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Debra Jackson

Little is known of his boyhood years. He was apparently born free, unfettered by slavery, and secured an apprenticeship to a carpenter. Some scholars have suggested a family connection between Alexander Hamilton and William Hamilton, apparently based on a passage from the obituary of William’s son Thomas in the newspaper the Anglo-African on 10 June 1865. In praising the leadership qualities of the deceased, the author notes his “grandfather lies in Trinity Churchyard, perforated by the bullet of Aaron Burr.” Signed “Types,” the obituary is unlikely to have been written by Thomas’s brother Robert. Additional scholarship is needed to determine a more conclusive statement on this question. Historian Donald Yacovone, an editor on the Black Abolitionist Papers, has stated that the Hamilton family had an “unwavering belief that they had descended from the Founding Father” and first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (personal communication to the editors, 8 Mar ...

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Graham Russell Hodges

William T. Hamilton's parents are unknown, although his father was rumored to be Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of the treasury. In 1796 the teenaged William made his first mark in a letter to John Jay, the governor of New York. Skillfully blending his own thoughts with those expressed in the English poet and abolitionist William Cowper's “Negro's Complaint,” Hamilton informed Jay that he could not help but shed a tear for those fellow blacks remaining in slavery (a phrase indicating that Hamilton was free at the time). Hamilton asked how Jay could proclaim America the land of freedom and equality when “almost every part of it abounds with slavery and oppression.” Hamilton beseeched the governor to end slavery. Such conflation of poetry and antislavery arguments would appear frequently in Hamilton's writings.

As an adult Hamilton became a carpenter and part of the nascent free black community ...

Article

John R. Van Atta

Vesey, Denmark (1767?–02 July 1822), slave insurrectionist, was born possibly in Africa. His family roots and early childhood are unknown. As a fourteen-year-old in a cargo of 390 slaves bound for St. Domingue (Haiti), his engaging appearance somehow caught Captain Joseph Vesey’s eye. Sold on arrival to a French planter, Denmark remained on that sugar- and cocoa-producing colony only a few months before being returned as “unsound and subject to epileptic fits.” Afterward, Captain Vesey kept the young slave for himself and in 1783 adopted Charleston, South Carolina, as a permanent home.

Literate multilingual and worldly Denmark Vesey s experience both as a slave and later as a free man differed radically from the ordinary Aboard his master s vessels he traveled around the Atlantic and became a skilled carpenter In an amazing stroke of fortune he won $1 500 in the Charleston East Bay lottery of ...

Article

Tiwanna M. Simpson

mariner, carpenter, abolitionist, was born either in Africa or the Caribbean and probably grew up as a slave on the Danish colony of St. Thomas, which is now a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. When Denmark was about fourteen years old, the slave trader Captain Joseph Vesey purchased him to sell on the slave market in Saint Domingue (Haiti). The identity of Denmark Vesey's parents and his name at birth are unknown, but Joseph Vesey gave him the name “Telemaque.” He became “Denmark Vesey” in 1800, after he purchased his freedom from lottery winnings. Vesey's family life is difficult to reconstruct. He had at least three wives and several children, including three boys—Sandy, Polydore, and Robert—and a girl, Charlotte. His first and second wives, Beck and Polly, and their children lived as slaves. His third wife, Susan was a free woman of color ...

Article

Douglas R. Egerton

The man later known as Denmark Vesey was born about 1767, probably on the Caribbean sugar island of Saint Thomas. In 1822Captain Joseph Vesey, who was Denmark's second and fourth owner, recalled that when he first purchased the boy at the port of Charlotte Amalie in 1781, he appeared to be “about 14 years” old. Although the port functioned more as a transit slave station then an entrepôt to the island's sugar plantations, during the eighteenth century no more than 10 percent of all Africans carried to the Americas were children. Most likely the boy, whose original name and ancestry is lost to history, had simply reached an age and height that would fetch a goodly sum in the coastal barracoons.

Joseph Vesey, a Carolina-based slaver, purchased the boy in September or October of 1781 as part of a cargo of 390 bondpeople During ...