The New York Conspiracy Trials happened in New York during the year 1741. Before this year, countless other slave revolts occurred that made the New Yorkers anxious and nervous for an uprising. During the particularly cold winter of 1741, many whites were afraid that slave revolts would happen again. On top of that, New York had helped Britain against Spain. Countless of these worried folks thought that the slaves (along with some poor whites) and the Spanish were going to work together to overthrow New York. The conspiracy trials proved that all New Yorkers understood the hierarchies of status, race, and gender, even when they imagined overturning some of them.
Originally, there were no conspiracy allegations. At first, it began as a simple robbery. Three slaves (Prince, Cuffee, and Caesar) robbed Rebecca Hogg`s tiny shop near the East River docks in New York City. A little more than two weeks after the theft; however, Fort George, the garrison that contained the governor`s mansion, caught fire. Fires were a common occurrence back in the eighteenth-century, and many thought there was little cause for alarm. However, the pace of the fires soon accelerated. According to Sabrina Zabin, “The rumor, moreover, that a slave had been seen sprinting away from a burning building made some wonder if these fires were due to arson rather than accident.”
Daniel Horsmanden, a Supreme Court justice who was to hear of the trials of the Hogg robbery, surmised that there was a connection between the fires and the theft. Horsmanden was a very racist man and he and other white New Yorkers suspected a citywide conspiracy. The destruction of the city`s fort made the New Yorkers think a foreign attack was to happen. The citizens asked, was this an enemy invasion or a domestic slave rebellion? Mary Burton, an indentured white servant that worked in the tavern where the stolen goods were sold, implied to the court that the slaves and poor whites had created a “biracial plot to burn the city of New York and hand it over to Britain’s Catholic foes.”
Testimony from the defendants, both white and black, shows how profoundly they resented their place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The taverns were the only places where they could mingle together without getting in trouble for it. Many of the wealthy whites in New York thought that racial mixing should never occur. According to the witnesses, “the aim of the conspiracy was not so much to eradicate status altogether as to reverse the status of the city`s highest and lowest.”
It was said that in the...