The First Negro Plot in the City of New York

The institution of slavery, as it existed in early times in New York, was a source of constant anxiety to the inhabitants of this city, arising from the turbulent character of that class of the population. This arose partly from the fact that the slave trade was then in active operation, and New York city was the mart from whence the other parts of the colony were supplied. A slave market was established where the imported negroes were exposed for sale, and where other slaves stood for hire. The negroes, when newly arrived, were ill at ease, and differed greatly from the same class who had been born on the soil. Ignorant of the language of the country, and unused to labor in the fields, and to the restraint under which they were held, the imported negroes were disposed to deeds of desperate outrage, reckless of the fact that no good result to them could arise from their wild endeavors to rid themselves of thraldom. Their known dispositions, however, excited fear, which was kept alive by the occasional murders in different parts of the country, and especially by various plots of still more serious nature.

Among these was one in the spring of 1712. At this time a combination of from thirty to fifty newly-imported negroes was formed, with the intention to make a general assault upon the town. Their plans were laid with secresy, and do not appear to have been suspected before they were ripe for execution. The design appears to have been simply to murder the people and burn the town, and the time selected for beginning their bloody work was midnight of the 6th of April, 1712. The method adopted was to set fire to a house and await the coming forth of the inmates, when they, as well as others who came to quench the flames, were to be killed. The negroes were well armed, while it might reasonably be expected that citizens aroused from their slumbers by the cry of fire would be defenseless. The alarm took place at about two o'clock, and the whole town was at once in uproar. Upon reaching the burning house one citizen after another was dispatched until those numbered among the killed and mortally wounded amounted to about twenty persons. The cry of murder, added to the general din, soon changed the character of the affray. The citizens speedily armed and charged upon the blacks, who, after a brief resistance, fled to the woods, pursued by the excited crowd of whites. Meantime, as morning broke, the whole town was placed under arms under apprehension that the conspiracy was more generally diffused, and that there was danger of a general uprising of the slave population.

This state of things continued several days, in the course of which a large number of suspected negroes were arrested in the town, while the hunt was being continued throughout the forest, with which nearly all the upper part of Manhattan Island was then covered. These wild fastnesses offered peculiar facilities for concealment, as their rocks and caves were almost unapproachable. The negroes, however, had no friends to whom they could fly for ultimate safety, and starvation brought them forth from their hiding-places.

Some of these misguided persons committed suicide in the woods, using for that purpose the arms which they had brought with them. Others were taken, and were brought to summary punishment in the most tormenting manner; some by burning at the stake; others by being broken on the wheel; and others by being hung up alive. No leniency was shown to any who were known to have been in any way cognizant of the plot. Self-preservation was felt to exist in putting the abject race in fear, and thus extreme measures were resorted to without stint.

The horrors of that event long dwelt as a cause of disquiet to the townspeople, and occasioned a morbid subject of household gossip, until the minds of the inhabitants became infected with one ever-existing apprehension—that of a negro plot. The influence of this state of feeling affected even the best classes of the population, so that in the course of a generation afterward, upon the happening of some suspicious circumstances, as to which the proof in the light of history appears entirely inadequate to sustain the grave accusations, hundreds of the negro race were visited with terrible punishment.

Website: The History
Article Name: The First Negro Plot in the City of New York
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My Collection of Books: Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York; Joseph Shannon 1869
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