The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York


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The number of arrests totaled blacks and 20 whites. They were tried and convicted in a show trial. John Ury, a teacher and suspected Catholic priest, was charged with instigating the plot. Most of the convicted people were hanged or burnt — how many is uncertain. The bodies of two supposed ringleaders, Caesar, a slave, and John Hughson, a white cobbler and tavern keeper, were gibbeted.

Their corpses were left to rot in public. Seventy-two men were deported from New York, sent to Newfoundland, various islands in the West Indies, and the Madeiras. With the increase of enslaved Africans in New York during the early decades of the 18th century, there were both real revolts and periodic fears in the white community about revolts. Fears about slavery were used by different political factions to fan other tensions, as well. Residents remembered the New York Slave Revolt of , when more than 20 slaves met to destroy property and abusers in retaliation for the injustices they had suffered.

When townspeople gathered to put it out, the slaves attacked the crowd, killing nine whites and injuring six. The governor tried and executed 21 slaves. With the increase of slaves in New York, poor whites were pressed in economic competition. Some slaveholders were artisans who taught their slaves their trade. They could subcontract their work and underbid other white artisans. This created racial and economic tension between the slaves and competing white craftsmen.

The winter of — was a miserable period for the poor in the city. An economic depression contributed to declining food and fuel supply, aggravated by record low temperatures and snowfall. Many people were in danger of starving and freezing to death. These conditions caused many denizens, especially the poor whites and slaves, to grow resentful of the government.

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At the time, Spain was frequently viewed by slaves in Anglophone colonies as a liberator due to the fact the Spanish had offered freedom to any slave who joined their cause. The upper classes were nervous and tensions during the winter reminded them of the times of the Slave Revolt of The government banned slave meetings on street corners. They limited slaves in groups to three, but allowed twelve at funerals. The government reduced other rights of assembly and movement. With frame buildings and wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, fire was always a risk in the city.

Chimney fires were frequent. People tried to save it, but the fire soon grew beyond control. The fire threatened to spread to another building, where all the city documents were kept. The governor ordered the windows smashed and documents thrown out to save them. Later the practice was to keep them in the City Hall.

The same thing happened the next week at a warehouse. Three days later a fire broke out in a cow stable. On the next day a person walking past a wealthy neighborhood saw coals by the hay in a stable and put them out, saving the neighborhood. As the number of fires grew, so did the suspicion that the fires were not accidents but planned arson.

He was jailed. Within a few days, slaves were jailed. Many people believed the fires were due to a conspiracy. They turned it over to Daniel Horsmanden, the city recorder and one of three justices on the provincial supreme court. John Hughson was a poor, illiterate cobbler who came to New York from Yonkers in the mids with his wife, daughter, and mother-in-law. Unable to find work, he opened a tavern. His neighbors were offended because he sold to unsavory clients. In , Hughson opened a new tavern when he moved to the Hudson River waterfront, near the Trinity Churchyard. It soon became a rendezvous point for slaves, poor whites, free blacks, and soldiers.

The elite were nervous about such lower class-types socializing together. In February, two weeks before the first fire, Hughson was arrested for receiving stolen goods from slaves Caesar and Prince, who were also jailed. They were black Freemasons. The slaves were punished by whipping.


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Horsmanden, one of three justices on the court and leader of an investigation, pressured year-old indentured servant, Mary Burton, to testify against her master Hughson on theft charges. While a grand jury heard that case, the first of 13 suspicious fires broke out. Horsmanden put a lot of pressure on Burton to talk about the fires. Finally, Burton said the fires were a conspiracy between blacks and poor whites to burn down the town. Horsmanden was pleased with her testimony but was convinced that Burton knew more about the conspiracy than she had told him.

He threatened to throw her in jail if she did not tell him more, so she testified further. Black Manhattan.

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Early potters and potteries in New York State. Lepore, J. New York burning: Liberty, slavery and conspiracy in eighteenth century Manhattan. New York: Vintage. Lorini, A. Unpublished manuscript in the possession of the author. Lukacs, G.

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The Great Negro Plot

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    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York

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    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York
    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York
    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York
    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York
    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York
    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York
    The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York

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