New York Slave Revolt of 1712

Posted: June 3, 2014 in Shorts

The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 was an uprising in New York City of 23 enslaved Africans who killed nine whites and injured another six. More than three times that number of blacks, 70, were arrested and jailed. Of these, 27 were put on trial, and 21 convicted and executed.

Conditions in New York were ripe for rebellion. Enslaved Africans lived within proximity of each other, making communication easy. They also often worked among free blacks, a situation that did not exist on most plantations. Slaves in the city could communicate and plan aconspiracy more easily than among those on plantations. They were kept under abusive and harsh conditions, and naturally resented their treatment.[1]

The men gathered on the night of April 6, 1712, and set fire to a building on Maiden Lane near Broadway.[1][2] While the white colonists tried to put out the fire, the enslaved African Americans, armed with guns, hatchets, and swords, attacked them and ran off.[3]

Aftermath[edit]

Seventy blacks were arrested and put in jail. Six are reported to have committed suicide. Twenty-seven were put on trial, twenty-one of whom were convicted and sentenced to death. Twenty were burned to death and one was executed on a breaking wheel. This was a form of punishment no longer used on whites at the time. The severity of punishment was in reaction to white slaveowners’ fear of insurrection by slaves.

After the revolt, laws governing the lives of blacks in New York were made more restrictive. African Americans were not permitted to gather in groups of more than three, they were not permitted to carry firearms, and gambling was outlawed. Other crimes, such as property damage, rape, and conspiracy to kill, were made punishable by death. Free blacks were no longer allowed to own land. Slave owners who decided to free their slaves were required to pay a tax of £200, a price much higher than the price of a slave

The stage was set for an uprising. First, the city had a large population of black slaves — the result of many years of trade with the West Indies. Secondly, communication and meeting among enslaved persons was relatively easy, since the New York City’s inhabitants lived in a small area on the southern tip of Manhattan. Thirdly, living in such a densely populated area also meant that slaves worked in close proximity to free men, a far cry from the situation on the plantations to the south.

Perhaps after meeting in a tavern, twenty-three blacks gathered on the night of April 6, 1712. It was midnight. Armed with guns, hatchets, and swords, the men set fire to a building in the middle of town. The fire spread. While white colonists gathered to extinguish the blaze, the slaves attacked, then ran off. At least nine whites had been shot, stabbed, or beaten to death; another six were wounded.

Militia units from New York and Westchester were mustered, as were soldiers from a nearby fort. Twenty-seven slaves were soon captured. Of these, six committed suicide. The rest were executed, some by being burned alive.

White New Yorkers had been apprehensive before the revolt of April 6; now they were spurred into action. Strict laws were soon enacted, and more would come, over the next thirty years. No longer could more than three black slaves meet. A master could punish his slaves as he saw fit (even for no reason at all), as long as the slave did not lose his or her life or limb. Any slave handling a firearm would receive twenty lashes. Anyone caught gambling would be whipped in public. Involvement in a conspiracy to kill would result in execution, as would a rape. There was even a law that discouraged masters from freeing a slave: The master could free a slave, but only after posting a bond of 200 [pounds]. This money would be paid to the freed slave if that slave couldn’t support himself or herself.

These laws would, in the end, prove to be futile. In 1741, New York would see another uprising.

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