Vesey joined and soon became a leading member of Charleston's African Methodist Episcopal Church. After many of his fellow church members were arrested, and after he was repeatedly harassed for teaching Bible classes, Vesey turned to a more radical Christian theology that emphasized liberation. He and others planned a rebellion that they hoped would allow Charleston-area slaves to escape by capturing one or more sailing vessels and fleeing to the recently independent black republic of Haiti.
Understanding that any white resident who saw the rebels or learned of their plan would alert the slave patrols, the rebels planned to kill every white person they saw and set fire to the city. As a result, Vesey and his co-conspirators believed that whites would be unable to capture the rebels before they had safely made their escape. The success of Vesey's plan relied upon a large number of participants as well as absolute secrecy. As the date of the planned rebellion neared, however, several slaves leaked news of the plot to their masters. Vesey and five other men were publicly hanged on July 2d, 1822.
While Vesey became a martyr to the opponents of slavery, white residents of Charleston recoiled with horror at his plan. As part of their efforts to intimidate would-be rebels, dozens of African Americans faced trial and a total of 35 were executed for their alleged connection to Vesey and his co-conspirators.