Denmark Vesey (c.1767 - 1822) was born in the Caribbean or in Africa and was bought as a teenager in the Danish Virgin Islands by a Bermudan captain, Joseph Vesey, along with almost four hundred people. The slaver sold them in Saint-Domingue. After three months cutting sugarcane, the fourteen-year-old boy was taken back by Vesey who renamed him and kept him as a slave for seventeen years, part of which time Denmark spent working on slave ships. While residing with his owner in Charleston, South Carolina, Vesey bought his freedom in 1800 with proceeds from a lottery. The multilingual, charismatic, and wealthy carpenter used his affiliation with the African Methodist Episcopal Church to recruit participants - including Haitian slaves forcibly brought during the revolution - in the largest and best-organized slave conspiracy in the country. The goal was to free the slaves with the help of Haiti and sail to Africa or to the black republic. But in May a slave betrayed the revolt planned for July 14, 1822. Vesey tried to change the date to June 16 but was unsuccessful. Arrested, he was tried and hung on July 2, as were thirty-four of his companions.
In 2001 a historian presented a new, controversial interpretation of the events. According to his research although Vesey was clearly an activist for abolition, he may not have been plotting a rebellion; instead he may have been the victim of a witch-hunt instigated by an ambitious white politician eager to terrify Charleston's white citizens with a fabricated slave conspiracy. In that case, Denmark Vesey and the others, although horribly tortured, may have chosen death rather than provide false testimony about a non-existent rebellion that would have led to the death of other enslaved men.