In a remarkable feat of historical detective work, David Robertson illuminates the shadowy figure who planned a slave rebellion so daring that, if successful, it might have changed the face of the antebellum South. This is the story of a man who, like Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X, is a complex yet seminal hero in the history of African American emancipation.
Denmark Vesey was a charasmatic ex-slave--literate, professional, and relatively well-off--who had purchased his own freedom with the winnings from a lottery. Inspired by the success of the revolutionary black republic in Haiti, he persuaded some nine thousand slaves to join him in a revolt. On a June evening in 1822, having gathered guns, and daggers, they were to converge on Charleston, South Carolina, take the city's arsenal, murder the populace, burn the city, and escape by ship to Haiti or Africa. When the uprising was betrayed, Vesey and seventy-seven of his followers were executed, the matter hushed by Charleston's elite for fear of further rebellion. Compelling, informative, and often disturbing, this book is essential to a fuller understanding of the struggle against slavery.
In 1822, Denmark Vesey, a Caribbean-born free Negro from Charleston, South Carolina, led the largest attempted slave revolt in U.S. history with over 9,000 blacks. Although it failed--thanks to the confessions of a house slave to his master--and Vesey was executed, his heroic attempt continues to be a source of pride for African Americans. David Robertson's well-researched book chronicles Vesey's life as a slave in Haiti, his move to Charleston, his fluency in English, Creole, and French, and his skillful use of Christian teachings (and possibly Islamic ones, as well) to inspire the slaves to rebel. "He was a black man of great physical presence, strength, and intellect," Robertson writes, "linguistically fluent and politically facile enough to mold various African ethnic and religious groups into one unified force." Using court testimony from Vesey's trial and historical archives, Robertson unveils the stark and violent climate of antebellum life in 18th-century America, bringing to life a hero who fought for the same principles upon which the democratic nation in which he was made a slave was founded. --Eugene Holley Jr.