Picture Source

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

“‘Fire, Fire, Scorch, Scorch!’: Testimony from the Negro Plot Trials in New York, 1741.” History Matters. George Mason University. (Testimony from Peggy, a white prostitute)

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.

“A List of White Persons taken into Custody on Account of the 1741 Conspiracy.” Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. PBS.

“The New York Conspiracy of 1741.” History Now. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. (Companion Canvas page.)

Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written

Bond, Richard. “Shaping a Conspiracy: Black Testimony in the 1741 New York Plot.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5, no. 1 (May 3, 2007): 63–94.

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.)

Plaag, Eric W. “New York’s 1741 Slave Conspiracy in a Climate of Fear and Anxiety.” New York History 84, no. 3 (2003): 275–99.

“The ‘Strange Case of Mary Burton’—The Scotch Irish.” The American Catholic Historical Researches 2, no. 3 (1906): 264.

Szasz, Ferenc M. “The New York Slave Revolt of 1741: A Re-Examination.” New York History 48, no. 3 (1967): 215–30.