The New York Conspiracy of 1741

A primary source by Daniel Horsmanden

Daniel Horsmanden, A Journal of the Proceedings . . . 1744. (GLC04502.01)In New York City in 1741 an economic decline exacerbated conflict between slaves engaged in commercial activity and working-class white colonists who felt their jobs were threatened. This tension boiled over in the spring when a series of fires led white New Yorkers to fear a slave uprising. Even Fort George in lower Manhattan was burned to the ground. The events became popularly known as the New York Conspiracy of 1741 (also called the Negro Plot or the Slave Insurrection). Nearly 200 people were arrested, including at least twenty whites, some of whom were suspected of being Catholic saboteurs and spies.

The accused were tried by Judge Daniel Horsmanden, an ambitious British expatriate who turned the proceedings into a Salem-like witch hunt. Much of the evidence was based on the dubious testimony of a sixteen-year-old Irish indentured servant who was promised a considerable reward for her cooperation. Many times during the deliberations Mary Burton was known to “remember” certain facts only when pressed hard enough. The conspiracy was reported as a plot to take over the city government by white ringleaders, assisted by slaves who were promised their freedom.

Despite contemporary criticism of the validity of the evidence, Horsmanden ordered executions. In total, thirty to forty slaves were either hanged or burned at the stake while four whites were hanged, including John Ury, accused as an undercover Catholic priest and agent for Spain, and John Hughson, Mary Burton’s master. In addition, countless slaves and white colonists were deported. In Horsmanden’s conclusion to the case, published in A Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy Formed by Some White People, in Conjunction with Negro and Other Slaves (1744), he wrote that divine intervention led to the plot’s exposure and ultimate failure, although “we have not been able entirely to unravel the Mystery of this Iniquity; for ’twas a dark Design, and the Veil is in some Measure still upon it!”


The Recorder taking Notice of the several Fires which had lately happened in this City, and the Manner of them, which had put the Inhabitants into the utmost Consternation; that every one that reflected on the Circumstances attending them, the Frequency of them, and the Causes yet undiscovered; must necessarily conclude, that they were occasioned and set on Foot by some Villainous Confederacy of latent Enemies amongst us . . . it was “Ordered, That this Board request his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor to issue a Proclamation, offering a Reward to any white Person that should discover any Person or Persons lately concerned in setting Fire to any Dwelling House or Storehouse in this City (so that such Person or Persons be convicted thereof,) the Sum of One Hundred Pounds, Current Money of this Province; and that such Person shall be pardoned, if concerned therein: And any Slave that should make Discovery, to be manumitted, or made free; and the Master of such Slave to receive Twenty-Five Pounds therefore; and the Slave to receive, besides his Freedom, the Sum of Twenty Pounds, and to be pardoned; and if a Free Negro, Mulatto, or Indian, to receive Forty-Five Pounds, and also to be pardoned, if concerned therein.”

. . . when the first Grand Jury drew near their Discharge, they were importunate with Burton, to discover all the Persons she knew to be engaged in this villainous Design; for about this Time she had suggested to some, that there were White People of more than ordinary Rank above the Vulgar, that were concerned, whom if she told of, they would not believe her . . . ’til for the last Experiment, she was told, she must expect to be imprisoned in the Dungeon, if she continued obstinate; she then began to open, and named several Persons which she said she had seen at Hughson’s amongst the Conspirators, talking of the Conspiracy, who were engaged in it; amongst whom she mentioned several of known Credit, Fortunes, and Reputations, and of Religious Principles superior to a Suspicion of being concerned in such detestable Practices; at which the Judges were very much astonished. . . .

Questions for Discussion

You are seeing this page because you are not currently logged into our website. If you would like to access this page and you are not logged in, please login or register for a account, and then visit the link that brought you to this notice. Thanks!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to get free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.


I would like to know where were the accused deported to?

Add comment

Login to post comments