The Vesey Revolt

A Slave Resistance In Charleston

Who was Denmark Vesey and how did he resist before his rebellion?

Denmark Vesey was a literate former slave who had purchased his own freedom in 1800. He helped to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1818 as the first independent church for African Americans. This in itself was a form of resistance because city laws prohibited slaves from organizing independently. Whites would even disrupt services to arrest members, but Vesey continued to resists, even going so far as to preach the Book of Exodus, in which the Hebrew slaves are freed. He taught that God would punish slaveholders with eternity in hell for their sins, and resolved to try to overthrow the institution of slavery.

Vesey's Revolt

Resistance takes an organized turn:

In 1822 Vesey and other leaders of the AME planned a rebellion for mid-summer when most whites would be on vacation. They planned for slaves and free blacks in and around Charleston to take the city's arsenals, kill the governor, burn the city, and kill all white slaveholders they came across. Some sources say that they planned to kill all whites in the city, but this may be the result of exaggerated accounts from whites of the incident, as in the one below. As the time approached, Vesey feared that their plot would be uncovered, so he moved the date. A few nervous slaves opposed to the rebellion warned their masters anyway and soon arrests were made throughout the city of anyone suspected to be involved in the plot. Charleston leaders executed over 30 black suspected of being involved in the plot.

Primary Source: Letter from Anna Hayes Johnson in Charleston in 1822 to her cousin in North Carolina

"nothing but the merciful interposition of our God has saved us from horror equal if not superior to the scenes acted in St. Domingo."


Anna Johnson compares the Vesey Rebellion to the Haitian slave rebellion. Vesey was actually inspired by the successful Haitian Rebellion, but unlike the Haitian Rebellion, his did not succeed.

Court Testimony against Vesey by a slave

Examination of Pompey a negro man belonging to Mr Bryants

" Denmark Vesey has often spoken to me about the insurrection and endeavoured [sic] to persuade me to join them, he enquired of me if my master had not arms in his house and tried to persuade me to get them from him—the blacks stood in great fear of him and [illegible] so much so, that I always endeavoured [sic] to avoid him."