Preface to
 A Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy (1744)

Justice Daniel Horsmanden

Preface by Justice Daniel Horsmanden

The reader must not expect in the following sheets, a particular and minute relation of every formality, question and answer, that passed upon the trials; it may suffice, if he be assured he has the substance; for indeed more cannot be expected, when it is considered, that we have no one here, as in our mother country, who make it a business to take notes upon such occasions, or any others, that we know of, who are so dexterous at short-hand, as to be sufficiently qualified for such a purpose; but he will be sure to have all that could be collected from the notes that were taken by the court, and gentlemen at the bar; with all which the compiler has been furnished.

Upon a review of the proceedings, in order for this undertaking, the bulk of them, which was the product of about six months inquiry, seemed somewhat discouraging: No doubt they might have been contracted, if this work had been proceeded upon in the method of an historical relation only, wherein the compiler would have been more at liberty to abstract the several originals; but it was concluded, a journal would give more satisfaction, inasmuch as in such a kind of process, the depositions and examinations themselves, which were the groundwork of the proceedings, would appear at large; which most probably would afford conviction, to such as have a disposition to be convinced, and have in reality doubted whether any particular convicts had justice done them or not, notwithstanding they had the opportunity of seeing and hearing a great deal concerning them; and others, who had no such opportunities, who were prejudiced at a distance in their disfavour, by frivolous reports, might the readier be undeceived: for as the proceedings are set forth in the order of time they were produced, the reader will thereby be furnished with the most natural view of the whole, and be better enabled to conceive the design and dangerous depth of this hellish project, as well as the justice of the several prosecutions.

The parties accused of the conspiracy were numerous, and business by degrees multiplied so fast upon the grand jury, which bore the burthen of this inquiry, that there would have been an immediate necessity for others to have lent a helping hand in taking examinations from the beginning, if the judges had not found it expedient to examine the persons accused, upon their first taking into custody, whereby it seemed most likely the truth would bolt out, before they had time to cool, or opportunity of discoursing in the jail with their confederates, who were before committed.

The examinations thus taken by the judges, were soon after laid before the grand jury, who interrogated the parties there from in such manner, as generally produced from them the substance of the same matter, and often something more, by which means there accrued no small advantage; for though where the last examination brought to light new discovery, yet it will be seldom found, there is any thing in such further examinations contradictory to the former, but generally a confirmation of them; and in such case, the setting forth the same at large, may not be thought a useless tautology; not that this will happen often, and where it does, it will be chiefly found in the examinations and confessions of negroes, who, in ordinary cases, are seldom found to hold twice in the same story; which, for its rarity therefore, if it carried not with it the additional weight of the greater appearance of truth, may make this particular the more excusable; and further, this is a diary of the proceedings, that is to be exhibited, therefore, in conformity to that plan, nothing should be omitted, which may be of any use.

All proper precautious were taken by the judges, that the criminals should be kept separate; and they were so, as much as the scanty room in the jail would admit it of; and new apartments were fitted up for their reception: but more particular care was taken, that such negroes as had made confession and discovery, and were to be made use of as witnesses, should be kept apart from the rest, and as much from each other, as the accommodations would allow of, in order to prevent their caballing from each other first, as well upon the trials, as otherwise, and then generally confronted with the persons they accused, who were usually sent for and taken into custody upon such examinations, if they were to be met with; which was the means of bringing many others to a confession, as well as were newly taken up, as those who had long before been committed, perhaps upon slighter grounds, and had insisted upon their innocence; for they had generally the cunning not to own their guilt, till they knew their accusers. But notwithstanding this was the ordinary method taken, ·both by the judges and grand jury, to send for the parties as soon as impeached, (which however might sometimes through hurry be; omitted) yet several who happened then to be out of the way, were afterwards forgot, and slipped through our fingers, from the multiplicity of business in hand, as will hereafter appear; which therefore is particularly recommended to the notice of their owners.

The trouble of examining criminals in general, may be easily guessed at; but the fatigue in that of Negroes is not to be conceived, but by those that have undergone the drudgery. The difficulty of bringing and holding them to the truth, if by chance it starts through them, is not to be surmounted, but by the closest attention; many of them have a great deal of craft; their unintelligible jargon stands them in great stead, to conceal their meaning; so that an examiner must expect to encounter with much perplexity, grope through a maze of obscurity, be obliged to lay hold of broken hints, lay them carefully.

There were reasons indeed, for making these matters public, which could not be withstood.

There had been some wanton, wrong-headed persons amongst us, who took the liberty to arraign the justice of the proceedings, and set up their private opinions in superiority to the court and grand jury; though God knows (and all men of sense know) they could not be judges of such matters; but nevertheless, they declared with no small assurance (notwithstanding what we saw with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and everyone might have judged of by his intellects, that had any) that there was no plot at all! The inference such would have drawn from thence, is too obvious to need mentioning; however this moved very little: It was not to convince (for that would have been a vain undertaking; the Ethiopian might as soon change his skin) much less was it to gratify such.

But there were two motives which weighed much; the one, that those who had not the opportunity of seeing and hearing, might judge of the justice of the proceedings, from the state of the case being laid before them; the other, that from thence, the people in general, might be persuaded of the necessity there is, for everyone that has negroes, to keep a very watchful eye over them, and not to indulge them with too great liberties, which we find they make use of to the worst purposes, caballing and confederating together in mischief, in great numbers, when they may, from the accounts in the ensuing sheets, from what they see has happened, feel the consequence of giving them so great a latitude, as has been customary in this city and province, and thereby be warned to keep themselves upon a strict guard against these enemies of their own household, since we know what they are capable of; for it was notorious, that those among them, who had the kindest masters, who fared best, and had the most liberty, nay, that those in whom their masters placed the greatest confidence, insomuch, that they would even have put their own swords into their hands, in expectation of being defended by them against their own colour, did nevertheless turn out the greatest villains. It even appeared that these head fellows boasted of their superiority over the more harmless and inoffensive; that they held them in an inferiority and dependence, a kind of subjection, as if they had got such dominion over them, that they durst not, at any time, or upon any occasion, but do as they would have them; from whence it may be guessed, how likely the defection was to be general.

The principal inducement, therefore, to this undertaking was, the public benefit; that those who have property in slaves, might have a lasting memento concerning the nature of them; that they may be thence warned to keep a constant guard over them; since what they have done, they may one time or other act over again, especially if there should in future times, appear such monsters in nature, as the Hughsons, Ury the priest, and such like, who dare be so wicked as to attempt the seducing them to such execrable purposes: and if any should think it not worth their while to learn from the ensuing sheets (what by others perhaps may be esteemed) a useful lesson, the fault will be their own; and really it was thought necessary, for these and other reasons needless here to mention, that there should be a standing memorial of so unprecedented a scheme of villainy.

Perhaps it may not come forth unseasonably at this juncture, if the distractions occasioned by this mystery of iniquity, may be thereby so revived in our memories, as to awaken us from that supine security, which again too generally prevails, and put us upon our guard, lest the enemy should be yet within our doors.


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