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Horsmanden's Journal Of The Proceedings Essay

1501 words - 6 pages

Daniel Horsmanden’s Journal of the Proceedings was written with a specific purpose in mind which he openly acknowledges in his introduction. Horsmanden claims that it was for “the public benefit” (Zabin, p.46) and inspired by the fact that some individuals believed “there was no plot at all” (Zabin, p.45). He hoped that by displaying the facts of the case he could prove to the people of New York City that the proceedings were just and that there was a great need to keep close supervision on their African slaves (Zabin, p.45). Having such an obvious bias the Journal is far from a perfect historical record of events, but under close examination Horsmanden’s account gives a vast amount of insight into the sharp divisions that characterized eighteenth century New York and can help explain why the people were so ready to believe in such a grandiose conspiracy. One can even see ways in which the conspiracy brought New Yorkers together and how it drove them apart.
An analysis of Horsmanden’s work paints a picture of the social divisions present in the city. Race was a fairly obvious division, exemplified by Horsmanden’s statement that Peggy was the “worst sort” of prostitute because she was “a prostitute to negroes” (Zabin, p.49) and that blacks were much more prone to suspicion which can be seen in the fact that roughly 30 blacks were executed compared to four whites (Zabin, p.175). Economic status also shines through as a source of division. This is apparent by the fact that the Hughsons, who owned a disreputable public house (Zabin, p.48), were tried and executed largely on the testimony of Mary Burton. However, when Ms. Burton cast suspicion upon some people “in ruffles” (those of better means), the court quickly wrapped up the case (Zabin, p.157-158). Finally a division by religion is apparent by the example that shortly after a rumor spread that “there had of late been Popish priests lurking about the town”, Ury the Priest, a man believed to have catholic sympathies, was detained for his involvement in the conspiracy (Zabin, p.121-122). The fact that the idea of a popish priest being involved was seized upon by the court and the people so quickly, indicates the religious tension present in the city at that time.
The New Yorkers readiness to believe in a conspiracy stems from several circumstances and events. The most important being the event that in the year of 1712 in New York “…a group of slaves set fire to houses on the outskirts of the city and killed the first nine whites who arrived…” (Foner, p.144). The people had already seen this kind of thing happen before and were deeply concerned it would happen again. In fact, one of Horsmanden’s witnesses alludes to this event as well; proving current happenings had rekindled that memory (Zabin, p.79). The other critical event being that there was a series of fires over a very brief period of time (Zabin, p.54-58) and there was evidence that someone had attempted to start another in a haystack...

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