Jill Lepore’s New York Burning is a novel about the 1741 slave conspiracy in New York City. When ten fires blazed through Manhattan, more and more evidence surfaced that it was slaves that set those fires and that they planned to set many more. Trials began and thirty slaves were either burned at the stake or hanged and over one hundred black men and women were thrown in jail. The question is, was there really a plot? Or were dozens of innocent people persecuted due to mass hysteria? After reading New York Burning I believe that there was a plot and in 1741 the slaves of New York planned to burn down the city.
It all began during Christmas of 1740 at a man by the name of John Hughson’s house. Hughson invited black slaves to his house for food, drinks, cards, dice, and dancing. There, they were also told of a plot; a plot to “set fire to the town and kill the white people.” Hughson made the blacks swear to this plot. He kept a list and said it was “an agreement of the Blacks to kill the white folks” and added black slave’s names to the list in ink.
Hughson said that they would start by burning down Fort George, the cities crucial defensive outpost. At this signal, each slave was to kill his master and any black slave that would not assist them. After the killings, they were to set their master’s house on fire. Hughson claimed that then he would become king, and Caesar, one of the key conspirators, would become governor. Of the 152 black New Yorkers that were arrested in 1741, 80 of them confessed to taking part in the conspiracy.
The plot first began to unravel in February of 1741 with a robbery. On February 26, 1741 a young English sailor by the name of Christopher Wilson went to a shop owned by Robert Hogg. While paying for his purchase he spotted where the money was kept. He then went to John Hughson’s tavern to talk to Hughson and three black men: Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee. Together they came up with a plan to rob Robert Hogg’s store....
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