In the spring of 1741, a series of suspicious fires frightened white New Yorkers. They were certain that the fires were set by Black slaves or by members of the multi-racial poor community in the city. In 1741, New York City had the second-largest slave population of any city in the Thirteen Colonies. This fact, combined with a series of rumored and real slave rebellions all over the south, made white New Yorkers anxious. Certain that Blacks and their poor white allies were plotting murder and arson against them, White officials tried to restrict Blacks from gathering together and they offered rewards — freedom for slaves or indentured servants and cash for free people — to anyone who would name names.
Accusations poured out, convincing New Yorkers of a gigantic plot. They had a series of trials, at which the accused universally claimed innocence. In the end, 18 Black New Yorkers were hung, five white Catholics were burned at the stake, and 70 slaves were deported from the colony. Historians still argue about how much of the plot was real, but New Yorkers certainly believed Black slaves threatened them. –Prof. Anne Hyde
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Primary Sources: Original Documents from the Time
Horsmanden, Daniel. A Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy Formed by Some White People, in Conjunction with Negro and Other Slaves, for Burning the City of New-York in America, and Murdering the Inhabitants… New York: James Parker, 1744.
Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written
Lepore, Jill. “Preface, Prologue, and Chapter 2.” In New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan, 5-14. 40-63. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. (Companion Canvas page.)