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To Live as Slaves, or Die as Men?


Today the Charleston Armory

Denmark Vesey was born on one of the Carribbean islands in the Atlantic Ocean. By the time he was 14 years old, he had become a slave. Joseph Vasey was a rich man who brought slaves from the Carribbean to America and sold them to rich plantation owners. Joseph bought Denmark and became his master

Vesey's African Methodist Church

For two years, Denmark stayed on his master's ship as it went back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing slaves from the Carribean to America. As a slave, he had to do whatever his master asked him to do, even if he felt seasick from the waves. While he was at sea, Denmark languages that he heard spoken around him. He learned to speak English, French, Danish and Spanish.


After two years at sea, Joseph Vesey, Denmark's master, decided to get off the ship and live in Charleston, South Carolina. Denmark worked as Joseph's carpenter. But there wasn't always much work for Denmark to do, so Joseph rented him out to work for other rich people around town. This gave Denmark a certain amount of freedom to come and go, and to actually keep a little of the money he earned, instead of giving it all to his master.

Sculpture built in rememberance

Even thought he had a little money, Denmark was still a poor African American slave. He lived on a huge plantation with lots of other African American men and women who were slaves. He had to do what his master said. He had to work when and where his master said, and he could only stop working when his master said he could. He could only eat his meals at a certain time every day, and only for as long as his master said he could. And his master told him what he could eat.

One day in 1800, Denmark decided to play the lotttery. It changed his life forever! He looked at the winning lottery numbers and he looked at the numbers on the ticket he bought. They matched! He had won $1,500 in the lottery - a huge amount of money in those days. He used $600 of the money to buy his freedom -- the right to live as he pleased instead of how his master told him to live.

Vesey inspired followers with speeches

For the next twenty years, Denmark spoke against slavery. He quoted the bible and the U.S. Constitution to prove how wrong slavery was. In 1820, there were more black people in Charleston than white people, but black people continued to be slaves.

The Charleston Armory

Sick and tired of waiting for all blacks to get their freedom, Denmark decided to do something about it. He began to gather black men and women to join his revolution. It would be the largest rebellion ever planned in the United States! He carefully chose six men to help him organize and recruit an army of slaves from Charleston and around South Carolina. Plans were kept secret.

Vesey and his collaborators

Hundreds of slaves worked carefully for months to make weapons, collect money, and encourage one another. On July 14, 1822, all of the slaves to come to Charleston, when they would kill any white person in their way Denmark wanted to fight so that every black man, woman and child would have a chance to be free. Unfortunately, someone told the white authorities. They arrested the blacks who were planning the rebellion. The people arrested were put in jail and beaten, and some were even killed.

The long-closed prison

What Denmark did was very brave. It teaches us that no slave's experience should be forgotten. No person should be whipped, tortured, and worked to death merely because of the color of their skin.


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


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