The first area of concern Johnson points out is the appearance of the original manuscripts upon which Designs against Charleston are based. The “unambiguously legible and perfectly horizontal handwriting stretching line after line” is a clear indication to Johnson that neither were actually produced during the trial of Vesey and his co-conspirators, but written at a later date. This is important to note because these manuscripts do not represent a verbatim translation [transcription] of the trial, as a reader today might expect.
Johnson then explores the actual text of Designs against Charleston, pointing out some “5,000 – 6,000 discrepancies between the Evidence manuscript and the published manuscript in Designs against Charleston.” Although he admits that a good many of the changes are matters of punctuation or capitalization, Johnson argues that even slight modifications can have a significant impact on the reading of the text. When they are compounded in number, he further argues, these changes violate “the authenticity of the manuscript and the trust of the reader.” From there Johnson goes into much more elaborate detail outlining the discrepancies in the text, notably highlighting areas where words where either added or deleted, or clearly legible words were changed.
From my viewpoint, Pearson effectively tainted any conclusions he may have presented when he admitted to carelessly handling the evidence that supported his research. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that any conclusions which were set forth on the basis of a flawed or at least partially inaccurate manuscript could somehow rise above the errors upon which it was produced. It’s an insult to the academic world, and to any readers who may have relied on Pearson’s work, to act as though sloppy research and erroneous transcription would not affect the outcome of any such studies. If it were to come out that a jury had received erroneous testimony, a mistrial would be declared. No reasonable judge would expect the jurors to be able to reach a fair verdict on the basis of faulty evidence. It makes no more sense, then, to believe that Pearson could have produced “a sound piece of scholarship” after mishandling the evidence.
Johnson definitively states that it is “beyond doubt that the Official Report falsifies the record of testimony and court procedures documented in the manuscript transcript.” Giving weight to the growing pressure that the members of the Charleston court were facing, in particular from a U.S. Supreme Court justice and the governor of South Carolina, Johnson makes a convincing case that the court was more concerned with protecting their already-questionable reputation than in presenting an accurate portrayal of the trials. He forcefully concludes that the literally thousands of errors between the two documents point to a need for the court to “justify its decision to send thirty-five men to the gallows” while defending their actions by “cloaking its summary procedures in false claims of rudimentary due process.”
1. The mistakes that Johnson had in mind were that:
- some of the evidence passages were marked with commas where there were not supposed be commas and Pierson added commas
"Since many of these differences are matters of punctuation and capitalization, it may be tempting to wave them off as insignificant editorial alterations made for publication. That temptation should be resisted. Changes in punctuation can alter both the meaning of passages and the authority of the text."
2. As said in the question before most of the mistakes were grammatical and seem to some people not to be an issue at all. However these types of mistakes can make the transcript not very valid.
"Although such word additions, omissions, and changes are not the most damaging flaws in Designs against Charleston, they fatally corrupt the published transcript and render it an unreliable guide to the manuscript court record"
3. The court could have been trying to cover up, by making those significant mistakes, for not even giving Vesey a fair trial and not allowing him to question the people who actaully accused him. They were supposed to let him question the witnesses but he was not even given that opportunity since he was not even in custody when it happened.
1.) Johnson affirms that Edward Pearson’s work, Designs Against Charleston, based on the Denmark Vesey controversy and hearings was marked by “unrelenting carelessness.” Johnson reveals that Pearson’s use of evidence in his book was purely based on House, not pure evidence. Johnson states this is a problem because the contents of the House do not replicate the evidence and it is not faithful to the original manuscript.
For instance, Pearson often changed punctuation, altering the meaning of passages and the authority of the text. Hence, the thousands of changes to punctuation shows a false sense of the original manuscript. Due to that fact, the authenticity of the manuscript and the trust of the reader are truly violated. Furthermore, even statements that are both in House and Evidence were not reliably transcribed. There are also 550 instances in which Pearson adds words not present in House or Evidence documents, changes words, and omits words.
Therefore, according to Johnson, “All these discrepancies between Designs Against Charleston and the manuscript transcript appear to be the result of nothing more systematic than unrelenting carelessness.” In addition, Pearson also manipulated the chronological order of events in his book. Designs Against Charleston takes testimony from the initial testimonies section of the manuscript and puts them in various places throughout the published transcript. For instance, the testimony of slave Yorrick Cross on June 21 was presented as being the lead-off witness when in essence, the testimony did not appear on June 21. Therefore, court proceedings are falsified.
The word changes, additions, omissions, punctuality and capitalization changes, and scrambling of chronological order truly changes the facts and how the reader perceives how the events happened. I agree with Johnson that the trust of the reader is violated due to these thousands of changes. For instance, when I am reading a scholarly work (or what I believe to be a scholarly work), I take for granted that the writer is using correct facts, and when quoting, is not altering the quote in any way. Honestly, if I were reading Pearson’s Designs Against Charleston I would believe what I was reading just because I didn’t know any other facts. If, in essence, I found out Pearson manipulated transcript documents for his work, as a reader, I would feel cheated.
2.) I do not believe that a work filled with admitted errors of factual information, word changes, work omissions, work additions, and alteration of passages can be considered a “sound piece of scholarship.” Therefore, the sorts of errors Pearson admits to, although errors of transcription and sequence, do have an effect on the readers’ perception of factual evidence. A work of scholarship should not have errors of “unrelenting carelessness.” I do believe that the errors described by Johnson do make the transcription inaccurate by altering the evidence (dates of trials, etc) and by other means.
3.) According to Johnson, Designs Against Charleston“encourages readers to believe that the record of the proceedings in the Official Report possesses the same authority and reliability as the manuscript trial record.” Whereas, the official report creates the illusion of trials by describing separate trials not present in the court record. Witness testimonies are manipulated and chopped up and the Official Report lies about the trial of Vesey and the five slaves.
1.) Johnson states that many historians just went with what the courts stated about Vesey and did not investigate the real reasons as to why he did the things he did. He should have wondered about whether or not what the courts had written down as what Vesey had said might not have been true. Johnson states that they did not have the correct size of Vesey which would make the conspiracy sound bigger and worse then it actually was. If they had stated that Vesey was a small man, the conspiracy would not have been such a big deal. Johnson talks about how the court system of that day are not to be trusted because they slant the words of those who were in the court so the writers should not accept what the courts have to say to be the truth. Johnson states that the documents from which Pearson got his information are not legit documents. They were written after the trial from notes that have long since vanished. This means that the confessions from the witnesses are not verbatim but instead a summary of what they have said during the trial. The House document is a copy of the Evidence document but has many pages out of order and discolored from time. Johnson also states that the page numbers are out of synch which means that they were not written in the order that they are said to have been written in. He states; “A word-by-word comparison of Evidence and Designs against Charleston reveals that there are 5,000–6,000 discrepancies between the Evidence manuscript and the published transcript in Designs against Charleston”. Pearson states that many of the changes are in punctuation but this can change how the sentence is to be understood. “Inexplicably, Designs against Charleston encourages readers to believe that the record of proceedings in the Official Report possesses the same authority and reliability as the manuscript trial record.” Pearson should not do this because he is falsifying his accounts and making others believe things to be true that are not true.
2.) No, the carelessness of the evidence can not yield a sound piece of scholarship. Pearson should have conducted an intense investigation of the court hearings for Vesey before he wrote a book about it. The errors that came about from his carelessness should not be accepted. He is in a roundabout way giving people false information about Vesey and misinforming the public about what really happened. His analysis is impair from false information.
3.) He claims that the courts tried to falsify the information and make it seem like Vesey really was guilty of the so-called plan for an uprising. He states that the courts did not keep the records very well. The page numbers were misleading and it had appeared that the documents were written after the trail and the original notes had disappeared. He believes that the courts wanted to hide the truth from the public.
1. The sort of things that Johnson had in mind where when Pearson says that in “Designs against Charleston” he uses two manuscripts from the case; however, what the manuscripts say is different from what Pearson says the manuscripts say. Johnson says that it is obvious that the manuscripts that Pearson used were revised copies of the ones from the case. They did not match up to the original. He based this on the handwriting from the manuscripts and the way that they were formatted. Pearson also left out key words changing the meaning of the manuscripts. Johnson says this is important because leaving out a key word can completely change the sentence. After leaving out key words, the sentences say what Pearson wants them to say; that is how he interpreted the manuscripts. They are not word for word.
2. The errors that Pearson made in his work may have made sense to him in his mind when he was doing his work but it did, nonetheless, change what happened. It now appears differently to anyone that reads his piece on the Vesey Conspiracy and it is not necessarily the truth about what happened. It may give a plot and a glimpse at urban slavery but it does not tell the whole or correct story because he changed what was said.
3. The published trail report differs from the manuscript in two ways. When you do a word by a word comparison of the two, you can see that the court made many changes to the published report. They omitted words that were present in the original, added words that were not there in the original one and they changed word order and punctuation. The second major change was that the court published confessions that do not appear in the original. Both of these are important because it changes the way that the original sounds. It makes what the court did seem more reasonable, as if the court had reason to hang the men that they did.
To begin, the dates Pearson claimed the trial took place on were wrong and Johnson also suggests that Pearson wasn’t “faithful to the original transcripts” where he got his information. The transcripts used were not directly from the court session either, they were written after the trial had taken place, and can therefore be skewed towards how the writer wanted the trial to look. Pearson’s also took most of this information from the later of the two transcripts that he had. Johnson also spends a significant amount of time describing the set-up and organization of the transcripts to prove that “House” is a copy of the “Evidence,” and that both were written at least a month after the trials. He also suggests that the evidence Pearson’s uses isn’t even reliably written from the transcripts. This matter because the evidence Pearson’s used in writing Designs Against Charleston may not be truthful.
Johnson’s writing is very strong in persuading the reader that Pearson’s errors were certainly enough to impair his analysis, and those who read his writings. He spends a significant portion of his work stating evidence that proves Pearson’s writings are not faithful or truthful. As a history student, I like to think the accounts I’m reading are exactly the opposite, that they are based on as much of the truth that is known.
He believes that the court organized this “conspiracy” within the court, with other prominent white men and with certain black men, the witnesses who Johnson claims colluded with each other before the trials due to the courts efforts.
1. Some of the things that Johnson had in mind were in related to the documents that Pearson used. Many of the statements in the documents were mostly false. The two manuscript transcripts were not replicates, and the transcription in Designs against Charleston was not faithful to the original. Pearson refers to the two different documents as “House” and “Evidence”. In Designs against Charleston, Pearson demonstrates no awareness that House is a copy of Evidence. Although he claims to have "used" both manuscripts, a word-by-word comparison of Designs against Charleston with both House and Evidence proves that Designs against Charleston is based mostly on House. Also, a word-by-word comparison of Evidence and Designs against Charleston reveals that there are 5,000–6,000 discrepancies between the Evidence manuscript and the published transcript in Designs against Charleston.
Many of these differences were matters of punctuation and capitalization. They were serious matters because changes in punctuation can alter both the meaning of passages and the authority of the text. It becomes impossible for a reader of the published text to judge such essential qualities of the original as the care with which it was transcribed or its peculiarities of diction and syntax, which may be revealing. The introduction of thousands of changes of punctuation and capitalization conveys a false sense of the original manuscript. To promise a faithful transcript and not deliver it violates the authenticity of the manuscript and the trust of the reader. Although many of these differences were matters of punctuation and capitalization, some other differences between the two had to do with the appearance of the original manuscripts, as well as the fact that neither begins with the proceedings of June 19, 1822, the actual date the court proceedings began. The worst of his errors was the Pearson confused the two.
2. I believe that the sorts of errors Pearson admits to, amounts to more than just errors of transcription and sequence. Designs against Charleston encourages readers to believe that the record of proceedings in the Official Report possesses the same authority and reliability as the manuscript trial record. Such errors could certainly impair his analysis as well as the readers. Punctuation in one thing, but errors dealing with key trial events have a bigger and more serious impact. One example is that by fusing the two accounts instead of systematically comparing them, Pierson overlooks the questions about the alleged conspiracy Johnson finds. In, what became the Official Report, evidence of a conspiracy, not of free blacks and slaves led by Denmark Vesey to win their freedom but of implacable magistrates bent on a bloodthirsty mission to uphold white power in a slave society at all costs, was found. Admittedly careless handling of evidence makes it difficult to yield "a sound piece of scholarship.”
According to the rest of the Forum, commissioned by WMQ, from the very moment in spring 1822 that the Charleston (South Carolina) Court of Magistrates and Freeholders launched its prosecution of what has come to be known as the "Vesey Conspiracy,” prominent members of the local elite criticized the court’s proceedings as a violation of basic justice and challenged accusations against specific slaves. Theirs proved to be a minority voice. Despite the protests, the court kept its course, grimly determined to punish the conspirators, whose violent rebellion had supposedly been stopped by vigilant white authorities. Historians have largely accepted their verdict, with occasional dissents. Johnson’s investigation helped shine a new light on the case. This makes it difficult to get truthful accounts of episodes similar to that of the Vesey case in the long history of slavery in the Americas. That combined with inaccuracies in the documents to which historians can and do use, leaves little hope in yielding a sound piece of scholarship.
3. The significance of the changes that are made from the transcripts to the published Trial Record are such that a level of accuracy and legitimacy can be attributed to the events that took place during the trial of Denmark Vesey. In doing this, Johnson claims that the court hoped to cleanse itself of any inaccuracies regarding the trial and literally set the record straight. The Trial Record would create an impression in the public mind of how the court proceeded. An impression that, up until this time Johnson suggested, was misleading. The Trial Record would also offer historians a more credible source for understanding the trial proceedings and events surrounding the Denmark Vesey trial.
1. The first example of "unrelenting carelessness" that
Johnson mentions is that Pearson did not consider that
the witness testimony and court records could
potentially not accurately reflect Vesey's words and
actions. In order to thoroughly analyze the
conspiracy, however, some acknowledgement of the
potential inaccuracy of the testimony should be taken
into account. By simply accepting the testimony
despite the fact that most of it was coerced by
torture, Pearson does not and could not analyze the
entire situation. In order to really comprehend the
alledged conspiracy, one would need to also examine
all of the events surrounding it. Pearson does not
take the conditions into account and simply accepts
the witness testimony as accurate. Another careless
change would be that Pearson seemed to disregard the
moral polarity of the court, even going so far as to
reverse the original intentions of the church. He
actually praised what the court had disliked and
condemned what the church had applauded. Another
careless error would be when Pearson mixed up the two
original court records when he referred to them in his
transcription. He stated that they were both just
copies of eachother, when in actuality upon closer
analysis Johnson was able to determine that in fact
Pearson was wrong. Pearson never refers to the
manuscripts as copy one and two in his transcription
because they were in fact not copies. One was entitled
"Evidence," and appears to have been written first.
The other, "Document B House of Representatives," was
intended to be given to the House of Representatives
and looks as if it were prepared later.Also, it is
quite evident that neither of these documents were the
original court records, as indicated by the neat
handwriting, and thus cannot contain the exact
testimony of witnesses or the court's occurences.
Additionally, Pearson failed to realize that the clerk
who originally transcribed the court records made
several errors. Upon careful examination of the court
documents, as Johnson did, it becomes evident that the
clerk began writing "Evidence" for the first eight
days of the trial and then stopped, as indicated by
the following section beginning on a new page.
Overall, there are upwards of 5000-6000 mistakes, many
of them punctuation and capitalization. Why then would
such errors matter so much? This is really because
such errors alter the meaning and do not allow for an
accurate interpretation or sense of the manuscript.
Also, while the original manuscript did not have a
solid chronology, the further transcription only
worsened the problem because it did not even follow
the loose chronological outline of "Evidence."
2. Pearson does only admit to errors in transcription
and sequence, but such errors definately impair his
analysis. Without correct details of the conspiracy,
Pearson could not have accurately analyzed the
supposed insurrection or comment on the antebellum
South.The details and evidence in such a matter are
extremely consequential in understanding the actual
events that transpired. Thus, it would be nearly
impossible to provide an analysis of the time period
based on inaccurate initial data. Also, there are
simply too many errors, that while seemingly minor,
the cumulation of severely impacts the accuracy of
Pearson's transcription. With Johnson's detective
work, he was able to find out interesting and
pertinent information that may even point to Vesey's
innocence and the possibility that there was no
conspiracy. Pearson should have considered all of
these inaccuracies before writing his transcription so
that he may have been able to find the truth. Without
a thorough examination of all the evidence, Pearson
cannot analyze what happened with any degree of
3. To begin, the changes are and were consequential
because it demonstrates the inaccuracies that can
plague seemingly official historical documents.
Overall, the fact that Pearson had to make the changes
in the first place speaks volumes. Clearly, after
examining the original court records Pearson or "the
court" deemed that Vesey was not found guilty based on
a preponderance of evidence and may have even been
wrongly convicted. Instead of conceeding to the
possible historical wrong, Pearson alters the
transcribed record to appear as if Vesey was guilty
beyond a shadow of a doubt. The changes also, if not
detected, would have made it very hard for someone
like Richard Wade to again challenge the accuracy of
the official report. Considering Pearson was a big
defender of the generally regarded truth of the
matter, he would have endeavored to make the Vesey
conspiracy documents seem more solid and less
conflicting. The changes may have encouraged more
people to simply accept what the court had already
deemed was the truth. The court in Charleston at this
time was consumed with a desire to unveil the
conspiracies of the blacks during this time. Perhaps
the court realized that they had insufficient actual
evidence with which to convict the conspirators and as
such needed to provide a more convincing trial record.
Johnson also contends that maybe the court's were
upset with Vesey as a free black leader of the time
and as such wanted to legally punish him. In the end,
Vesey was punished based primarily on the
contradicting and unreliable witness testimony. This
indicates that the court itself may have had ulterior
motives for convicting Vesey and as such would be
reason enough to change the court records.
1) Michael Johnson strongly believed that many historians who have studied the Vesey conspiracy “failed to exercise due caution in reading the testimony of witnesses recorded by the conspiracy court, thereby becoming unwitting co-conspirators with the court in the making of the Vesey conspiracy” (Johnson). In other words, he believed most historians were wrong about the conspiracy as they accepted the court’s judgment and witness testimony about Vesey and his co-conspirators without being skeptical and searching for additional sources to provide a more accurate picture and to check the claims made by the court. He claimed that the co-conspirators, who pled guilty and testified against Vesey, did so to preserve their own lives and to escape execution. The co-conspirators knew that if they openly stated that they were guilty or had a role in the conspiracy, their punishment would have been less severe than if they pled to be innocent.
According to “the lone dissenter,” Richard Wade challenged the reliability of the Official Report and stated that Governor Bennett and United States Supreme Court justice William Johnson contended that no conspiracy actually existed and, at most, was a loose plan formed by some frustrated colored townspeople in Charleston. Bennett further accused the court of closing its doors to the community to hold its sessions in secret and unconstitutionally sentencing and executing innocent blacks when the testimonies did not agree on a leader of the insurrection.
2) Pearson’s inaccuracies hurt his overall analysis, but also provided people with an accurate background concerning the antebellum South period and urban slavery. He even admitted that his transcription of the trial contained serious flaws and that Johnson was justified in alerting historians that it was not a totally reliable source. However, Peason’s analysis demonstrated life in the Old South and how the court system was ruled by white supremacy. The court was indeed wrong in how it handled the evidence and not adhering to the Constitution when it came down to testimony and sentencing blacks without the necessary evidence. It also allowed witnesses to testify against Vesey without him being able to challenge their claims or defend himself. The other errors that hurt Pearson’s analysis was the inaccurate transcriptions and inserting or removing information found in the evidence when writing his Designs against Charleston. That definitely changed the meaning and what may have actually occurred in the courtroom. Ultimately, he committed 5,000-6,000 discrepancies between the Evidence manuscript and publishing his transcript.
3) “Far from being an impartial account of court proceedings, the Official Report is a document of advocacy, a public retrospective statement of the prosecution’s case against Denmark Vesey and the many other defendants” (Johnson). He further explained that the report should have been read and interpreted with suspicion as the court was biased and made a deal with the accused. Johnson also explained how the court clerk’s handwriting was extremely neat. Johnson believed that the testimonies and evidence provided inside the courtroom were probably rewritten based on the needs and concerns of the prosecution. In other words the clerk acted unconstitutionally and played around with the evidence, thus limiting the liability of the evidence as written. The information was not consistent either as it remains unclear if Vesey was ever in the courtroom during his incarceration.
The “unrelenting carelessness” Johnson refers to deals with many different aspects of Pearson’s Designs Against Charleston. These mistakes are seen in a variety of different areas including the dates, punctuation and capitalization, and changing words in the document. These issues can be seen in the list Johnson provides for the audience. Johnson says, “Changes in punctuation can alter both the meaning of passages and the authority of the text. It becomes impossible for a reader of the published text to judge such essential qualities of the original as the care with which it was transcribed or its peculiarities of diction and syntax, which may be revealing.” Another major problem is when Pearson states, “Henry Campbell also presents (p.184)” compared to the Evidence document which states, “Henry Woodworth were also present (p.164)” This is a significant mistake for Pearson to make because it completely changes the meaning of the evidence he is presenting. Changing a person’s name, first or last, makes a significant impact on what the audience takes away from the text. This carries into another issue Johnson discusses about the claim Pearson makes dealing with the Document B House of Representatives and the Evidence Document B. Pearson states that these two documents are replicas of each other, but Johnson shows that there are differences between the documents. He explains how the House document is a copy of the Evidence document. Johnson states, “In Designs against Charleston, Pearson demonstrates no awareness that House is a copy of Evidence.” This may make the audience question other claims Pearson makes.
Pearson does respond to the claims that Johnson makes. He does state that he did make mistakes in his “transcription of the trial record” and that they were “deeply flawed.” Along with these deep flaws about the trial record he also admits that “Johnson's discussion of the trial record effectively demonstrates the ways in which I inadvertently corrupted the document.” Although some of the mistakes that Pearson makes are not as important as others there are some major issues. Changing names, adding words such as not and never or leaving such words out of the document completely change the meaning. This issue however is whether or not this changes the whole picture painted by Pearson. It seems that these kinds of mistakes do change the overall picture because they are important.
1) Edward Pearson wrote a new edition of the trial record called Designs Against Charleston. Johnson says that there were many errors, and calls it "unrelenting carelessness". There were two actual manuscript transcripts that exist, Document A (copy one) starts with the first trials on July 19, 1822 and closes with the proceeding of July 26. Document B (Copy 2) is basically the same as the first but has testimony from proceedings of early August. Pearson says that he stays faithful to the transcript as it appears in the original. But these statements are mostly wrong. The court began in June, not JUly. Document A is a brief narrative of trials, not one of the court transcripts (called "House") and the Document B is labeled as "Evidence". THe words Copy one and Copy two do not appear in either transcript. The 2 manuscript transcripts are not replicates. Both of these manuscripts are in good condition, the hanwriting is simliar and legible. It isnt messy, both obviusly being re written at a later time, and both are revised versions of the words the witnesses had said. After careful comparison "House" is a copy of "Evidence", created for the HOuse of Representatives, Evidence was clearly written before HOuse. House, rather then the actual Evidence transcript, is used in "Designs".
IN the review, Pearson shows no awareness that House is a copy. He says that he used both manuscripts but a word for word comparison shows that Designs is based mostly on HOuse. Word by word comparison of Evidence and Designs reveals that there are 5000 to 6000 discrepencies between Evidence and the published Designs. Lots of changes in punctuation, and capitalization alter the meaning of passages and the authority of the text. Designs does not reliably transcribe passages that are the same in both House and Evidence. Designs doesn't remain faithful to the chronological order of Evidence, it scrambles it.
2) Pearson agrees that his transcription of the trial document exhibits "unrelenting carelessness". But he basically says that his inaccuracy has no effect on the understanding we have of the SOuth and Slavery. He is presenting the idea that even thought the information is out of order and shambled, that it still is true. FOr example, in his book he claims that on June 21st a slave named Yorrick Cross led off on the witness stand. However, in Evidence, it says that didn't happen on June 21st, and that testimony was actually in the initial section of testimonies. Giving misplaced information is wrong. If people read that out of the historical order, they may think that the innocent is to blame, or the opposite. Getting information incorrect confuses people's viewpoints and opinions.
3) Substance of Testimony printed in the "Official Report" differs from the manuscript transcripts. It seems as though this report silences the men who declared thier innocence. It omits words that are present in the original, adds and changes words, punctuation, capitalization, and word order. This has the effect of making the testimony of the witness seem smoother, less ambiguous and more coherent. The court also published confessions that were not in the transcripts. It combines assertion of conspirators' guilt with a defense of court's honor. Rather than relying on the manuscript transcripts, people look to "Official Report". The court uses information to make the slaves look bad, and the court look good by only using certain information.