The Negro Plot Trials: A Chronology

Map showing execution grounds for convicted plotters

This chronology was prepared by Christopher Stewart

February 1741 Caesar, with the help of Prince, robs a general merchandise shop in New York City.  Both men are black slaves.
March 1, 1741 Constables jail Caesar after Rebecca Hogg, the shop owner’s wife, passed along a tip she received from a boy who had visited the shop.
March 3, 1741 After being offered freedom from indentured servant-hood in exchange for information, Mary Burton testifies that she saw Caesar with the loot in Hughson’s tavern where Caesar conducted business with Mr. Hughson, the owner.  She also connects John Romme, a respected attorney and Caesar’s neighbor, to the burglary.
March 18, 1741 A fire breaks out at the southern end of New York City burning Fort George to the ground and damaging several neighboring homes and businesses.  The cause of the blaze is undetermined.
March 25, 1741 Another fire breaks out near the torched Fort, but is contained promptly.  The cause of the fire is unknown.
April 1, 1741 Yet another fire begins near the docks on the East River.  The fire is again contained but the cause of the blaze is unknown.
April 4, 1741 Once again, a fire breaks out in the city.  The fire is contained without significant damage.  However, just steps away another fire begins.  The cause of both fires remains unknown.  An angry neighbor accuses a fellow neighbor’s slave of setting the fires.  The accused neighbor in turn blames the fires on a different slave. 
April 5, 1741 A passer-by smells smoke coming from the coach house of a prominent attorney.  The passer-by investigates and finds coals burning in a haystack.  The coals are smothered.  Coals and ashes are traced to a neighboring house where a slave lived.  Later in the day, a woman overhears a slave talking about fires.  She tells the local magistrate and a slave named Quaco is arrested.  Suspicions of slave arson rise.
April 6, 1741 Near Fort George, another fire alarm sounds.  The fire is contained quickly.  Before the crown leaves the scene, another fire begins on the roof of a home.  The fire is put out without extensive damage.  Suspicion focuses on several Spanish blacks and they are incarcerated for questioning.  While the Spanish blacks are questioned, another fire breaks out near city hall.  A firefighter notices a lone black slave, Cuffee, running from a storehouse near the scene.  Many are afraid of a slave uprising and mobs grab black men from the street and throw them in jail, including Cuffee.
April 11, 1741 The city council agreed to offer immunity and a reward to anyone willing to reveal the plot or the plotters involved in the plan to burn the city.
April 21, 1741 At city hall the Supreme Court, including Judge Horsmanden, impanels a grand jury to investigate the fires and the plot behind them.  The court also calls for a crackdown on crime in general.
April 22, 1741 The grand jury calls Mary Burton.  After much prodding, she tells them that Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee used to talk about burning the fort and the whole town.  She also claims that her master, Mr. Hughson, had promised to help them burn the city.  Most troubling to the grand jury, she testifies that several slaves held meetings at Hughson’s home and talked about burning and taking over the city.  She recounts that Hughson, Hughson’s wife, and Peggy (Caesar’s Irish girlfriend) were also present. 
May 1, 1741 The trials begin.  The prosecution opens its case against Caesar and Prince for the burglaries.  Caesar and Prince plead not guilty.  Because Caesar and Prince are black, they cannot take oath and, thus, cannot testify.  The jury returns a guilty verdict. 
May 6, 1741 Peggy, Hughson, and Hughson’s wife are tried for the offense of knowingly receiving stolen goods.  As the trial begins, an alarm sounds – another fire is ablaze.  The trial stops as the members of the court and jury help put out the fire.  Citizens douse the fire.  Burning sticks placed in the stable had started the blaze.  Court resumes and Peggy, Hughson, and his wife are all found guilty.
May 6 or 7, 1741 Peggy voluntarily “confesses” to the court.  She says that she saw several slaves at the gentleman Romme’s home where they talked of burning the city, stealing goods, and murdering the city’s citizens.  She claims that Romme and his wife were present at the meeting.
May 8, 1741 Caesar and Prince are sentenced to death. 
May 11, 1741 Caesar and Prince hang from the gallows.  After the hanging, Caesar’s dead body is hung in chains on a platform near the powder house.
May 13, 1741 Mary again testifies.  She describes more details about the Hughson’s involvement in the conspiracy to burn the city.  Further, she claims that a slave, Bastian, threatened to burn her in the next fire if she continued to speak to the authorities.
May 28, 1741 ? After the unsuspecting slave Cuff told an informant that a fellow slave, Quack, had set the fire at the Fort, Quack is arrested.
May 29, 1741 The trial begins against the slaves Cuff and Quack for arson and conspiracy.  The prosecution produces several witnesses.  Some witnesses testify to the slaves’ good character.  However, the slaves have no legal counsel and cannot rebut the arguments of the prosecution.  The jury returns a guilty verdict.  Judge Horsemanden pronounces the sentence:  the slaves are to be chained to a stake and burned to death.
May 30, 1741 As Cuff and Quack are taken to the stakes, they confess their parts in the fires and name other conspirators in the plot to burn the city, including the Hughsons and other blacks.  Though a stay of execution is signed by the Governor as reward for the confessions, the Sheriff insists that the mob will erupt if there is no execution.  Thus, Cuff and Quack are burned to death at the stake.
June 4, 1741 The trial opens against Mr. Hughson, his wife, his daughter, and Peggy.  They are charged with several counts of conspiracy.  Several witnesses are brought against Hughsons and Peggy.  Once again, the defendants have no legal counsel and call only five character witnesses.  The jury finds them guilty.
June 8, 1741 Judge Horsmanden sentences Hughson, his wife, his nineteen-year-old daughter, and Peggy to hang.  Mr. Hughson’s dead body is ordered to be hung next to Caesar’s.  After the sentencing, six more black slaves are brought before the court on conspiracy charges.  The slaves have no legal counsel and produce no witnesses.  The jury returns a guilty verdict.  Horsmanden sentences five to burn at the stake and one to hang.  After the sentencing, five more blacks are arraigned on conspiracy charges.  One of the slaves convicted, Jack, names thirty other blacks that he claims participated in the conspiracy.
June 9, 1741 Four of the slaves sentenced the day before are burned at the stake.  Jack’s execution is postponed until June 12.
June 10, 1741 Four more slaves go before the court for trial.  The trial is short and the verdict is guilty.  The four slaves are sentenced to burn at the stake on June 12.
June 12, 1741 Mr. Hughson, his wife, and Peggy are hanged.  Three more slaves are also burned to death at the stake.  Mr. Hughson’s daughter is granted a reprieve until June 19.
June 13, 1741 Five more slaves are tried for conspiracy.  The trial is swift and a guilty verdict is returned by the jury.  Two are sentenced to burn at the stake and three are sentenced to hang.
June 16, 1741 Two slaves are burned at the stake and three are hanged.  Six more blacks are indicted on conspiracy charges. 
June 17, 1741 Five Spanish blacks are tried for their involvement in the conspiracy.  The prosecution again relies on the testimony of Mary Burton.  The Spanish blacks present their defenses.  However, Judge Horsmanden instructs the jury that they either all be acquitted or all found guilty.  The jury takes thirty minutes to return a guilty verdict.
June 19, 1741 Four more black slaves are tried for conspiracy.  The slaves have no counsel.  The jury returns a guilty verdict.  Additionally, city officials and the governor decide to issue a proclamation that allowed those who freely confess their involvement in the plot to be pardoned.  During the weeks that follow, seventy-one confessions are taken and fifty-one slaves are arrested.  Between June 20 and July 1, forty-four slaves are indicted, thirty-three of the forty-four plead guilty.  Eleven await trial.  Further, additional whites are implicated in the conspiracy.
July 1, 1741 Judge Horsmanden sentences ten slaves, including the five Spanish blacks, to hang.  Also, Forty-three slaves are pardoned for their confessions and turning king’s evidence – they are shipped away.
July 4, 1741 Another slave is burned at the stake.
July 15, 1741 The conspiracy trial of eight more blacks begins.  The trial follows the same path as the previous trials.  The jury returns a guilty verdict.  Judge Horsmanden sentences one to burn at the stake and the other seven slaves to hang. 
July 18, 1741 Three of the eight blacks sentenced on July 15 receive reprieves. But six other slaves are hanged and one is burned at the stake.  At this point, twenty-nine slaves have been executed. 
July 29, 1741 The trial of John Ury, a white minister, begins.  The prosecution produces witnesses that accuse him of being Catholic priest and spurring the conspiracy on by offering forgiveness to those who participated in the conspiracy.  The jury returns a guilty verdict. 
August 4, 1741 The judges sentence Ury to hang.  The execution is scheduled for August 15.
August 15, 1741 Ury is granted a stay of execution.  But a Spanish black hangs from the gallows.
August 29, 1741 John Ury hangs to death.
September 24, 1741 NYC celebrates a Day of Thanksgiving, for "deliverance...from the destruction of..the late conspiracy."
February 15, 1742 A fire begins and arson is clear.  A slave named Tom confesses and names four fellow slaves that participated.
March 2, 1742 Tom stands trial and is found guilty.  He is sentenced to hang.
September 2, 1742 The Common Council pays Mary Burton, whose testimony started it all, a reward of 81 pounds.  After receiving the reward, Burton disappears.
NOTE:  The conspiracy trials produced deadly results.  In all, thirteen black slaves burned at the stake. 
Seventeen black slaves went to the gallows.  In addition, two white men and two white women were hanged.

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