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An Indentured Servant Testifies About the Existence of a Slave Conspiracy in New York

In 1741, a series of fires broke out in Manhattan, the most serious of which was within the walls of the governor's home in Fort George. After a slave was seen fleeing the site of one of the fires, rumors of a "Negro conspiracy" soon swept the city into a state of near-hysteria. Mary Burton, a sixteen year-old white indentured servant arrested at the time of the fires, testified that her master, John Hughson, and a number of slaves had engaged in a conspiracy to burn down the town and foment a slave uprising. As a result of her dubious testimony (given in exchange for her freedom), more than 30 slaves were hanged or burned at the stake, 4 whites were executed, and 70 more slaves banished or sold in the South.

1. That Prince [Mr. Auboyneau’s Negro] and Caesar [Vaarck’s negro] brought the things of which they had robbed Mr. Hogg, to her master, John Hughson’s house, and that they were handed in through the window, Hughson, his wife, and Peggy receiving them, about two or three o’clock on a Sunday morning.[March 1st, 1741]

2. That Caesar, Prince, and Mr. Philipse's negro man (Cuffee) used to meet frequently at her master's house, and that she had heard them (the negroes) talk frequently of burning the fort; and that they would go down to the fly [the east end of the city] and burn the whole town; and that her master and mistress said, they would aid and assist them as much as they could.

3. That in their common conversation they used to say, that when all this was done, Caesar should be governor, and Hughson, her master, should be king.

4. That Cuffee used to say, that a great many people had too much, and others too little; that his old master had a great deal of money, but that, in a short time, he should have less, and that he (Cuffee) should have more.

5. That at the same time when the things of which Mr. Hogg was robbed, were brought to her master’s house, they brought some indigo and bees wax, which was likewise received by her master and mistress.

6. That at the meetings of the three aforesaid negroes, Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee, at her master’s house, they used to say, in their conversations, that when they set fire to the town, they would do it in the night, and as the white people came to extinguish it, they would kill and destroy them.*

7. That she has known at times, seven or eight guns in her mas¬ter’s house, and some swords, and that she has seen twenty or thirty negroes at one time in her master’s house; and that at such large meetings, the three aforesaid negroes, Cuffee, Prince, and Caesar, were generally present, and most active, and that they used to say, that the other negroes durst not refuse to do what they commanded them, and they were sure that they had a number sufficient to stand by them.

8. That Hughson (her master) and her mistress used to threaten, that if she, the deponent, ever made mention of the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg, they would poison her; and the negroes swore, if ever she published, or discovered the design of burning the town, they would burn her whenever they met her.

* This is a reference to the 1712 rebellion, in which the whites were attacked as they came to put out a fire.

Source | Serena R. Zabin, ed., The New York Conspiracy Trials of 1741: Daniel Horsmanden's Journal of the Proceedings (New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2004), 66-67.
Creator | Daniel Horsmanden
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | Daniel Horsmanden, “An Indentured Servant Testifies About the Existence of a Slave Conspiracy in New York,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/873.

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