ACCOUNTS OF SLAVE REBELLION AND INSURRECTION
In 1741, the British colony of New York was at the height of panic. Fires had raged throughout Manhattan for several weeks, leading lawmakers to question whether depraved members of the enslaved community, recently arrived immigrants, or other agitators were in their midst. In what was eventually deemed to be a certain "Negro plot" in which enslaved people sought vengeance for their condition, authorities rounded up, jailed, and tried two hundred enslaved people and ten white men who were the suspected architects of the terror. Nearly half of the enslaved people were found guilty and either hanged, exiled to plantations outside America, or burned at the stake. Others were summarily tossed into a dungeon beneath city hall, where they were intimidated into "confessing" to their crimes and asked to implicate others in the alleged scheme to burn down the city. Four white defendants were hanged and seven others were pardoned and banned from ever stepping foot in New York. Daniel Horsmanden (16911778), the judge who was appointed to investigate the fires and a possibly related robbery, compiled the testimonies, evidence, and a thorough list of those found guilty within this document. It remains unclear whether the "guilty" parties were truly culpable. What is certain is that stories of Black rebellion across the Atlantic World were persistent and increased white paranoia. Enslavers responded to real and imagined conspiracies in increasingly violent ways, as they realized that their prior efforts to tamp down resistance had been futile. Indeed, rebellious enslaved people would go on to fight for their dignity and often attempted to self-liberate, refusing to be held in the bonds of slavery forever.
From The New-York Conspiracy; or, A History of the Negro Plot, with the Journal of the Proceedings Against the Conspirators at New York in the Years 1741-2
"Gentlemen of the grand jury
"It is not without some concern, that I am obliged at this time to be more particular in your charge, than for many preceding terms there hath been occasion. The many frights and terrors which the good people of this city have of late been put into, by repeated and unusual fires, and burning of houses, give us too much room to suspect, that some of them at least, did not proceed from mere chance, or common accidents; but on the contrary, from the premeditated malice and wicked purposes of evil 36 and designing persons; and therefore, it greatly behoves us to use our utmost diligence, by all lawful ways and means, to discover the contrivers and perpetrators of such daring and flagitious undertakings: that, upon conviction, they may receive condign punishment; for although we have the happiness of living under a government which exceeds all others in the excellency of its constitution and laws, yet if those to whom the execution of them (which my lord Coke calls the life and soul of the law) is committed, do not exert themselves in a conscientious discharge of their respective duties, such laws which were intended for a terror to the evil-doer, and a protection to the good, will become a dead letter, and our most excellent constitution turned into anarchy and confusion; every one practising what he listeth, and doing what shall seem good in his own eyes: to prevent which, it is the duty of all grand juries to inquire into the conduct and behaviour of the people in their respective counties; and if, upon examination, they find any to have transgressed the laws of the land, to present them, that so they may by the court be put upon their trial, and then either to be discharged or punished according to their demerits.
"I am told there are several prisoners now in jail, who have been committed by the city magistrates, upon suspicion of having been concerned in some of the late fires; and others, who under pretence of assisting the unhappy sufferers, by saving their goods from the flames, for stealing, or receiving them. This indeed, is adding affliction to the afflicted, and is a very great aggravation of such crime, and therefore deserves a narrow inquiry: that so the exemplary punishment of the guilty (if any such should be so found) may deter others from committing the like villainies; for this kind of stealing, I think, has not been often practised among us.
"Arson, or the malicious and voluntary burning, not only a mansion house, but also any other house, and the out buildings, or barns, and stables adjoining thereto, by night or by day, is felony at common law; and if any part of house be burned, the offender is guilty of felony, notwithstanding the fire afterwards be put out, or go out of itself.
"This crime is of so shocking a nature, that if we have any in this city, who, having been guilty thereof, should escape, who can say he is safe, or tell where it will end?
"Another Thing which I cannot omit recommending to your 37 serious and diligent inquiry, is to find out and present all such persons who sell rum, and other strong liquor to negroes. It must be obvious to every one, that there are too many of them in this city; who, under pretence of selling what they call a penny dram to a negro, will sell to him as many quarts or gallons of rum, as he can steal money or goods to pay for.
"How this notion of its being lawful to sell a penny dram, or a pennyworth of rum to a slave, without the consent or direction of his master, has prevailed, I know not; but this I am sure of, that there is not only no such law, but that the doing of it is directly contrary to an act of assembly now in force, for the better regulating of slaves
. The many fatal consequences flowing from this prevailing and wicked practice, are so notorious, and so nearly concern us all, that one would be almost surprised, to think there should be a necessity for a court to recommend a suppressing of such pernicious houses: thus much in particular; now in general.
"My charge, gentlemen, further is, to present all conspiracies, combinations, and other offences, from treasons down to trespasses; and in your inquiries, the oath you, and each of you have just now taken, will, I am persuaded, be your guide, and I pray God to direct and assist you in the discharge of your duty."
Court adjourned until to-morrow morning ten o'clock.
Wednesday, April 22.
Present, the second justice. The court opened, and adjourned until ten o'clock to-morrow morning.
The grand jury having been informed, that Mary Burton could give them some account concerning the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg's, sent for her this morning, and ordered she should be sworn; the constable returned and acquainted them, that she said she would not be sworn, nor give evidence
; whereupon they ordered the constable to get a warrant from a magistrate, to bring her before them. The constable was some time gone, but at length returned, and brought her with him; and being asked why she would not be sworn, and give her evidence? she told the grand jury she would not be sworn; and seemed to be under some great uneasiness, or terrible apprehensions; which gave suspicion that she knew something concerning the fires that had lately happened: and being asked a question to that purpose, she gave no answer; which increased the jealousy that she was privy to them; and as it was thought a matter of the utmost concern, the grand jury was very importunate, and used many arguments with her, in public and private, to persuade her to speak the truth, and tell all she knew about it. To this end, the lieutenant governor's proclamation was read to her, promising indemnity, and the reward of one hundred pounds to any person, confederate or not, who should make discovery, &c. She seemed to despise it, nor could the grand jury by any means, either threats or promises, prevail upon her, though they assured her withal, that she should have the protection of the magistrates, and her person be safe and secure from harm; but hitherto all was in vain: therefore the grand jury desired alderman Bancker to commit her; and the constable was charged with her accordingly; but before he had got her to jail, she considered better of it, and resolved to be sworn, and give her evidence in the afternoon.
Accordingly, she being sworn, came before the grand jury; but as they were proceeding to her examination, and before they asked her any questions, she told them she would acquaint them with what she knew relating to the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg's, but would say nothing about the fires.
This expression thus, as it were providentially, slipping from the evidence, much alarmed the grand jury; for, as they naturally concluded, it did by construction amount to an affirmative, that she could give an account of the occasion of the several fires; and therefore, as it highly became those gentlemen in the discharge of their trust, they determined to use their utmost diligence to sift out the discovery, but still she remained in flexible, till at length, having recourse to religious topics, representing to her the heinousness of the crime which she would be guilty of, if she was privy to, and could discover so wicked a design, as the firing houses about our ears; where by not only people's estates would be destroyed, but many persons might lose their lives in the flames: this she would have to answer for at the day of judgment, as much as any person immediately concerned, because she might have prevented this destruction, and would not; so that a most damnable sin would lie at her door; and what need she fear from her divulging it; she was sure of the protection of the magistrates? or the grand jury expressed themselves in words to the same purpose; which arguments at 39 last prevailed, and she gave the following evidence, which however, notwithstanding what had been said, came from her, as if still under some terrible apprehensions or restraints.
. 1.—Mary Burton, being sworn, deposeth,
I. "That Prince(a) and Caesar(b) brought the things of which they had robbed Mr. Hogg, to her master, John Hughson's house, and that they were handed in through the window, Hughson, his wife, and Peggy receiving them, about two or three o'clock on a Sunday morning.(c)
2. "That Caesar, prince, and Mr. Philipse's negro man (Cuffee) used to meet frequently at her master's house, and that she had heard them (the negroes) talk frequently of burning the fort; and that they would go down to the fly(d) and burn the whole town; and that her master and mistress said, they would aid and assist them as much as they could.
3. "That in their common conversation they used to say, that when all this was done, Caesar should be governor, and Hughson, her master, should be king.
4. "That Cuffee used to say, that a great many people had too much, and others too little; that his old master had a great deal of money, but that, in a short time, he should have less, and that he (Cuffee) should have more.
5. "That at the same time when the things of which Mr. Hogg was robbed, were brought to her master's house, they brought some indigo and bees wax, which was likewise received by her master and mistress.
6. "That at the meetings of the three aforesaid negroes, Caesar Prince, and Cuffee, at her master's house, they used to say, in their conversation, that when they set fire to the town, they would do it in the night, and as the white people came to extinguish it, they would kill and destroy them.
7. "That she has known at times, seven or eight guns in her master's house, and some swords, and that she has seen twenty or thirty negroes at one time in her master's house; and that at such large meetings, the three aforesaid negroes, Cuffee, Prince, and Caesar, were generally present, and most active, and that they used to say, that the other negroes durst not refuse to do what they commanded them, and they were sure that they had a number sufficient to stand by them.
8. "That Hughson (her master) and her mistress used to threaten, that if she, the deponent, ever made mention of the 40 goods stolen from Mr. Hogg, they would poison her; and the negroes swore, if ever she published, or discovered the design of burning the town, they would burn her whenever they met her.
9. "That she never saw any white person in company when they talked of burning the town, but her master, her mistress, and Peggy."
(a)Mr. Auboyneau's negro.
(c)1st March, 1740, 1.
(d)The east end of the city.
This evidence of a conspiracy, not only to burn the city, but also destroy and murder the people, was most astonishing to the grand jury, and that any white people should become so abandoned as to confederate with slaves in such an execrable and detestable purpose, could not but be very amazing to every one that heard it; what could scarce be credited; but that the several fires had been occasioned by some combination of villains, was, at the time of them, naturally to be collected from the manner and circumstances attending them.
The grand jury therefore, as it was a matter of the utmost consequence, thought it necessary to inform the judges concerning it, in order that the most effectual measures might be concerted, for discovering the confederates; and the judges were acquainted with it accordingly.
Thursday, April 23.
Present, the second and third justices.
The grand jury came into court and were called over.
The foreman desiring that Margaret Sorubiero, alias Kerry, a prisoner might be brought before them, Ordered, that the sheriff do carry the said Margaret Sorubiero, alias Kerry, before the grand jury, and see her safe returned again.
The court adjourned until to-morrow morning, ten o'clock.
This morning the judges summoned all the gentlemen of the law in town, to meet them in the afternoon, in order to consult with them, and determine upon such measures as on the result of their deliberations should be judged most proper to be taken upon this emergency; and Mr. Murray, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Smith, Mr. Chambers, Mr. Nicholls, Mr. Lodge, and Mr. Jamison, met them accordingly; the attorney general being indisposed, could not attend.
It was considered, that though there was an act of the province for trying negroes, as in other colonies, for all manner of offences by the justices, &c. in a summary way; yet as this was a scheme of villainy in which white people were confederated with them, and most probably were the first movers and seducers of the slaves; from the nature of such a conjunction, there was reason to apprehend there was a conspiracy of deeper design and more dangerous contrivance than the slaves themselves were capable of; it was thought a matter that required great secrecy, as well as the utmost diligence, in the conduct of the inquiry concerning it: and upon the whole, it was judged most adviseable, as there was an absolute necessity that a matter of this nature and consequence should be fathomed as soon as possible, that it should be taken under the care of the supreme court; and for that purpose, that application should be made to his honour the lieutenant governor, for an ordinance to enlarge the term for the sitting of that court, which in the ordinary method would determinate on the Tuesday following.
The gentlemen of the law generously and unanimously offered to give their assistance on every trial in their turns, as this was conceived to be a matter that not only affected the city, but the whole province.
Margaret Kerry, commonly called Peggy, committed for Hogg's Robbery, being impeached by Mary Burton, as one of the conspirators, the judges examined her in prison in the evening; they exhorted her to make an ingenuous confession and discovery of what she knew of it, and gave her hopes of their recommendation to the governor for a pardon, if they could be of opinion that she deserved it, assuring her (as the case was) that they had his honour's permission to give hopes of mercy to such criminals as should confess their guilt, and they should think proper to recommend to him as fit and proper objects; but she withstood it, and positively denied that she knew any thing of the matter; and said, that if she should accuse any body of any such thing, she must accuse innocent persons, and wrong her own soul. She had this day been examined by the grand jury, and positively denied knowing any thing about the fires.
Friday, April 24.
Present, the second and third justices.
The King against Caesar and Prince, negroes.
The grand jury having found two bills of indictment for felonies, against the prisoners; Mr. Attorney General moved, that they might be brought to the bar, in order to be arraigned.
It was ordered, and they being brought, were arraigned accordingly, and severally pleaded, 'not guilty'.
The King against John Hughson, Sarah, his wife, Margaret Sorubiero, alias Kerry.
The grand jury having found a bill of indictment for felony, against the defendants in custody, Mr. Attorney General moved, that they might be brought to the bar in order to be arraigned.
It was ordered, and the prisoners being brought, were arraigned accordingly, and severally pleaded, not guilty.
Ordered, that the trials of the two negroes, the Hughsons, and Kerry, do come on tomorrow morning.
Court adjourned till to-morrow morning, nine o'clock.
Saturday, April 25.
Present, the second justice.
The King against Caesar and Prince, negroes.
The King against John Hughson, Sarah, his wife, Margaret Kerry.
Ordered, that the prisoners' trials be put off till Tuesday the 28th instant.
Court adjourned till Monday morning, nine o'clock.
Monday, April 27.
Present, the second justice.
His majesty's ordinance published in court for enlarging the present term to the last Tuesday in May next.
Court adjourned till to-morrow morning, ten o'clock.
Tuesday, April 28.
Present, the second and third justices.
The King against Caesar and Prince, negroes.
The King against John Hughson, Sarah, his wife, Margaret Kerry.
Upon motion of Mr. Attorney General, ordered, that the trials of the prisoners in both causes be put off till the first day of May. Court adjourned till Friday, 1st May, ten o'clock in the morning.
The following letter, dated this day at New-York, was some time afterwards intercepted in New-Jersey, and sent up from a magistrate there to another here.
The original in female Dutch followeth, so much of it as is material to the present purpose.
"Nieu York den 21 April 1741
"Beminde Man Johannis Romme
"Dit is om U bekent te maken dat ik U brief ontfangen heb by de brenger van deze en daer nyt verstaen dat gey van sins ben om weer na huis te komen myn beminde ik versoek van U dat gy het best van U wegh maekt om varder te gaen en niet in Niu Yorck te komen en om U self niet bekent te maken waer gey ben voor John Husen die is van dese dagh zyn tryeli te hebben enook zyn vrou en de mydt is king evidens tegen baye gar en zy het U naemook in kwetze gebrocht en ik ben bang det John Husen en zyn vrou gehangen sall worden by wat ik kan horen en de schout en bombeles soeken voor U over all want Fark neger die houdt zyn woort standen voor jou Brother Lucas is voor een jeure man gekosen en die hoort hoe het is So niet maer maer blyvende U eerwarde vrou Elezabet Romme tot ter doet toe."
"Beloved Husband John Romme,
"This is to acquaint you that I have received your letter by the bearer hereof and understand out of it that you intend to return 44 home again my dear I desire of you that you make the best of your way to go further and not to come in New-York and not to make yourself known where you are for John Hughson is this day to have his tryal as also his wife and the servant maid is king evidence against both and she has brought your name likewise in question and I am afraid that John Hughson and his wife will be hanged by what I can hear and the sheriff and bumbailiffs seek for you every where Vaarck's negro(e) he keeps his word stedfast for you Brother Lucas is chosen one of the jurymen and he hears how it is So no more but remaining your respectful wife Elezabet Romme even till death."
Superscribed, for Mr. John Romme Q D G
Friday, May 1.
Present, the second and third justices.
The King against Caesar and Prince, negroes. On trial.
The jury called, and the prisoners making no challenge, the following persons were sworn, viz.
Roger French, John Groesbeek, John Richard, Abraham Kipp, George Witts, John Thurman, Patrick Jackson, Benjamin Moore, William Hamersley, John Lashier, Joshua Sleydall, John Shurmur.
These two negroes were arraigned on two indictments, the twenty fourth of April last: the one for their entering the dwelling house of Robert Hogg, of this city, merchant, on the first day of March then last past, with intent then and there to commit some felony; and for feloniously stealing and carrying away then and there the goods and chattels of the said Robert Hogg, of the value of four pounds five shillings sterling, against the form of the statutes in such case made and provided, and against the peace of our sovereign lord the king, his crown and dignity.
The other for their entering the dwelling house of Abraham Meyers Cohen in this city, merchant, on the first day of March. with intent then and there to commit some felony; and for feloniously stealing and carrying away then and there the goods 45 and chattels of the said Abraham Meyers Cohen of the value of five pounds sterling, against the form of the statutes, &c. and against the king's peace, &c.
To each of which indictments they pleaded, not guilty
The attorney general having opened both the indictments, he with Joseph Murray, Esq. of council for the king, proceeded to examine the witnesses, viz.
For the king, Mrs. Hogg, Mrs. Boswell, Christopher Wilson, Rachina Guerin, Mr. Robert Hogg, Mr. Robert Watts, Margaret Sorubiero, alias Kerry, Abraham Meyers Cohen, James Mills, Thomas Wenman, John Moore, Esq. Cornelius Brower, Anthony Ham, Mary Burton.
For the prisoners, Alderman Bancker, Alderman Johnson, John Auboyneau.
The prisoners upon their defence denied the charge against them. And,
The evidence being summed up, which was very strong and full, and the jury charged, they withdrew; and being returned, found them guilty of the indictments.
Ordered, that the trials of the Hughsons and Margaret Kerry, be put off until Wednesday the 6th inst.
Court adjourned until Monday morning, 4th May, at ten o'clock.
Sunday, May 3.
Arthur Price, servant to captain Vincent Pearse, having been committed, upon a charge of stealing out of his master's house several goods belonging to the lieutenant governor, which had been removed thither for safe custody from the fire at the fort; he informed the under-sheriff, that he had had some discourse in the jail with Peggy, which he would communicate to a magistrate: the under-sheriff acquainted one of the judges therewith, and he examined Price in the evening, and the following deposition was taken.
1.—Arthur Price being duly sworn, saith,
I. "That about the beginning of last week, Peggy Carey, or Kerry, now in jail, came to the hole in the prison door, in which he is confined, and told him, she was very much afraid of those fellows (meaning the negroes, as he understood) telling or discovering something of her; but, said she, if they do, by God, I will  46 hang them every one; but that she would not forswear
(e) herself, unless they brought her in. Upon which the deponent asked her, Peggy, how forswear
yourself? To which she answered, there is fourteen sworn. Upon which he further asked her, what, is it about Mr. Hogg's goods? And she replied, no, by G-d, about the fire. Upon which the deponent said to her, what, Peggy, were you a going to set the town on fire? And she made answer, she was not; but said, by G-d, since I knew of it, they made me swear. Upon which the deponent asked her, was John and his wife in it? (meaning John Hughson and his wife.) And she answered, yes, by G-d, they were both sworn as well as the rest. Then the deponent asked her, if she was not afraid that the negroes would discover her? And she said no; for Prince, Cuff and Caesar, and Forck's (Vaarck's) negro, were all true-hearted fellows. Then he asked her, if Caesar was not Forck's negro? And she answered, no, by G-d, it was the other;(f) but what other she meant he did not know.
2. "That yesterday in the afternoon the said Peggy came to him again, and told him, she had no stomach to eat her victuals; for that bitch (meaning Hughson's maid(g) as he understood) has fetched me in, and made me as black as the rest, about the indigo, and Mr. Hogg's goods: but if they did hang the two poor fellows below (meaning Caesar and Prince, as understood) they (meaning the rest of the negroes) would be revenged on them yet; but if they sent them away, it was another case. Upon which this deponent said to Peggy, I don't doubt but they will endeavour to poison this girl that has sworn, (meaning Hughson's maid.) And Peggy replied, no, by G-d, I don't believe that; but they will be revenged on them some other ways: And she further said to the deponent, for your life and soul of you, you son of a b—h, don't speak a word of what I have told you."
(e)What she meant by forswearing herself, will be better guessed at hereafter.
(f)Bastian, alias Tom Peal, also belonging to Vaarck.
About this time, i. e.
the beginning of this month, at Hackensack, in New-Jersey, eight miles from this city, the inhabitants of that place were alarmed about an hour before day, and presented with a most melancholy and affrighting scene! no less than seven barns in that neighbourhood were all in flames; and the fire had got such head, that all assistance was in vain; for in a short time they were burnt down to the ground. Two negroes, the one belonging to Derick Van Hoorn, the other to Albert Van Voerheise, 47 were suspected to have been guilty of this fact; the former having been seen coming out of one of the barns with a gun laden, who pretended on his being discovered, that he saw the person who had fired the barns, upon which his master ordered him to fire at him, and the negro thereupon immediately discharged his piece; but no blood was drawn from any mortal that could be discovered. The latter was found at his master's house loading a gun with two bullets, which he had in his hand ready to put in. Upon these and other presumptive circumstances and proofs, both negroes were apprehended, and in a few days tried, convicted, and burnt at a stake: the former confessed he had set fire to three of the barns; the latter would confess nothing; nor would either of them discover that any others were concerned with them in this villainy.
Monday, May 4.
Present the second and third justices.
The court opened and adjourned till to-morrow afternoon 3 o'clock.
Negro Plot is an official record prepared by the city of Charleston, South Carolina, to provide an accounting for the attempted slave uprising led by Denmark Vesey in the summer of 1822. One hundred and thirty-one enslaved persons were arrested and tried for their alleged rebellious behaviors. The full report offers a view into the court proceedings, testimonies, and outright confessions given by enslaved people accused of participating in the foiled insurrection, as well as the statements given under oath by enslaved witnesses who testified against the defendants. Of the accused, thirty-seven were exiled from the United States and sold and thirty-five were summarily hanged. The author's voice is not objective in the least, signaling the ruling class's heightened anxiety that such a large act of revolution might be carried out in Charleston and throughout the slaveholding South. The Vesey uprising stoked new fears about enslaved people's craft, thirst for vengeance, and intent to liberate themselves from the chains of slavery. White enslavers' fears that enslaved people would be inspired led to the meting out of severe sentences to punish those found guilty and to warn aspiring rebels of the consequences should they behave similarly.
From Negro Plot: An Account of the Late Intended Insurrection Among a Portion of the Blacks of This City
On Thursday the 27th, DENMARK VESEY, a free black man, was brought before the Court for trial, Assisted by his Counsel, G. W. Cross, Esq.
It is perhaps somewhat remarkable, that at this stage of the investigation, although several witnesses had been examined, the atrocious
guilt of Denmark Vesey
had not been as yet fully unfolded. From the testimony of most of the witnesses, however, the Court found enough, and amply enough, to warrant the sentence of death, which, on the 28th, they passed on him. But every subsequent step in the progress of the trials of others, lent new confirmation to his overwhelming guilt, and placed him beyond a doubt, on the criminal eminence of having been the individual, in whose bosom the nefarious scheme was first engendered. There is ample reason for believing, that this project was not, with him, of recent origin, for it was said, he had spoken of it for upwards of four years.
These facts of his guilt the journals of the Court will disclose—that no man can be proved to have spoken of or urged the insurrection prior to himself. All the channels of communication and intelligence are traced back to him. His house was the place appointed for the secret meetings of the conspirators, at which he was invariably a leading and influential member; animating and encouraging the timid, by the hopes of prospects of success; removing the scruples of the religious, by the grossest prostitution and perversion of the sacred oracles, and inflaming and confirming the resolute, by all the savage fascinations of blood and booty.
The peculiar circumstances of guilt, which confer a distinction on his case, will be found narrated in the confessions of Rolla, Monday Gell, Frank and Jesse, in the Appendix. He was sentenced for execution on the 2d July.*
The Court tried JESSE, the slave of Mr. Thomas Blackwood.
The testimony against Jesse
was very ample. His activity and zeal, in promoting the views of Denmark Vesey, in relation to the plot, were fully proved. He had engaged with Vesey to go out of town on Sunday the 16th, to bring down some negroes from the country, to aid in the rising on that night; and remarked, to the witnesses, on his way to Hibbens' ferry, "if my father does not assist I will cut off his head." All the particulars in proof against him, he confirmed after receiving his sentence, by his own full and satisfactory Confession, which will be found in the Appendix, marked (H.)
This man excited no small sympathy, not only from the apparent sincerity of his contrition, but from the mild and unostentatious composure with which he met his fate.
Sentence of death was passed on these six men, on the 28th of June, and they were executed on the 2d of July. With the exception of Jesse and Rolla, they made no disclosures; all of them, with those exceptions, either explicitly or implicitly affirming their innocence. It is much to be lamented that the situation of the Work-House, at this period, precluded, after their sentence, their being separately confined; at least, that Vesey could not have been subjected to the gloom and silence of a solitary cell. He might have been softened, and afforded the most precious confessions, as his knowledge and agency in the nefarious scheme very far exceeded the information of others, who, however guilty, seemed but the agents of his will. But these men mutually supported each other, and died obedient to the stern and emphatic injunction of their Comrade (Peter Poyas) "Do not open your lips! Die silent, as you shall see me do!
" It was, perhaps, alone
, in Denmark Vesey's power, to have given us the true character, extent and importance of the correspondence, it was afterwards proved, was carried on with certain persons in San Domingo.
*As Denmark Vesey has occupied so large a place in the conspiracy, a brief notice of him will, perhaps, be not devoid of interest. The following anecdote will show how near he was to the chance of being distinguished in the bloody events of San Domingo. During the revolutionary war, Captain Vesey, now an old resident of this city, commanded a ship that traded between St. Thomas' and Cape Francais (San Domingo.) He was engaged in supplying the French of that Island with Slaves. In the year 1781, he took on board at St. Thomas' 390 slaves and sailed for the Cape; on the passage, he and his officers were struck with the beauty, alertness and intelligence of a boy about 14 years of age, whom they made a pet of, by taking him into the cabin, changing his apparel, and calling him by way of distinction Telemaque, (which appellation has since, by gradual corruption, among the negroes, been changed to Denmark, or sometimes Telmak.) On the arrival, however, of the ship at the Cape, Captain Vesey, having no use for the boy, sold him among his other slaves, and returned to St. Thomas'. On his next voyage to the Cape, he was surprised to learn from his consignee that Telemaque would be returned on his hands, as the planter, who had purchased him, represented him unsound, and subject to epileptic fits. According to the custom of trade in that place, the boy was placed in the hands of the king's physician, who decided that he was unsound, and Captain Vesey was compelled to take him back, of which he had no occasion to repent, as Denmark proved, for 20 years, a most faithful slave. In 1800, Denmark drew a prize of $1500 in the East-Bay-Street Lottery, with which he purchased his freedom from his master, at six hundred dollars, much less than his real value. From that period to the day of his apprehension he has been working as a carpenter in this city, distinguished for great strength and activity. Among his colour he was always looked up to with awe and respect. His temper was impetuous and domineering in the extreme, qualfying him for the despotic rule, of which he was ambitious. All his passions were ungovernable and savage; and, to his numerous wives and children, he displayed the haughty and capricious cruelty of an Eastern Bashaw. He had nearly effected his escape, after information had been lodged against him. For three days the town was searched for him without success. As early as Monday, the 17th, he had concealed himself. It was not until the night of the 22d of June, during a perfect tempest, that he was found secreted in the house of one of his wives. It is to the uncommon efforts and vigilance of Mr. Wesner, and Capt. Dove, of the City Guard, (the latter of whom seized him) that public justice received its necessary tribute, in the execution of this man. If the party had been one moment later, he would, in all probability, have effected his escape the next day in some outward bound vessel.
This excerpt ends on page 19 of the paperback edition of Unsung: Unheralded Narratives of American Slavery and Abolition.