The Charleston Insurrection Conspiracy

A comparative study of the Charleston Insurrection Conspiracy as interpreted by M. Johnson, E. Pearson, D. Egerton, and D. Robertson

This paper analyzes and compares four historians’ responses to the article in the October 2001 issue of the the history journal William and Mary Quarterly entitled, The Making of a Slave Conspiracy which focused on the historical issues about black slavery in America particularly the Denmark Vesey insurrection conspiracy in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822. The articles reviewed include a review essay penned by Prof. Michael Johnson, entitled, Denmark Vesey and His Co-Conspirators which offered a new interpretation of the famous (and foiled) uprising of the Negroes in Charleston in the early 19th century.
Of all his criticisms of Johnson, Egerton said that the historian’s biggest error is when Johnson failed to consult sources other than the Official Report and Evidence. Egerton said that Johnson became too focused in spotting differences between the two documents that he failed to recognize the importance of some small but significant and helpful sources such as “church records, city directories, and newspapers in St. Domingue”, and most importantly, correspondence among people of Charleston during the time of trial and execution of the blacks. These “common biographer’s technique” should have been helpful in his study of the issue. He also refuted Johnson’s claim that the court punished heavily those who did not admit their guilt and pardoned those who did by giving an example. Sandy Vesey, Denmark’s son, was also implicated in the insurgency plot, but unlike his companions who confessed and turned against them, Sandy Vesey did not admit his guilt, and as punishment, he was “transported to Spanish Cuba in 1822”.