"Court Proceedings and Testimony regarding the Denmark Vesey Rebellion", June-August 1822
In May of 1822, Charlestonians uncovered a plot for a slave insurrection planned for July. Denmark Vesey, a free black man who purchased his freedom in 1800, was the leader of the alleged insurrection, which planned to take the city of Charleston. After a lengthy trial, Vesey and over thirty others were condemned to death and hanged. After the insurrection scare, laws were passed to restrict the movement of slaves and free blacks.
This document provides an excerpt of the 202-page court report of the examination of slaves during the trial. This excerpt includes the testimonies of six enslaved men in Charleston who had some connection to Denmark Vesey or his alleged co-conspirators. The first names of all but one of the six enslaved men in this excerpt are provided along with the names of their slaveowner. Interestingly, one slave is only given the name of "Y*", which seems to indicate that the slaveowner or someone wanted to protect this person's identity. The six testimonials were identified in the following way:
“Court Proceedings and Testimony Regarding the Vesey Rebellion,” June 1822-August 1822, 1-2. General Assembly. Governors' messages. S 165009. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
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.
Examination of Edwin a Negro man belonging to Mr Paul
Charles belongs to Juge Drayton—he told me that Monday Gell and Denmark Vesey knew about the insurrection of the blacks—he said that William Paul in consequence of his having given testimony would run a great risk of his life if he went out. I heard every body, even the women say when several were apprehended that they wondered that Monday Gell and Denmark Vesey were not taken.
Examination of Frank a Negro man belonging to Mr Ferguson.
The first time I spoke with Monday Gell ‘twas one night a Vesey’s house, where I heard Vesey tell Monday, he must send some one round into the country to [illegible] the people down. Monday replied he had directed Jack to go up, and told him to tell the people to come down and join in the fight against the Whites, and to ascertain and inform him how many people he could get to agree—A few days after I met Vesey, Monday, and Jack in the street under Mr Duncans trees at night, where Jack stated, that he had been in the country round by Goose Creek and Dorchester and that he had spoken to 6,600 persons who had agreed to join. At Veseys the first time I spoke to Monday, he was going away early and Vesey asked him to stay: when Monday said he expected that night a meeting at this house to fix upon and mature the plan &c. and he could not stay. I afterwards conversed with Monday in his shop where he asked me if I had heard that Bennetts and Poyas’ people were taken up, that ‘twas a great pity—he said he had joined in the business—I told him to take care that he was not taken up. Whenever I talked with Vesey, he always spoke of Monday
being his principal and active man in this business—I heard Jack say, he would pay no more wages, he was too busy in seeing about this insurrection, besides what would the Whites want with wages—they would soon be no more. Monday Gell said to Vesey, that if Jack had so many men, they had better wait no longer, but begin the business at once and others would join.
Mr James Ferguson who was present at Franks examination stated to the Court that the testimony of Frank was in substance what he had before told him.
Examination of Pharo—belonging to Mr Thompson
One evening I over heard two men in the street say that [illegible] Berry and Denmark Vesey were two principal men—Perault belong to Mr Strohecker said to me last Tuesday that the black people were not worth any thing, but that there was a French Band, which if they could get only 100 men to join with them would attack the work house and take their friends out. I once went to Monday Gells, who had told me he wanted to see me—this was before Mr Pauls’ William was taken up, I then met Charles Drayton and Mr Fergusons Frank frequents Mondays house—Monday said he wanted to say something particular to me, and Charles winked at him, when Monday stopped [illegible]—Charles asked me on friday the 14th June in the streets to lend him a horse next Sunday evening—I said I could not.
Examination of Patrick belonging to Miss Datty
I know Charles Drayton—about 5 months ago he met me in the street, when he stopped me, and asked me to join with him—I asked him in what—he said he want to make up a Company—I said what for, he said for some respectable known man coming here from abroad—I said I did not want death to take me yet and quit him.
Examination of Y* belonging to Colonel George W. Cross
Peter Poyas first spoke to me and asked me to join. I asked him to join what, the Church—he said no, have you not heard that the blacks are going to try to take the Country from the Whites—I asked him if he thought he had force enough to do it—he said yes aplenty.
*See next page—
Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.
Indicator 3-4.2 Summarize the institution of slavery prior to the Civil War, including reference to conditions in South Carolina, the invention of the cotton gin, subsequent expansion of slavery, and economic dependence on slavery. (H, E, P)
Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.
Indicator 8-3.3 Draw conclusions about how sectionalism arose from events or circumstances of racial tension, internal population shifts, and political conflicts, including the Denmark Vesey plot, slave codes, and the African American population majority. (H, P, E)
Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.
Indicator USHC-4.1 Compare the social and cultural characteristics of the North, the South, and the West during the antebellum period, including the lives of African Americans and social reform movements such as abolition and women’s rights. (H, P, G)