Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Denmark Vesey Affair: A Documentary History

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Denmark Vesey Affair: A Documentary History

Article excerpt

The Denmark Vesey Affair: A Documentary History. Edited by Douglas R. Egerton and Robert L. Paquette. Southern Dissent. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, 2017. Pp. xliv, 812. $150.00, ISBN 978 0-8130-6282-2.)

Douglas R. Egerton and Robert L. Paquette's new edited volume is both a copious collection of primary sources pertaining to the Denmark Vesey conspiracy and a commentary on the ways historians have misread these documents. As scholars have disputed the facts of the case and even the existence of a conspiracy, the common thread has always been an argument about documents. This volume seeks to address this ongoing debate. As we survey the depth and breadth of the documents collected here, some may seem only tangentially connected to the events in question; yet detailed footnotes highlight their complex interconnectivity, and the documents present the most all-encompassing view to date of this much-discussed case.

Egerton and Paquette have scoured archives, newspapers, government records, and relevant historiography in order to provide a comprehensive picture of the events that transpired in 1822 and the ways Vesey's contemporaries interpreted them. The collection does not stop here, however, as it also includes evidence of how the memory of the conspiracy continued to drive understandings about race in the decades afterward. From these documents, we see how Americans across the nation viewed race, slavery, and the American South, and we are left with a clearer picture of the relationship between Vesey's alleged plans and the ongoing debates about the spread of slavery. We also see the power that Haiti's mere presence exerted on conversations about race and slavery leading up to the Civil War. It is clear from this collection that residents of both the North and the South were mesmerized by these events.

In order to comprehend the significance of this tome, we must look to a debate that began in 2001 in the William and Mary Quarterly and has since exerted profound influence on discussions of slave conspiracies everywhere. In 1999 three books about the Denmark Vesey conspiracy appeared, leading the journal to commission a review essay from Michael P. Johnson ("Denmark Vesey and His Co-Conspirators," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 58 [October 2001], 915-76). As he worked on this project, Johnson became convinced that no conspiracy had occurred and that white authorities had collaborated with black witnesses to broadcast fears of insurrection. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.