2. New York Conspiracy 1741
New York City was cold during the winter of 1740-41. Since early October, the weather had been harsh. Fires burned continuously to heat homes and businesses, most of which were made of wood. Dockworkers—white, black, mixed-race, free, indentured, and enslaved—suffered through cold winds, snow, sleet, and ice loading and unloading ships. Taverns were a saving grace where people of all races, gender, and states of servitude could socialize and get warm.
John Hughson migrated from Yonkers to New York in search of work. When he could find no work due to slave labor undercutting wages for whites, he opened a tavern along the docks. He and his wife Sarah rented rooms and operated the Hughson’s Tavern, which became well known as place to sell stolen goods.
Rebecca Hogg operated a shop near the tavern dealing mostly in luxury goods. One February night, a white sailor told three slaves, Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee, that the Hogg shop was well stocked. The slaves entered the shop and stole money, jewelry, and a pair of silver knee buckles. Caesar immediately went to the Hughson’s Tavern where he sold his booty; Prince and Cuffee remained low. The next day, city officials began investigating the crime. They interrogated the Hughson’s indentured servant, Mary Burton, who gave up the three slaves. After hours of further interrogation, Mary also stated that the Hughson’s participated in illegal activities. Prince and Caesar were arrested for burglary. Shortly thereafter, a fire broke out at the garrison on Fort George destroying the governor’s mansion, the chapel, the barracks, and governmental offices.
They interrogated the Hughson’s indentured servant, Mary Burton, who gave up the three slaves. After hours of further interrogation, Mary also stated that the Hughson’s participated in illegal activities. Prince and Caesar were arrested for burglary. Shortly thereafter, a fire broke out at the garrison on Fort George destroying the governor’s mansion, the chapel, the barracks, and governmental offices.
Over the next month, fires erupted throughout New York at a suspicious pace, with four fires set on April 6th alone. Judge Daniel Horsmanden held a grand jury for the Hogg robbery and interrogated Mary Butler under oath. After intense questions, she proclaimed that the fires were being set by slaves and poor whites to burn down the city. She then stated that people openly met at the Hughson’s Tavern, at the request of John and Sarah, to discuss the conspiracy. New Yorkers were shocked and hysteria ensued. Prince and Caesar were found guilty of the robbery on May 2, 1741.
The next day, several suspicious fires erupted. Two black men were seen fleeing a fire, quickly captured, and burned at the stake without arrest or trial. To rid the city of the conspirators, the city council began offering large rewards for important information about the conspiracy. Whites could get £100 while slaves could get £20 plus their freedom. A prostitute at the Hughson’s tavern, Peggy, was found guilty of burglary. To save her life, she began naming people who frequented the Hughson’s Tavern. As blacks and whites were arrested and held in the city jail, more fires were set.
On May 11, 1741, Prince and Caesar hung near the Poor House, never giving up any names of their supposed fellow conspirators. Between May 11 and August 29, 160 blacks and 21 whites had been arrested. 17 blacks and 4 whites were hung, 13 blacks were burned at the stake, 70 blacks were banished from New York, and 7 whites were deported. Slave owners were never compensated for their executed property.