New York Burning

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Jill Lepore, in her book New York Burning, explores the conspiracy known as Great Negro Plot of 1741 in the British colony of New York to revolt. She explains the conspiracy and the related incidences in chronological order along with detailed historical background of the trials of convicted slaves for the “plot”. She does not give clear opinion on whether the conspiracy should be considered hysteria of whites, or a real plot planned by black slaves. However, considering the social and economical background of 1741, New York was in a devastating state where economic depression, declining food and fuel supply, and unbearable cold weather angered most of population in the city (59). The conspiracy was believed to be true by these furious people who were blind to even recognize what they believe. White people became paranoid about black slaves’ revolt and they eventually believed the blacks were trying to kill them. The whole conspiracy, in my opinion, is an unjust accusation of powerless black slaves for a few coincidental fires in the city. The story begins in September, 1741, with several houses and buildings caught on fire including the governor’s building that the city documents were kept. Week by week, number of fire increased and during this time, one slave named Cuffee was caught from fleeing the scene of fire, starting the whole chaos that created whole illusion of great negro plot (42). As the investigation revealed several suspects for the conspiracy, the case grew larger and larger as the suspects confessed other possible participants (121). Horsmanden, a justice on the provincial Supreme Court, had Hughson’s (one of the convicts) indentured servant, Mary Burton, testify against Hughson on theft charges. Horsmanden pressured on Burton to talk about the fires with severe threats and eventually Burton said the fires were a conspiracy between blacks and poor

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