Two very different views on Vesey case
I knew the comments about Denmark Vesey would stir up opinion. The problem is, most people (myself included) have not read the public record pertaining to Vesey, and many are willing to defer to the conclusions of others to support their own bias.
Even those who have read the record have vastly different impressions of the man and of history. Consider the following two letters from individuals who have taken some time to study available information -- each reprinted in part.
Michael Trouche says that "interpretations based on scholarly research can be divergent and affected by the predispositions of the scholars themselves."
"Global warming is a good example. In the Vesey case, I think there is ample evidence from the historical record to base sound conclusions -- the trial documents themselves (at the state archives), Kennedy and Parker's version of the trial record (in the South Carolina Room), and Intendant James Hamilton's account of the insurrection (which can be Googled).
"The evidence is lengthy and overwhelming that Vesey planned the murder of innocent families. Revisionists claim that all this evidence was manufactured in an attempt to make Vesey a scapegoat, yet reading the exhaustive accounts of dozens of witnesses makes that hard to believe.
"Why would Charleston authorities fabricate a plot with such expansive detail when they were free to deal with slaves as they wished? And why would so many prominent citizens sign on to outright lies? If anything, the guilt/motivation of (certain) scholars should create some doubt as to their motivations.
"I wish more people would bother to read the records rather than let a few select college professors do their thinking for them. ... (This shows to what) extent a perpetuated guilt and racial spoils system affects common sense. ... In this case, obsequiousness rules."
Noel (Pat) Mullen says he was one of the first to see the trial record in its complete being, as encouraged by Elias Bull, (who) "accurately predicted the misuse of it as is happening today.
"Almost all we know about (Vesey) is hearsay," says Mullen. "We know he won a lottery and purchased from Captain Vesey his freedom at a fair price. We know he purchased property via our records office. ... Next all the general public knows officially about the man comes from his trial record that was not discovered until the late 1970s.
"There are other records about him, however, which are the property of 2nd Presbyterian Church. (There is a documented) entry where he was named a communicant of the Presbyterian Church in 1817. He was carried on the rolls until the day he died and held in good communion. At that time, Presbyterians had Communion only four times a year. To get the privilege (to participate), one was examined and given a token to present at the service. Whites received a polished pewter token and blacks received a bronze one.
"The fact that the church stood by
this man at that time speaks volumes. It was dangerous to do so, but it did.
"I believe the plot was so intricate that even a privileged white could not have carried it off. It would have been the largest mass murder of all men, women and children (in some cases including blacks) in what was then one of the largest cities in America. I am reasonably positive that Vesey was the victim of a white man's (the then-mayor's) ambitions.
"... To the moment of his death Vesey proclaimed his innocence. I would have no problem with a statue to a man who was the victim of another's ambition. It makes him far more noble than being a mass murderer."
So there you have it. Between those two letters, we pretty much come back full circle. Everyone's homework, therefore, is to actually read the record and draw sound conclusions based on an understanding of the facts. That's asking a lot, of course, but as is the case when one seeks a huge financial donation for an important cause, the request at least needs to be put forth.
Do I personally have time for such a commitment? Hell no, and for shame!
Nothing like a double standard in concerning such matters, if not historical interpretation.
Finishing on a note of levity, Joanne and John Winchester make the following observation: "The common thought is that the 'Vesey rebellion' fostered the founding of The Citadel as an arsenal and training institution. Logically, then, Denmark Vesey was really the founder of The Citadel."
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.