Kevin Sack, a senior writer for the New York Times who has shared in three Pulitzer Prizes, is writing a book on the murders committed by Dylann Roof in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The book includes a chapter on Denmark Vesey, a free person of color, who was accused of masterminding in 1822 a revolutionary plot that centered in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Since Douglas Egerton, a historian at Le Moyne College, and Robert Paquette, President of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), had published a major book on the Vesey affair, Mr. Sack turned to them in 2021 for help in unraveling a mystery related to the plot.

Mr. Sack had run across a reference to an incident in 1817 in which 469 “black and colored persons” were arrested and confined by Charleston’s City Guard for attempting to construct an independent black church in the city. Paquette located the document in question and made it the centerpiece of an essay published in an anthology Fugitive Movements: Commemorating the Denmark Vesey Affair and Black Radical Antislavery in the Atlantic World (University of South Carolina Press, 2022), edited by James O’Neill Spady. Although Paquette did not attend the conference from which most of the essays derived, he received an invitation to contribute to the collection.

In 1817, Denmark Vesey had been admitted into communion in Charleston’s Second Presbyterian Church. Paquette argues that a series of incidents from 1817 to 1822 had radicalized him into a course of action that ultimately aimed at his leading a breakout of slaves to Haiti. As Paquette and Egerton show in their 1000-page volume, published in 2017, the Vesey affair proved to be a defining moment in setting the course of South Carolina to secession.