This Citadel was built in Charleston, South Carolina in response to Denmark Vesey and the Haitian Revolution. It is now an Embassy Suites Hotel.
A Tale of Two Citadels
A Tale of Two Citadels Based on the Denmark Vesey Conspiracy
1781 A decade before Bwa Kayiman, Denmark Vesey was sold in Cape Haitian by Joseph Vesey. Telemak, as Denmark was called then, knew if he were to survive, he would have to escape from the Cape where few people survived to adulthood…
The overseer cracked his whip to disperse the crowd that had gathered to see young Telemak slide as if animated by the great Dahomean Spirit, Danbala Wèdo. The whip struck the ground nearly missing the boy’s flesh and it was just to see if he would flinch. Oblivious to the threat, the boy did not respond and the overseer prepared to better his aim. This was nothing that a lashing could not cure but before the blow struck, Jack Wangol intercepted. “Strike him and you die,” Jack shouted as he pulled the whip with the overseer dangling from it and threw both to the ground. As Jack Wangol walked away, the overseer collected what was left of his dignity and directed several underlings to bring the boy inside the house. For several days Telemak did not work. Telemak did not leave the house but the rumors did and everyone knew that he would be returned to Joseph Vesey….
1791 The world around Telemak was changing. A new sun was on the rise. After the meeting at Bwa Kayiman, Jack Wangol sent a letter to the Governor …. “We, with all our souls, wish for peace- but on condition that all colonists, whether of the plain or of the mountains, shall vacate the Cape. Let them carry with them their gold and their jewels; we seek only liberty- dear and precious object! This, general is our faith and it is as essential as the air we breath. We lack neither the will nor the means. Therefore, Liberty or Death! May God grant us freedom without the effusion of blood- neither yours nor ours. We urge you not to let your avarice force us to fight to death!” 1801 As revolution raged in Haiti, turbulence was brewing in Telemak. Filled with courage but with his heart pounding, he walked over to Joseph Vesey and said ‘I’ve come to buy my freedom.” Joseph Vesey offered a crooked smile. Both men had grown old. Joseph Vesey, though older, appeared younger as Telemak had waited on him for over 20 years of servitude. A younger servant who could cook would serve him better now and he could purchase several with Telemak’s offer. He could even purchase a few women; years ago, his wife had left with a missionary on a long journey to France. Where the money came from did not matter…… Within a few days, Denmark Vesey was walking the streets of Charleston, South Carolina with papers that said that he was a free man. The year was 1801. Telemak was thirty-four and could now direct his own life…
He was not nostalgic about the Cape, but he was curious. Deciphering printed words was not easy but he got through the task and taught himself to read. The front page of the Charleston Courier brought news of a “Haitian Emperor who ordered all slave-owners killed…” Telemak marveled in disbelief. His mind raced back to the Cape and he saw himself delivering the overseer to the Emperor. He recalled the voyages across the blood filled Atlantic with Captain Vesey. He would have relished bringing the entire crew before the Emperor. Whether it was a discarded paper or one fresh off the press, he read all that he could find about the Cape.
Telemak knew the world was changing and he was eager to spread the word. His home was a beacon of freedom, filled with lively discussion and debate. From this haven, he released the news of redemption. Words leaked and the message spread, often falling on receptive minds as well as on angry hearts, depending on which side the listener was on..… 1811 In Cape Haitian, twenty thousand people labored to build a fortress that could withstand any colonial force from re-instating slavery. From 1804 onward, men and women labored tirelessly day and night for 13 years until the last stone was placed at the peak of the 3000 feet mountain, Pik Feray. They called their fortress the Citadelle and there, they courageously stood guard with their cannons at the ready protecting their children at play. The Cape was now on its way to becoming a normal place…
A normal life was all Telemak wanted. In 1817, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston. He shared the message of normality with his congregation. The flock found worthy examples of how life should be lived in the stories of Jewish heroes like Abraham, David, Daniel, and Moses. They found similar examples in the life of African heroes like Lemiso, Grann Hesou, Larèn Kongo, and Don Petwo. Telemak’s message made it clear that all people are valuable and all have worthy ancestors. He said within these traditions the people would find God’s guidance to live a normal life. 1821 To the authorities of Charleston, this was revolutionary and they plotted against Telemak. The arrests began and the light went out from Telemak's home. His acquaintances were imprisoned and tortured. The authorities levied a charge against him. Telemak’s friend, Gullah Jack, who would remind the congregation of normal days in the Kongo, could speak no more.
Telemak was arrested and summarily executed on July 2, 1822. Charleston officials hung 34 others and silenced them as they did Telemak and Gullah Jack. They threatened to kill 9,000 other possible conspirators. It was their way of terrorizing the population, enslaved or not, into submission.
To prevent other insurrections, they embarked on building a fortress. Every brick laid in its construction was a load of oppression to squash a population whose dream was to live a normal life. In a twisted sense of purpose, they presented this fortress as the polar opposite of the one built in Cape Haitian, and called it the Citadel. But this Citadel’s mission was to keep freedom at bay. It is this fortress, built to preserve slavery, that gave rise to today's Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.
The Historical Facts
If you should ever go to Charleston, South Carolina, you will see the huge pink castle built between 1822 and 1829. It was the Citadel, once the foremost military academy of the US South. It is now a hotel. The transformation speaks to how times have changed, but not too long ago, it was built to maintain slavery. This fortress was commissioned to solidify South Carolina’s response to Denmark (Telemak) Vesey’s desire to be a free person. Denmark Vesey may have been inspired by the Haitian Revolution, but the state of South Carolina feared that the Revolution could spread to its territory and acted against anyone it thought was sympathetic to that movement. Denmark Vesey and the Hougan, Gullah Jack were founding members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in America.
The Haitian Citadelle in the Cape Haitian region of Haiti is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere. It was built between 1804 and 1817 and is a symbol of the courage, the strength, and the vision it took to eliminate slavery.