Cover image for The great New York conspiracy of 1741 : slavery, crime, and colonial law
The great New York conspiracy of 1741 : slavery, crime, and colonial law
Hoffer, Peter Charles, 1944-
Publication Information:
Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 190 pages ; 23 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KFN5696.A4 H64 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Three and a half decades before the city of New York witnessed the first great battle waged by the new United States of America for its independence, rumors of a massive conspiracy among the city's slaves spread panic throughout the colony. On the testimony of frightened bondsmen and a handful of whites, over seventy slaves were convicted and a third of these were executed. The suspected conspiracy in New York prompted one of the most extensive slave trials in colonial history and some of the most grisly punishments ever meted out to individuals. Peter Hoffer now retells the dramatic story of those landmark trials, setting the events in their legal and historical contexts and offering a revealing glimpse of slavery in colonial cities and of the way that the law defined and policed the institution. Among other things, Hoffer reveals how conspiracy became a central feature of the law of slavery at the same time as it reflected the white belief that slaves were always conspiring against their masters. He draws on uniquely revealing firsthand accounts of the trials to both retell a gripping story and open a window on colonial American justice. He leads readers through a chain of events

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In 1741, after a burglary and series of fires in New York City, government officials, worried about a possible slave revolt, made more than 150 arrests and eventually executed more than three dozen people. In this slim volume targeting a general audience, Hoffer (Univ. of Georgia) enters a well-established debate about whether or not a real plan to revolt ever existed. The author concludes that a limited conspiracy did exist, but that it was blown out of proportion by an imbalance of legal power: slaves possessed few legal rights, and some even faced the stark choice of false confession or death. Hoffer is largely successful in making difficult or obscure concepts understandable to a general audience. At the same time, he makes an original contribution to our understanding of the events in 1741 by considering them within the context of the evolving legal system of the English Atlantic World, especially when he discusses the development of slave law in the colonies, and the gradual emergence of "conspiracy" as a criminal offence. Given the current "war on terrorism," this volume is timely and deserves the widest possible audience. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels and collections. S. Condon Adrian College