Denmark Vesey
 and his Co-conspirators
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Denmark Vesey and His Co-Conspirators
by Michael P. Johnson

 
22 Pearson begins the published transcript with the testimony of June 19 and makes no reference to the initial testimony section. Instead, he disaggregates the initial testimonies and inserts them without notice at various points in the published transcript. For example, the testimony of Pompey Bryant that begins both manuscript transcripts is silently placed on 192-- some 27 pages after the start of the June 19 proceedings--as a part of the court proceedings on June 27, a date that appears nowhere in Bryant's manuscript testimony; Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 165, 192.
 
23 Evidence, 14350; House, 5558, 6164. These and subsequent page numbers of Evidence and House refer to numbers assigned to each side of each manuscript sheet by the archives (unless explicitly stated otherwise). These archival numbers are clearly marked on the sheets of each manuscript and permit any reader to identify the location of any given passage.
 
24 In Evidence, the initial testimony section ends on page 150; the June 19 material begins at the top of page 151.
 
25 In House, the initial testimony section ends and the June 19 trials begin on archival page 64. Certain sheets of each transcript also have numbers apparently written in 1822 by the clerk who wrote the documents. These original numbers provide additional signs that Evidence was written first. The first sheet of House lacks an original number; the sheet's upper right-hand corner is missing. The next full sheet of House has a clear "3" in the upper right-hand corner, and subsequent pages through page 11 are sequentially numbered in the same spot in what appears to be the handwriting of the clerk who made the copy. Presumably the missing corner of the first sheet had "1" on the front side and "2" in a corresponding place on the verso. The House sheets with these original numbers have the archival page numbers 5558 and 6164. (The archives mistakenly assigned the numbers 5960 to a subsequent page of testimony. Because the testimony flows continuously from one page to the next, it is easy to identify the correct original location of this misplaced and incorrectly numbered page. No other page of either manuscript appears to be out of its original order, which can be conclusively established by the continuity of testimony from one page to the next.) The original page numbers of House establish a continuous sequence of pages through page 11. After page 11, House does not have original page numbers. Evidently the clerk neglected to number those pages. The continuity of testimony from page to page proves, however, that the unnumbered pages are in proper sequential order. Since the initial section of testimonies in House ends on the page originally numbered "8" and the June 19 proceedings begin immediately on the same page and run continuously through the page originally numbered "11" and thereafter, at least these pages of House represent a continuous document, a document apparently copied from the discontinuous initial testimony and June sections of Evidence.
 
26 Evidence, 151.
 
27 Turning to the last page (256) of Evidence, the page labeled "Evidence Document B," one finds a similar, though somewhat lighter, discoloration and clear signs that the entire document was once folded in fourths, probably at the time it was originally filed with the legislature. This suggests that the current last page is the original last page of the proceedings submitted as evidence to the General Assembly.
 
28 Unlike House, the initial testimony section of Evidence lacks original page numbers. These opening pages are intact; they contain no signs that the original page numbers have been effaced or torn away. The pages originally numbered 119 have archival numbers 151169. The tip of the upper right-hand corner of the first sheet of the June court proceedings is missing, but what appears to be the bottom of the numeral "1" is visible below the tear. The verso side of this sheet has no sign of a page number, nor does the recto of the next sheet, which also has a tip missing from the upper right corner. The verso of this page is clearly numbered "4," and all subsequent pages are sequentially numbered in the same spot through page "19." Sheets following archival page number 169 do not have original page numbers, probably because of clerical neglect. The continuity of testimony establishes that the sheets are in proper sequential order.
 
29 Evidence, 15169.
 
30 Testimony stops on Evidence, 169; page 170 is blank.
 
31 Although this section is not labeled "Confessions Section," it is composed exclusively of what are called "confessions" in the transcript. This section runs continuously from the top of page 171 through a third of the way down 180. The rest of page 180 is blank, as are pages 18182.
 
32 Evidence, 183.
 
33 Page 80 of House contains the end of the June 27 proceedings and the start of the confessions section; page 88 contains the end of the confessions section and the start of the July 10 proceedings.
 
34 For example, in Evidence, the proceedings of July 10 begin at the top of page 183 and end about halfway down page 184, the rest of which is blank. The testimony of July 11 starts at the top of page 185 and ends midway down the page; it is immediately followed by the trial record of July 12, which ends near the bottom of page 185, the rest of which is blank--the court had short sessions on those two days. Page 186 is blank. At the top of page 187 begin the trial proceedings of July 13. In House, the proceedings of July 1113 are recorded continuously on pages 8990, with no blank spaces intervening between the end of testimony one day and the start of testimony the next day.
 
35 Ample additional evidence that House is a copy of Evidence can be found in the content of the two manuscripts, but that evidence is ignored here to conserve space. Knowing that House is a copy helps establish that Evidence is intact. Although the blank pages in Evidence might indicate missing intervening pages, the continuous sequence of recording in House that parallels the discontinuous material in Evidence shows conclusively that there are no missing pages in Evidence--with one exception. The last surviving page of the July 26 proceedings (Evidence, 232) ends in the middle of witness testimony. (This page is also discolored compared to 231 and preceding pages, suggesting that it has been the last surviving page of this section for some time. The discoloration is notably less dark than that on the first page of the trial proceedings section [Evidence, 151].) At the top of the next surviving page (Evidence, 233), the trial proceedings of Aug. 3 begin, recorded in different clerical handwriting. The missing testimony that concludes the July trials is found at the end of House, where it occupies one page and three lines--conclusive evidence that one sheet is missing from Evidence, that this sheet existed at the time the House copy was made, and that it became lost sometime thereafter, probably after both Evidence and House were submitted to the legislature in late Nov. 1822. For the August proceedings, see Evidence, 23351. Page 233 is not discolored.
 
36 The Evidence record of the August trials follows the familiar discontinuous pattern, suggesting that clerks summarized testimony after the end of each day's proceedings. The Aug. 3 testimony begins at the top of Evidence, 233, and continues to its conclusion less than halfway down page 236, the rest of which is blank. The Aug. 6 testimony begins at the top of page 237 and runs continuously to the middle of page 251. The Aug. 3 handwriting is different from the Aug. 6 handwriting, and both are different from that in all the rest of both Evidence and House, suggesting that three different clerks transcribed the manuscript: Clerk 1, who wrote everything except the August testimony; Clerk 2, who wrote Aug. 3; and Clerk 3, who wrote Aug. 6. This last section of Evidence was probably completed in early August, most likely after the completion of the House copy. If the House copy had not been completed by Aug. 6, when the trials finally ended, it seems likely--though not certain--that House would have included the August material.
 
37 Consider just one example: In Designs against Charleston, 232, a witness testifies: "Peter named Poyas' plantation where he went to meet Bellisle Yates, I have seen at the meetings, and Adam Yates, Naphur Yates." In Evidence, the testimony reads: "Peter named Poyas plantation where he went to meet--Bellisle Yates I have seen at the meetings & Adam Yates, Nafur Yates" (207b; to correct an archival page numbering error, this unusual number was assigned by the archives to an otherwise ordinary sheet.)
 
38 In this brief opening passage, Pearson omits two words found in both Evidence and House, raises one capitalized name to all capitals, capitalizes a lower-case word, makes a plural singular, adds a comma and a period, twice omits th after 19, and reverses the order of the day and the month; compare Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 165, Evidence, 151, and House, 66. In addition, Pearson lists the names of 6, not 5, freeholders as members of the court, mistakenly listing James Legare twice, an error also pointed out in Charles H. Lesser, "Failed Revolt, Faulty Edition," Documentary Editing, 21 (1999), 6164.
 
39 I have prepared a faithful transcript of Evidence for publication.
 
40 This list of arrests is the source of all the arrest dates mentioned hereafter; Official Report, 18388.
 
41 Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 175, places Cross's testimony under the heading, "The trial of PETER," obtained with notice from the Official Report.
 
42 Evidence, 14448.
 
43 Ibid., 146; Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 176.
 
44 Reading Cross's impossibly prescient testimony in Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 17578, provoked me to go to the archives and consult the manuscript documents.
 
45 This approximate date is valuable because it helps to date the initial testimony section of the manuscript. The week between July 2 and 9, when Cross testified, falls in the 12-day period between the end of the June proceedings and the start of the July trials, when--according to Evidence--the court was not in session. That is, Evidence contains no dated entries for the period after the end of the June trials on the 27th and the start of the July trials on the 10th. Yet, the Cross testimony explicitly states that Cross testified in the presence of the court, providing one piece of evidence that the court was taking testimony when, according to the manuscript record, it was not in session; Evidence, 144. The other testimonies collected in the initial section of testimony were probably taken under similar circumstances. In order, they are: slave Pompey Bryant (143), slave Edwin Paul (143), slave Frank Ferguson (14344), master James Ferguson (144), slave Pharo Thompson (144), slave Patrick Datty (144), slave Yorrick Cross (14448), master George W. Cross (149), and slave George Vanderhorst (150). All the testimonies could have been given between the June and July trials; one black witness (Cross) definitely testified then; three (Bryant, Ferguson, and Vanderhorst) probably did; two others (Paul and Thompson) might have; and one (Datty) cannot be dated at all.

With the exceptions of Bryant and Datty, none of these witnesses could have given their testimony before the opening of the court proceedings on June 19 because they referred to events that occurred after the trials began. Most likely, these testimonies were taken by the court opportunistically on various days after the end of the June proceedings and before the start of the July trials, whenever a witness happened to be presented to them either by arresting officials or by masters. At some point, the clerk probably collected the notes of these interrogations and copied them into the continuous record that now appears as the initial testimonies section in Evidence (and House) and that is placed before the opening of the court sessions on June 19. That placement was almost certainly an arbitrary clerical convenience rather than an indication that the testimonies were given before the trials began.

 
46 Official Report, 76.
 
47 Ibid., 8590, vi.
 
48 The Official Report silently merges Ferguson's June 27 testimony with additional testimony that was evidently collected from him after the end of the June session and before the start of the July sessions. The additional testimony appears in the initial testimonies section of the manuscript court record; Evidence, 143.
 
49 Testimony from witnesses against Vesey occupies 161 lines in the Official Report; 52 of those lines of testimony came from Paul and LaRoche before Vesey was arrested, and 27 came from Frank Ferguson while Vesey awaited execution or after he was dead.
 
50 Official Report, 40, 45, 89.
 
51 Rolla, Batteau, and Ned Bennett and Peter Poyas were all arrested on June 18, one day before the court's opening session. Jesse Blackwood, the fifth slave executed on July 2, was arrested on June 23.
 
52 Five witnesses, however, offered very brief testimony "in behalf of," that is, in defense of, Rolla Bennett; Evidence, 16263.
 
53 See ibid., 164, 166, 16869.
 
54 Official Report, 59.
 
55 See Donald G. Morgan, Justice William Johnson, the First Dissenter: The Career and Constitutional Philosophy of a Jeffersonian Judge (Columbia, S. C., 1954), and N. Louise Bailey, ed., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, vol. 4, 17911815 (Columbia, S. C., 1984), 32225.
 
56 "Melancholy Effect of Popular Excitement," Charleston Courier, June 21, 1822.
 
57 William Johnson, To the Public of Charleston (Charleston, [early July] 1822), 5. Although Johnson professed to regret his publication of "Melancholy Effect of Popular Excitement," To the Public of Charleston exhibits less remorse than belabored justification of his behavior.
 
58 Quoted in Johnson, To the Public of Charleston, 89.
 
59 Announcements of the impending executions appeared in both the Charleston Courier and the Charleston Mercury, June 29, 1822.
 
60 "Communication," Charleston Courier, June 29, 1822.
 

61 "TO THE PUBLIC," ibid., June 29, 1822; Johnson, To the Public of Charleston, 1213.
 
62 Charleston Courier, June 29, 1822; "E." to Editor, and "Communication," ibid., July 1, 1822.
 
63 No arrests were made on June 19 or 26, both Wednesdays; Official Report, 18388.
 
64 Arrests were made every day except July 9 and 14, a Tuesday and a Sunday, respectively; ibid.
 
65 Bailey, ed., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 4:5457.
 
66 Thomas Bennett, Jr., Message No. 2 to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina, Nov. 28, 1822, Governors' Messages, 1328, General Assembly Papers, SCDAH.
 
67 Hayne to Bennett, July 3, 1822, Document E (copy), Governor's Messages, 1328, General Assembly Papers, SCDAH.
 
68 Other historians of the Vesey conspiracy have discussed the criticisms of Johnson and Bennett without considering their influence on subsequent actions of the court. For another instance of newspaper conflict among whites generating persecution of blacks, see Glenn M. McNair, "The Elijah Burritt Affair: David Walker's Appeal and Partisan Journalism in Antebellum Milledgeville," Georgia Historical Quarterly, 83 (1999), 44878.
 
69 Bennett, Message No. 2, Nov. 28, 1822, SCDAH.
 
70 For a description of the city on alert, see Thomas Bennett, Jr., General Orders, Order No. 4, July 8, 1822, Governor's Messages, 1328, General Assembly Papers, SCDAH.
 
71 For example, "Trial of Mingo Harth." Inexplicably, Pearson routinely omits such passages and instead reprints--with notice--the more elaborate and formal statements from the Official Report. See Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 213, and Official Report, 114.
 
72 The transcript records 22 words of testimony by accused slave Jacob Stagg and 15 words by accused slave Jack Purcell. Accused slave William Colcock pleaded not guilty and gave a 60-word statement during his trial, but he had already "confessed" outside of court. The court considered Colcock's "confession" exculpatory and found him not guilty.
 
73 It is possible that the accused were not present in court when their pleas were made.
 
74 Evidence, 214. Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 240, renders Clement's first name as "Jemmy" and omits the words "put on trial."
 
75 Incredibly, Pearson omits "not guilty" pleas clearly present in the trial transcript for 5 of these men: Jerry Cohen, Dean Mitchell, Jack McNeill, Billy Robinson, and John Vincent; Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 240, 241, 246, 253, 254; Evidence, 215, 222, 228. In addition, Pearson records "plea not guilty" (216) in the trial of Smart Anderson, although the transcript (Evidence, 197) clearly states "plea Guilty." The plea is followed ultimately by Anderson's confession, which is also included in Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 21718. Two other slaves, Peter Ward and Ben Cammer, pleaded not guilty, but no testimony was taken against them, and evidently they were never actually put on trial. I therefore did not include them among those who had trials and entered "not guilty" pleas. No plea was entered for Julius Forrest. The transcript contains guilty pleas for Smart Anderson and John Enslow. Bacchus Hammett entered no plea at his trial; he made 3 separate confessions.
 
76 For the most part, the cross-examinations were perfunctory and brief--at least as recorded in the transcript.
 
77 The Official Report printed a "voluntary Confession" given by Rolla Bennett and by Jesse Blackwood after witnesses had testified against them but before they had been convicted. Although the June transcript contains testimony from both men, it labels neither testimony a confession. According to the Official Report, Bennett and Blackwood confessed again to a local minister who visited them in prison while they awaited execution. The Official Report includes these death-row confessions; the transcript does not. During the July sessions, defendants Harry Haig and Jack Purcell confessed after they had been convicted and sentenced to die. Purcell made his confession a "few moments preceding his execution" to the intendant of Charleston, James Hamilton, Jr. Neither of these July confessions appears in the transcript; Official Report, 66, 80, 106, 118; Evidence, 164, 168.
 
78 Attorney General Hayne quoted these words from the slave codes of 1740 and 1754 in his reply to Gov. Bennett; Hayne to Bennett, July 3, 1822, Governor's Messages, 1328, General Assembly Papers, SCDAH.
 
79 An Account, 57.
 
80 Aeneas S. Reeves, the master of the workhouse, submitted a reimbursement request to the legislature for the cost of incarcerating each of the arrested men. See Reeves, General Assembly Petitions, 1822, No. 130, SCDAH.
 
81 Beatings administered by masters probably preceded the arrest of several of the accused. When James Ferguson heard that two slaves on his plantation were implicated in the conspiracy, he had them "severely corrected in the presence of the other negro men on the plantation; but neither from them, nor from the others could I get any confession that they were at all cognizant of the intended plot." Frustrated, Ferguson "gave orders to my driver to press on them the inutility of denying what was so fully proved against them," but for 4 weeks he could learn nothing; Official Report, 2831. The euphemism "press on them" conveys masters' routine use of beatings to coerce slaves to say what masters wanted to hear. For another instance of the use of beatings to obtain information about a slave conspiracy, see Winthrop D. Jordan, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek: An Inquiry into a Civil War Slave Conspiracy (Baton Rouge, 1993).
 
82 Here and subsequently the quantity of testimony is indicated by the number of lines occupied by the testimony in the court transcript. The confessors were Bacchus Hammett (confession, 186 lines; testimony, 4 lines) and Smart Anderson (confession, 71 lines; testimony, 7 lines).
 
83 Those who testified against others were Rolla Bennett (18 lines), Jesse Blackwood (36 lines), Pharo Thompson (13 lines), and Jack Purcell (6 lines).
 
84 Those who spoke in their own defense were Peter Poyas (7 lines), Caesar Smith (3 lines), Jack Purcell (2 lines), Dick Sims (3 lines), Jacob Stagg (3 lines), and William Garner (30 lines). Garner's atypically long defense came in his trial by the anticlimactic August court.
 
85 Ned Bennett, Batteau Bennett, Mingo Harth, Lot Forrester, John Horry, Gullah Jack Pritchard, Joe Jore, Julius Forrest, Tom Russell, John Robertson, Robert Robertson, Adam Robertson, Polydore Faber, Dick Sims, Jack Glenn, Jimmy Clement, Bellisle Yates, Naphur Yates, Adam Yates, Charles Billings, Jerry Cohen, Dean Mitchell, Jack McNeill, and Tom Scott.
 
86 I have defined a cooperative black witness as any slave or free person of color whose testimony was not explicitly labeled "in behalf of" a defendant, a clear sign of a defense witness. I have concentrated on the June and July sessions, since the August court was composed of different magistrates and freeholders, met for only two days, and sentenced only one man, William Garner, to be executed. During the June sessions, 5 slaves gave testimony in defense of Rolla Bennett (12 lines), and Peter Poyas spoke in his own defense (7 lines). In the July sessions, 8 black witnesses spoke in defense of a defendant (81 lines in all, 60 lines of which were in defense of Agrippa Perry), and 4 defendants spoke in their own defense (18 lines). In other words, a total of 13 blacks who were not arrested spoke in behalf of a defendant, an act of great bravery and loyalty.
 
87 All but 3% of the testimony (15 lines) from cooperative witnesses who were not arrested was given during the June sessions (266 lines) or recorded in the initial testimony section of the manuscript transcript (167 lines).
 
88 Of 484 total lines of testimony in the June transcript, 55% (266 lines) came from witnesses who had not been arrested. The remainder (218 lines) came from arrested witnesses.
 
89 Including testimony in the initial testimony and June sections of the transcript, secret testimony accounted for 397 of the 415 lines of testimony from cooperative unarrested witnesses.
 
90 For example, the initial testimony section of the transcript notes at the outset of the testimony (135 lines) of slave Yorrick Cross, "Before the name of this Witness was given to the Court, his Master [George W. Cross] required of the Court a Solemn pledge that his name should never be revealed, under which pledge the Witness was produced and testified." The transcript identifies Yorrick as "Y"; Evidence, 145. The other secret witnesses were Robert Harth (114 lines), Joe LaRoche (95 lines), George Vanderhorst (32 lines), George Wilson (24 lines), Sally Howard (14 lines), and Sambo LaRoche (9 lines). Three witnesses--Cross, Harth, and LaRoche--accounted for 87% of the secret testimony.
 
91 Monday Gell explicitly named Yorrick Cross as a conspirator, but the court never arrested Cross, although it did arrest--and often execute--men Gell fingered who were not pet witnesses; Evidence, 18790.
 

92 In all sessions before August, arrested witnesses gave 78% (1,707 lines) of the testimony from cooperative black witnesses.
 
93 Arrested men provided 99% (1,156 lines) of all the testimony from cooperative black witnesses during the July sessions. During the June sessions such witnesses provided 45% of the testimony.
 
94 These 3 men gave 73% (857 lines) of the July testimony from cooperative arrested witnesses.
 
95 These men accounted for 234 lines of testimony.
 
96 At least one of the superstars testified in 44 of the 49 July trials.
 
97 During the July sessions, 26 men were tried and executed. At least one superstar testified against 22 of them. Following the pattern of the June sessions, two men who did not have trials--Gullah Jack and John Horry--were executed on the basis of testimony given during the July sessions.
 
98 The 38 cases in which at least two superstars testified resulted in 35 convictions and 32 death sentences. Twelve of those sentenced to death were later exiled rather than executed.
 
99 Five of the 6 star witnesses did not have trials, according to the transcript.
 
100 Evidence, 187.
 
101 In July, Gell gave 436 lines of testimony and appeared in 37 trials. Perault Strohecker, the runner-up, gave 250 lines of testimony against 31 defendants. Charles Drayton, the third superstar witness, furnished 171 lines of testimony in 36 trials.
 
102 Official Report, 174.
 
103 According to An Account, 19, Gell was tried on July 1 and sentenced along with the others on July 9. The manuscript transcript records no court sessions on those dates, nor does it document Gell's trial. Contemporary newspaper reports, discussed below, confirm that he was indeed sentenced to be hanged on July 12.
 
104 An Account, 1921; see also Official Report, 5659.
 
105 Charleston Courier, July 10, 12, 19, 26, 1822. Similar reports appeared in the Charleston Mercury, July 10, 12, 19, 27, 1822. The July 27 Mercury declared that the court commuted the death sentences of Gell, Drayton, and Haig to transportation outside the U. S. "on account of much important information revealed by them."
 
106 Evidence, 229.
 
107 In addition to the 6 star witnesses (1,091 lines), cooperative testimony during the July sessions came from William Palmer (21 lines), Frank Ferguson (19 lines), and William Paul (2 lines), all of whom were sentenced to transportation outside the U. S. Brief statements against other defendants came from Smart Anderson (7 lines), Jack Purcell (6 lines), Bacchus Hammett (4 lines), and Jesse Blackwood (6 lines), all of whom were hanged; although Blackwood was executed on July 2, testimony he gave in June was included again in the manuscript transcript in the July 17 trial of Lot Forrester, who was also executed. Prudence Bussacre (15 lines) was not arrested.
 
108 The court added that "we regard it politic that the Negroes should know that even their principal advisers and ring-leaders cannot be confided in, and that under the temptation of exemption from capital punishment they will betray the common cause." Although the court referred here to Gell, Drayton, and Haig, the statement applies equally well to all the cooperative arrested witnesses. Letter to Bennett, July 24, 1822, quoted in Official Report, 9899.
 
109 Bennett, Message No. 2, Nov. 28, 1822, SCDAH, 10, 9.
 
110 Testimony labeled "confession" came from Monday Gell, Bacchus Hammett, Smart Anderson, John Enslow, and William Colcock.
 
111 For a compelling analysis of the impulse to confess, see Peter Brooks, Troubling Confessions: Speaking Guilt in Law and Literature (Chicago, 2000).
 
112 This account is derived from Leonard Sargeant, The Trial, Confessions and Conviction of Jesse and Stephen Boorn for the Murder of Russell Colvin: And the Return of the Man Supposed to Have Been Murdered (Manchester, Vt., 1873).
 
113 For Jesse's confession, see ibid., 3839.
 
114 Ibid., 8.
 
115 For Stephen's confession, see ibid., 4344.
 
116 The Official Report, 32, argues that the absence of physical evidence constitutes grounds for believing that it once existed and that the conspirators hid or destroyed it. For example, authorities found "a bundle . . . of twelve well seclected [sic] poles, neatly trimmed and smothed [sic] off, and about nine or ten feet long" on a farm on Charleston Neck, "more than were requisite for only six pike heads, and as those six pike heads have not been found, there is no reason for disbelieving the testimony of there having been many more made." Notwithstanding the court's peculiar logic, 12 long poles on a farm do not constitute physical evidence of an insurrection conspiracy.
 
117 Evidence, 189.
 
118 Ibid., 193.
 
119 Ibid., 220.
 
120 John Enslow contradicted Gell's account of the letter in his testimony on July 18, claiming, "Monday was writing a letter to St. Domingo to go by a Vessel . . . -- the letter was about the sufferings of the Black & to know if the people of St Domingo would help them if they made an effort to free themselves." Enslow testified two days later that he and another defendant were "in Mondays Shop when Monday was reading the letter to St. Domingo" and that "The Brother [not the uncle] of the Steward [not the cook] who was to carry the letter to St. Domingo was a General as I understand in St Domingo"; Evidence, 207b verso, 213.
 
121 Ibid., 221. On July 16 Gell testified that he "tore . . . up" the list rather than, as Strohecker claimed, burned it; ibid., 197. The Official Report, 26, declares that Gell burned the list.
 
122 Official Report, 5659, 174; Evidence, 207a, verso.
 
123 Official Report, 45; Evidence, 17273.
 
124 Gell was arrested on June 27, Drayton on July 2, Haig on July 5, Strohecker and Bulkley on July 10, and Enslow on July 13.
 
125 Evidence, 143.
 
126 Bacchus Hammett claimed, for example, that Perault Strohecker told him that Denmark Vesey had been arrested and took him to Gell's, where both Strohecker and Gell urged him not to tell their names if authorities arrested him; Evidence, 172.
 
127 Morris's death sentence was later commuted to exile; Evidence, 212.
 
128 Gell's testimony is from Evidence, 232. Because the last sheet of the July proceedings in Evidence is not extant, the testimony of Strohecker and Drayton comes from House, 13839.
 
129 On the power of the interrogator to shape the responses of the interrogated, see Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Princeton, 1995). See also Hacking's discussion of "interactive kinds" of "classifications that, when known by people or by those around them, and put to work in institutions, change the ways in which individuals experience themselves--and may even lead people to evolve their feelings and behavior in part because they are so classified" in The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 104.
 
130 Official Report, 23.
 
131 Ibid., 110; Bennett, Message No. 2, Nov. 28, 1822, SCDAH, 9.
 
132 Official Report, 1760.
 
133 Ginzburg, "Alien Voices: The Dialogic Element in Early Modern Jesuit Historiography," in History, Rhetoric, and Proof: The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures (Hanover, N. H., 1999), 84. See also Ginzburg, "The Inquisitor as Anthropologist," in Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, trans. John and Anne C. Tedeschi (Baltimore, 1989), 161. More generally, see Ginzburg, "Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm," ibid., 96125, and The Judge and the Historian: Marginal Notes on a Late-Twentieth-Century Miscarriage of Justice, trans. Antony Shugaar (London, 1999).
 
134 At Tehran, Churchill said about the counterintelligence campaign in preparation for the Normandy landings, "In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies"; Churchill, Closing the Ring, vol. 5 of The Second World War (London, 1952), 338.
 
135 I discuss these and other features of the Charleston slave conspiracy crisis more fully in "Conjuring Insurrection," a book in progress.
 
136 Official Report, 54.
 
137 Bennett, Message No. 2, Nov. 28, 1822, SCDAH, 2. Wilson's statement in court about Rolla Bennett reflected the ambiguity in much of the testimony about who was or was not involved in the conspiracy: "Rolla never told me in express words that he was going to join in a rising to kill the whites. . . .Though Rolla said nothing expressly to me about insurrection, yet we seemed to understand each other & that such was in contemplation"; Evidence, 157.
 
138 Official Report, 5455. The court's description of this sequence of events is corroborated by Governor Bennett's Order 1, June 15, and Order 2, June 16, and Bennett, Message No. 2, Nov. 28, 1822, Governor's Messages, 1328, SCDAH, 23, 259, 261.
 
139 An Account, 10.
 
140 Testimony on this point was not consistent. Both Smart Anderson and William Colcock claimed, for example, that the outbreak was scheduled for June 15; Evidence, 176, 179.
 
141 Official Report, 55.
 
142 Ibid., 5556.
 
143 Strohecker's testimony came in the Aug. 6 trial of Nero Haig. Of course, Strohecker's testimony is not trustworthy. Its significance lies in what it says about the court; Evidence, 25354.
 
144 The Official Report, 43, declares that authorities searched 3 days for Vesey before finding him "secreted in the house of one of his wives."
 
145 Ibid., 17, 27. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free, 139, agrees with the court's assessment: "All orders emanated from the old carpenter."
 
146 Evidence, 152, 147, 149. Harry Haig also singled out Gullah Jack; ibid., 184.
 
147 Ibid., 191; see also 201.
 
148 Ibid., 156, 146, 169, 207b.
 
149 Ibid., 197; see Gell's first confession, ibid., 18790.
 
150 Why the court targeted Vesey is discussed in greater detail in "Conjuring Insurrection."
 
151 Evidence, 220; Official Report, 35.
 
152 Evidence, 169.
 
153 Official Report, 39. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free, 143, argues, "Far from being a disorganized and chaotic melee, Vesey's [was a] meticulously-timed plan."
 
154 Evidence, 189, 220. Gell added, "I know personally of no arms except six pikes shewn to me by Gullah Jack"; ibid., 221.
 
155 Ibid., 172, 145, 148.
 
156 Ibid., 158. Witnesses differed about who would capture the arsenals. Harth claimed Poyas said the townspeople would; other witnesses said country slaves would; ibid.
 
157 Ibid., 160. The Official Report, 37, echoes this testimony: "Arms being thus from these different sources provided, the City was to have been fired, and an indiscriminate slaughter of the whites to commence."
 
158 Bulkley claimed that Dick Sims managed to fire the pistol; Evidence, 191; see also 201.
 
159 Official Report, 32.
 
160 Evidence, 151. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free, 140, considers "a not irrational guess" that "as many as 9,000 slaves at least heard of the plot."
 
161 Evidence, 143, 154, 157, 188, 207b, 187 (see also 196, 219), 214, 167.
 
162 Official Report, 27.
 
163 Evidence, 16869.
 
164 Bennett, Message No. 2, Nov. 28, 1822, SCDAH, 11, 1516, 14.
 
165 Official Report, 36. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free, 165, argues that "the master class had come within a sword's blade of disaster, and they knew it."
 

166 Wade, "Vesey Plot," 160, reached a similar conclusion based on evidence in the Official Report.
 
167 The quotation is from the title of the Official Report.
 
168 The witness was William Paul; Evidence, 151.
 
169 Ibid., 192.
 
170 LaRoche did not say who reported this rumor at the meeting, but since white men probably did not attend the meeting, presumably Bennett and LaRoche meant that the rumor "'twas said" by a black person; Evidence, 15354.
 
171 Ibid., 155, 166, 164.
 
172 Official Report, 19.
 
173 Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 120. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free, 131, argues, "Vesey understood all too well that Congress never actually debated emancipation where slavery already existed, but he realized that the peculiar institution was now part of the national discourse."
 
174 Evidence, 200. Gell disputed Colcock's claim, testifying, "William has often been at my Shop and asked me what was going on--I did not tell him any thing"; ibid.
 
175 Ibid., 232.
 
176 Ibid., 155; Official Report, 64.
 
177 Evidence, 15354; Official Report, 62 (quotation), 19.
 
178 Evidence, 155.
 
179 "From Columbia," Charleston Courier, Dec. 1, 1821.
 

180 "South Carolina Legislature," ibid., Dec. 12, 1821.
 
181 "From Columbia," ibid., Dec. 18, 1821.
 
182 See "From Columbia," ibid., Dec. 24, 1821; "Acts of the Legislature," ibid., Dec. 25, 1821. The insurrectionary consequences of rumors of freedom in Guyana are chronicled in Emilia Viotti da Costa, Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood: The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823 (New York, 1994), esp. 169206.
 
183 Evidence, 164. Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 120, misquotes Bennett as "testifying" that "Congress had set us free, and that our white people here would not let us be so" and cites Bennett's testimony in the court transcript on June 25. The quotation comes from Joe LaRoche's testimony in the Official Report, 62, which Pearson does not cite.
 
184 The news report that appeared in "From Columbia," Charleston Courier, Dec. 19, 1820, about the 1820 bill failed, however, to make clear that the law was not an act of general emancipation. The report stated, "A bill concerning the emancipation of slaves has passed both Houses--its chief feature is that no slave shall in future be emancipated but by a special act of the Legislature." This report might well have prompted Vesey and other black readers to believe by late Dec. 1820 that the legislature had made them free and, in turn, might have made them all the more alert to emancipation news trickling back from the 1821 legislature. The quotation in the text is from the 1820 law in David J. McCord, ed., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina (Columbia, S. C., 1840), 7:459.
 
185 Numerous such requests exist among the petitions to the 1821 General Assembly, SCDAH.
 
186 Evidence, 200.
 
187 Ibid., 219; see also 187.
 
188 See Patricia A. Turner, I Heard It through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture (Berkeley, 1993); Theodore Sasson, "African American Conspiracy Theories and the Social Construction of Crime," Sociological Inquiry, 65 (1995), 26585.
 
189 Historians, like white South Carolinians in the 1820s, have emphasized that slaves in port cities such as Charleston received news from black mariners who manned ships trading between Atlantic ports. In the court transcript, witnesses did not mention sailors as a source of news or rumors. The frequent reports about Haiti in the Courier demonstrate that black Charlestonians, regardless of their contact with black seamen, had a local source of news accessible to any reader. See, for example, Pearson, ed., Designs against Charleston, 30.
 
190 Evidence, 199200; see also 18889.
 
191 "St. Domingo," Charleston Courier, Apr. 11, 1822. Subsequent notices reported the success of Boyer's initiative; "From St. Domingo," ibid., June 8, 1822; "Republic of Hayti," ibid., June 10, 1822.
 
192 By calling this and similar articles "news," I do not mean that the articles were accurate accounts of what happened. Instead, I intend "news" to mean published reports of events. Publication made news reports accessible to any reader; "Revolution in St. Domingo," Charleston Courier, Nov. 7, 1820.
 
193 "Missouri Question in Hayti!" Dec. 5, 1820; "From Port-au-Prince," Jan. 11, 1821; "From Port-au-Prince," Mar. 31, 1821; "Latest from Cape Haytien," May 17, 1821; "From St. Domingo and the Spanish Main," Feb. 14, 1822; "Curracoa, March 2," Apr. 3, 1822, all Charleston Courier. Other reports in the Courier include "From St. Domingo," Nov. 30, 1820; "Disturbances in St. Domingo," Mar. 26, 1821; "From Hayti," Apr. 12, 1821; "From St. Domingo," Apr. 25, 1821; "From Cape Haytien," June 28, 1821; "From Cape Haytien," July 31, 1821; "From Port-au-Prince," August 8, 1821; "From Hayti," Feb. 21, 1822; and "From St. Domingo," Apr. 24, 1822.
 
194 Evidence, 199200, 220, 155, 154.
 
195 Ibid., 159. For another version of this rumor, see Smart Anderson's confession, ibid., 176.
 
196 Allport and Postman, The Psychology of Rumor (New York, 1965), 2. For other studies dealing with rumor, see "Further Reading" at the end of this article.
 
197 Allport and Postman, Psychology of Rumor, 75.
 
198 John Geddes, "Governor's Message," Charleston Courier, Dec. 1, 1820. Incoming governor Bennett endorsed this and other revisions to the penal code; "From Columbia," ibid., Dec. 23, 1820.
 
199 "The Penal Code--No. 2," ibid., Nov. 7, 1821; see also "The Penal Code, No. 1," ibid., Nov. 6, 1821.
 
200 "State Legislature," ibid., Dec. 15, 1821. See also "State Legislature," ibid., Dec. 12, 1821.
 
201 "From Columbia," ibid., Dec. 18, 1821; "Acts of the Legislature," ibid., Dec. 25, 1821. See also "From Columbia," ibid., Dec. 24, 1821.
 
202 Evidence, 209, 147, 214.
 
203 Men who had talked with Gell included 27 (77%) of the 35 men hanged and 23 (62%) of the 37 exiled.
 
204 Official Report, 59.
 
205 Evidence, 223.
 
206 Gell also testified that "Vesey had many years ago, a pamphlet on the slave trade"; ibid., 221.
 
207 Ibid., 152, 164. The words in brackets are taken from House, 66, since the corresponding section in Evidence has been torn away.
 
208 Evidence, 203. Bacchus Hammett also claimed Glenn read the Bible; ibid., 204. William Paul said he read the Bible, and Harry Haig testified that Peter Poyas "took out his book [a Bible?] and we prayed all night"; ibid., 15152, 183.
 
209 See Peter Biller and Anne Hudson, eds., Heresy and Literacy, 10001530 (Cambridge, 1994). For examples of the rich historiography on the causes, kinds, and consequences of literacy in medieval and early modern Europe, see "Further Reading" at the end of this article.
 
210 Biller, "Heresy and Literacy: Earlier History of the Theme," in Biller and Hudson, eds., Heresy and Literacy, 510; R. I. Moore, "Literacy and the Making of Heresy 10001150," ibid., 1924. See also Brett Sutton, "Literacy and Dissent," Libraries and Culture, 26 (1991), 18398, and Darrin M. McMahon, "The Counter-Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature in Pre-Revolutionary France," Past and Present, No. 159 (1998), 77112.
 
211 This sentence greatly oversimplifies a complicated, diverse, and multidimensional history stretching over many centuries; instances of silent reading, for example, can be found as early as the 5th century b.c.; Paul Saenger, Space between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford, 1997), 117, 25676. See also Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier, eds., A History of Reading in the West, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Amherst, Mass., 1999), 120, 37148.
 
212 Private reading also fostered subversive readings among elites. Saenger, Space between Words, 274, reports, for example, that "Charles of France, the rebellious brother of Louis XI, left a copy of Cicero's De officiis with underlined passages justifying rebellion and the assassination of tyrants." My colleague John Marshall has given me numerous quotations from 17th-century English defenders of religious orthodoxy who explicitly connected heresy with conspiracy and sedition. For examples of heretical texts collected by the inquisition in Languedoc, see James B. Given, Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline, and Resistance in Languedoc (Ithaca, 1997), 4951. A classic account of the significance of unorthodox conclusions from private reading is Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore, 1980), 62, whose observation that the "mental and linguistic world" of the miller Menocchio was marked "by the most absolute literalism" suggests the possibility that a similar literalism characterized black readers such as Vesey and Gell.
 
213 See Janet Duitsman Cornelius, "When I Can Read My Title Clear": Literacy, Slavery, and Religion in the Antebellum South (Columbia, S. C., 1991); Robert E. Gallman, "Changes in the Level of Literacy in a New Community of Early America," Journal of Economic History, 48 (1988), 56782; and David Freedman, "African-American Schooling in the South Prior to 1861," Journal of Negro History, 84 (1999), 147.
 
214 Bacchus Hammett testified to the opacity of writing to a nonreader, saying that "a large Book like a Bible was open before them at Denmarks house--that he does not know whether it was to sign names in or what purpose," that a black man who "could read . . . showed Monday Gell the large Book on the table--that he said to Monday shewing him some of the leaves of the book on the table 'see here they are making real game at we' and Monday looked at the book and said nothing"; Evidence, 17374.
 
215 See David M. Henkin, City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York (New York, 1998); Stephen Rachman, "Reading Cities: Devotional Seeing in the Nineteenth Century," American Literary History, 9 (1997), 65375.
 
216 Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (New York, 1988), 128, writes that "the literature of the slave consisted of texts that represent impolite learning and . . . these texts collectively railed against the arbitrary and inhumane learning which masters foisted upon slaves to reinforce a perverse fiction of the 'natural' order of things." For other pertinent studies of the significance of reading, language, and literacy, see "Further Reading" at the end of this article.
 
217 Whites were subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for no more than a year. Penalties for a free person of color included a fine of no more than $1,000 for the first offense and, for the second offense, a whipping of no more than 50 lashes and banishment from the state. The law provided that "any free person of color who shall return from such banishment, unless by unavoidable accident, shall suffer death without the benefit of clergy"; McCord, Statutes at Large, 7:460.
 
218 Evidence, 152.
 
219 Ibid., 15355, 159.
 
220 Ibid., 167, 150, 177.
 
221 Ibid., 166; Official Report, 19.
 
222 Official Report, 45. On suppressed truth, see James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990), and Chris Wickham, "Gossip and Resistance Among the Medieval Peasantry," Past and Present, No. 160 (1998), 324.
 
223 A full discussion can be found in "Conjuring Insurrection."

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