.  In general these early attempts failed completely to realize their aim, organization being feeble and the leadership untrained and exerting only an emotional hold over adherents.  In Charleston, S.C., in 1822, however, there was planned an insurrection about whose scope there could be no question.  The leader, Denmark Vesey, is interesting as an intellectual insurrectionist just as the more famous Nat Turner is typical of the more fervent sort.  It is the purpose of the present chapter to study the attempts for freedom made by these two men, and also those of two daring groups of captives who revolted at sea.

1. Denmark Vesey’s Insurrection

Denmark Vesey is first seen as one of the three hundred and ninety slaves on the ship of Captain Vesey, who commanded a vessel trading between St. Thomas and Cape Francois (Santo Domingo), and who was engaged in supplying the French of the latter place with slaves.  At the time, the boy was fourteen years old, and of unusual personal beauty, alertness, and magnetism.  He was shown considerable favoritism, and was called Telemaque (afterwards corrupted to Telmak, and then to Denmark).  On his arrival at Cape Francois, Denmark was sold with others of the slaves to a planter who owned a considerable estate.  On his next trip, however, Captain Vesey learned that the boy was to be returned to him as unsound and subject to epileptic fits.  The laws of the place permitted the return of a slave in such a case, and while it has been thought that Denmark’s fits may have been feigned in order that he might have some change of estate, there was quite enough proof in the matter to impress the king’s physician.  Captain Vesey never had reason to regret having to take the boy back.  They made several voyages together, and Denmark served until 1800 as his faithful personal attendant.  In this year the young man, now thirty-three years of age and living in Charleston, won $1,500 in an East Bay Street lottery, $600 of which he devoted immediately to the purchase of his freedom.  The sum was much less than he was really worth, but Captain Vesey liked him and had no reason to drive a hard bargain with him.

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