Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner

Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner feature very prominently in matters regarding slavery and slave rebellion in the United States in the 1800s. Denmark Vesey attempted to fuel a slave rebellion in 1822 but failed after word of the plans he and other slaves had made leaked to the slave masters. Vesey called for a midnight “surprise attack against Charleston” (p.43). The insurrection never materialized and together with other ringleaders, they were arrested, sentenced and hanged. Nat Turner on the other hand led a successful slave rebellion in Southampton County. Unlike Vesey, Turner successfully planned and executed his insurrection that began on Sunday night August 21 and lasted for approximately two days (p. 61-62). Nat’s rebellion was not entirely successful but unlike Vesey’s, at least it was executed.

Vesey attempted to rally all city and country slaves against their white masters. He planned to rally his followers to execute their slave masters and free Charleston from slavery (p.43). Turners rebellion on the other hand was strikingly similar to Vesey’s he commandeered his fellow slaves into a rampage of slaying white slave owners across Southampton county. Turner and Vesey are strikingly similar in their plans to lead an insurrection against their white slave masters. Both of them were educated and had read quite a lot. Oates says that Vesey was “a hulking, literate carpenter” who had “read profusely” (p.42). Nat on the other hand was brilliant and “learnt to read the Bible and other books” while at the Turner’s farm (p.32). Both Vesey and Turner also used the church as a platform to convey their revolutionary messages.

Nat and Vesey’s views about slavery contained several similarities. Nat believed that the black slaves had a right to be free. He preached freedom to his slave folks and planned a revolution to free the slaves from the revolution. He believed this was the freedom he was seeking (p.32). Vesey contained a certain amount of anger at the slave owners. They had flouted all his attempts to gain his freedom and that of his people even closing the church he had planned to use in uniting black slaves. Vesey was furious because of the treatment of blacks as slaves that is why he embarked on a revolutionary mission shortly after buying his freedom from his masters (p.42).

White society reaction to the Turner and Vesey led insurrections was nothing short of the expected. The white society reacted even more violently than the blacks had done in the insurrection. The casualty level for the reprisal attacks were higher than the insurrection victims executed by the blacks. The aftermath of the violent attacks also saw several black ringleaders executed and others thrown into prison. After Vesey’s attempt to lead a revolution failed and details of his plans leaked to the white authorities for example, the authorities arrested him together with other ringleaders and later hanged. Whites called for the destruction of the Black church previously used by Vesey for meetings (p.43). The blacks were thus restricted from attending any meetings and there was a greater inhibition of freedom than before.

The reaction of the white slave owners in Southampton County to Turner’s rebellion was much more vicious. The reprisal attacks that followed claimed many black lives. Approximately 200 blacks lost their lives in the reprisal attacks and slave codes in the county tightened (p.99). These violent and cruel reactions were fuelled by the white slave-owners reluctance to release the slaves. They viewed the black slaves as people who did not deserve any freedom. The whites therefore viewed the insurrection as an outrageous attempt by second-class citizens to rebel and therefore stiffened their harsh slave treatment (p.141).

Work Cited

Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion. New York: Perennial, 2004. Print.


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