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People & Events
New York: The Revolt of 1712

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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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Related Entries:
Witchhunt in New York: The 1741 rebellion
The Stono Rebellion

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