Historically Thinking

Historically Thinking

Episode 255: Denmark Vesey’s Bible

March 14, 2022

On July 2, 1822, Denmark Vesey was hung for attempting to lead a slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina. Also executed that day were five of his supporters. Over the next month, a total of 35 men were hung in public executions for their involvement in Vesey’s plot—on one day, 22 were killed in a mass execution.

Both “Vesey’s prosecutors and his allies”, writes my guest Jeremy Schipper “appealed to the Bible to decry or justify the insurrection plot.” In this way their behavior mirrored Abraham Lincoln’s words decades later in his Second Inaugural Address: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other.” Yet while Lincoln seems to have been referring to Northerner and Southerner, in this instance those words applied to White and Black Southerners, to enslavers and enslaved. How they read the same texts, how they prayed them, is therefore of intense interest to anyone seeking to understand that moment in Charleston, or for that matter any other moment in the history of slavery and racial conflict in the United States.

Jeremy Schipper is Professor of Religion at Temple University, in Philadelphia, PA. Author of several books, his most recent is Denmark Vesey’s Bible: The Thwarted Revolt That Put Slavery and Scripture on Trial, which is the subject of our conversation today.

For Further Investigation 

We have previously discussed Nat Turner's Revolt in Episode 161.
Doug Egerton was mentioned in the conversation, and is thanked by Jeremy Schipper in his acknowledgements. Doug has been on the podcast in Episode 67 talking about Reconstruction, and again in Episode 137 discussing the Adams' family.