TUESDAY, APRIL 21, 1741
[The grand jury was called and sworn.]
Mr. Justice Philipse gave the charge to the grand jury, as followeth:
"Gentlemen of the grand jury,
"It is not without some concern, that I am obliged at this time to be more particular in your charge, than for many preceding terms there hath been occasion. The many frights and terrors which the good people of this city have of late been put into, by repeated and unusual fires, and burning of houses, give us too much room to suspect, that some of them at least, did not proceed from mere chance, or common accidents; but on the contrary, from the premeditated malice and wicked pursuits of evil and designing persons; and therefore, it greatly behoves us to use our utmost diligence, by all lawful ways and means, to discover the contrivers and perpetrators of such daring and flagitious undertakings: that, upon conviction, they may receive condign punishment. . . .
"I am told there are several prisoners now in jail, who have been committed by the city magistrates, upon suspicion of having been concerned in some of the late fires; and others, who under pretence of assisting the unhappy sufferers, by saving their goods from the flames, for stealing, or receiving them. This indeed, is adding affliction to the afflicted, and is a very great aggravation of such crime, and therefore deserves a narrow inquiry: that so the exemplary punishment of the guilty (if any such should be so found) may deter others from committing the like villainies; for this kind of stealing, I think, has not been often practiced among us.
"Arson, or the malicious and voluntary burning, not only a mansion house, but also any other house, and the out buildings, or barns, and stables adjoining thereto, by night or by day, is felony at common law; and if any part of the house be burned, the offender is guilty of felony, notwithstanding the fire afterwards be put out, or go out of itself.
"This crime is of so shocking a nature, that if we have any in this city, who, having been guilty thereof, should escape, who can say he is safe, or tell where it will end?
"Another Thing which I cannot omit recommending to your serious and diligent inquiry is to find out and present all such persons who sell rum and other strong liquor to negroes. It must be obvious to everyone, that there are too many of them in this city; who, under pretence of selling what they call a penny dram to a negro, will sell to him as many quarts or gallons of rum, as he can steal money or goods to pay for.
"How this notion of its being lawful to sell a penny dram, or a pennyworth of rum to a slave, without the consent or direction of his master, has prevailed, I know not; but this I am sure of, that there is not only no such law, but that the doing of it is directly contrary to an act of the assembly now in force, for the better regulating of slaves. The many fatal consequences flowing from this prevailing and wicked practice, are so notorious, and so nearly concern us all, that one would be almost surprised, to think there should be a necessity for a court to recommend a suppressing of such pernicious houses: thus much in particular; now in general.
"My charge, gentlemen, further is, to present all conspiracies, combinations, and other offences, from treasons down to trespasses; and in your inquiries, the oath you, and each of you have just now taken will, I am persuaded, be your guide, and I pray God to direct and assist you in the discharge of your duty."
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22
The grand jury having been informed, that Mary Burton could give them some account concerning the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg's, sent for her this morning, and ordered she should be sworn; the constable returned and acquainted them, that she said she would not be sworn, nor give evidence; whereupon they ordered the constable to get a warrant from a magistrate, to bring her before them. The constable was some time gone, but at length returned, and brought her with him; and being asked why she would not be sworn, and give her evidence? she told the grand jury she would not be sworn; and seemed to be under some great uneasiness, or terrible apprehensions; which gave suspicion that she knew something concerning the fires that had lately happened: and being asked a question to that purpose, she gave no answer; which increased the jealousy that she was privy to them; and as it was thought a matter of the utmost concern, the grand jury was very importunate, and used many arguments with her, in public and private, to persuade her to speak the truth, and tell all she knew about it. To this end, the lieutenant governor's proclamation was read to her, promising indemnity and the reward of one hundred pounds to any person, confederate or not, who should make discovery, etc. She seemed to despise it, nor could the grand jury by any means, either threats or promises, prevail upon her, though they assured her withal, that she should have the protection of the magistrates, and her person be safe and secure from harm; but hitherto all was in vain: therefore the grand jury desired alderman Bancker to commit her; and the constable was charged with her accordingly; but before he had got her to jail, she considered better of it, and resolved to be sworn, and give her evidence in the afternoon.
Accordingly, she being sworn, came before the grand jury; but as they were proceeding to her examination, and before they asked her any questions, she told them she would acquaint them with what she knew relating to the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg's, but would say nothing about the fires.
This expression thus, as it were providentially, slipping from the evidence, much alarmed the grand jury; for, as they naturally concluded, it did by construction amount to an affirmative, that she could give an account of the occasion of the several fires; and therefore, as it highly became those gentlemen in the discharge of their trust, they determined to use their utmost diligence to sift out the discovery, but still she remained inflexible, till at length, having recourse to religious topics, representing to her the heinousness of the crime which she would be guilty of, if she was privy to, and could discover so wicked a design, as the firing houses about our ears; whereby not only people's estates would be destroyed, but many persons might lose their lives in the flames: this she would have to answer for at the day of judgment, as much as any person immediately concerned, because she might have prevented this destruction, and would not; so that a most damnable sin would lie at her door; and what need she fear from her divulging it; she was sure of the protection of the magistrates? or the grand jury expressed themselves in words to the same purpose; which arguments at last prevailed, and she gave the following evidence, which however, notwithstanding what had been said, came from her, as if still under some terrible apprehensions or restraints.
Deposition, No. 1. - Mary Burton, being sworn, deposeth,
1. "That Prince and Caesar brought the things of which they had robbed Mr. Hogg, to her master, John Hughson's house, and that they were handed in through the window, Hughson, his wife, and Peggy receiving them, about two or three o'clock on a Sunday morning.
2. "That Caesar, Prince, and Mr. Philipse's negro man (Cuffee) used to meet frequently at her master's house, and that she had heard them (the negroes) talk frequently of burning the fort; and that they would go down to the fly and burn the whole town; and that her master and mistress said, they would aid and assist them as much as they could.
3. "That in their common conversation they used to say, that when all this was done, Caesar should be governor, and Hughson, her master, should be king.
4. "That Cuffee used to say, that a great many people had too much, and others too little; that his old master had a great deal of money, but that, in a short time, he should have less, and that he (Cuffee) should have more.
5. "That at the same time when the things of which Mr. Hogg was robbed, were brought to her master's house, they brought some indigo and bees wax, which was likewise received by her master and mistress.
6. "That at the meetings of the three aforesaid negroes, Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee, at her master's house, they used to say, in their conversations, that when they set fire to the town, they would do it in the night, and as the white people came to extinguish it, they would kill and destroy them.
7. "That she has known at times, seven or eight guns in her master's house, and some swords, and that she has seen twenty or thirty negroes at one time in her master's house; and that at such large meetings, the three aforesaid negroes, Cuffee, Prince, and Caesar, were generally present, and most active, and that they used to say, that the other negroes durst not refuse to do what they commanded them, and they were sure that they had a number sufficient to stand by them.
8. "That Hughson (her master) and her mistress used to threaten, that if she, the deponent, ever made mention of the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg, they would poison her; and the negroes swore, if ever she published, or discovered the design of burning the town, they would burn her whenever they met her.
9. "That she never saw any white person in company when they talked of burning the town, but her master, her mistress, and Peggy."
This evidence of a conspiracy, not only to burn the city, but also destroy and murder the people, was most astonishing to the grand jury, and that any white people should become so abandoned as to confederate with slaves in such an execrable and detestable purpose, could not but be very amazing to everyone that heard it; what could scarce be credited; but that the several fires had been occasioned by some combination of villains, was, at the time of them, naturally to be collected from the manner and circumstances attending them.
The grand jury therefore, as it was a matter of the utmost consequence, thought it necessary to inform the judges concerning it, in order that the most effectual measures might be concerted, for discovering the confederates; and the judges were acquainted with it accordingly.
THURSDAY, APRIL 23
It was considered, that though there was an act of the province for trying negroes, as in other colonies, for all manner of offences by the justices, etc. in a summary way; yet as this was a scheme of villainy in which white people were confederated with them, and most probably were the first movers and seducers of the slaves; from the nature of such a conjunction, there was reason to apprehend there was a conspiracy of deeper design and more dangerous contrivance than the slaves themselves were capable of; it was thought a matter that required great secrecy, as well as the utmost diligence, in the conduct of the inquiry concerning it: and upon the whole, it was judged most advisable, as there was an absolute necessity that a matter of this nature and consequence should be fathomed as soon as possible. . . .
Margaret Kerry, commonly called Peggy, committed for Hogg's Robbery, being impeached by Mary Burton, as one of the conspirators, the judges examined her in prison in the evening; they exhorted her to make an ingenuous confession and discovery of what she knew of it, and gave her hopes of their recommendation to the governor for a pardon, if they could be of opinion that she deserved it, assuring her (as the case was) that they had his honour's permission to give hopes of mercy to such criminals as should confess their guilt, and they should think proper to recommend to him as fit and proper objects; but she withstood it, and positively denied that she knew any thing of the matter; and said, that if she should accuse any body of any such thing, she must accuse innocent persons, and wrong her own soul She had this day been examined by the grand jury, and positively denied knowing any thing about the fires.
FRIDAY, MAY 1
[Caesar and Prince were arraigned on charges of two robberies, one at Hoggs' and the other at Cohen's.]
To each of which indictments they pleaded, not guilty.
The prisoners upon their defence denied the charge against them.
And, the evidence being summed up, which was very strong and full, and the jury charged, they withdrew; and being returned, found them guilty of the indictments.
SUNDAY, MAY 3
Arthur Price, servant to captain Vincent Pearse, having been committed, upon a charge of stealing out of his master's house several goods belonging to the lieutenant governor, which had been removed thither for safe custody from the fire at the fort; he informed the undersheriff, that he had some discourse in the jail with Peggy, which he would communicate to a magistrate: the under-sheriff acquainted one of the judges therewith, and he examined Price in the evening, and the following deposition was taken.
Deposition, No. 1. -Arthur Price being duly sworn, saith,
1. "That about the beginning of last week, Peggy Carey, or Kerry,
now in jail, came to the hole in the prison door, in which he is confined, and told him, she was very much afraid of those fellows (meaning the negroes, as he understood) telling or discovering something of her; but, said she, if they do, by God, I will hang them everyone; but that she would not forswear herself, unless they brought her in. Upon which the deponents asked her, Peggy, how forswear yourself? To which she answered, there is fourteen sworn. Upon which he further asked her, what, is it about Mr. Hogg's goods? And she replied, no, by G-d, about the fire. Upon which the deponent said to her, what, Peggy, were you a going to set the town on fire? And she made answer, she was not; but said, by G-d, since I knew of it, they made me swear. Upon which the deponent asked her, was John and his wife in it? (meaning John Hughson and his wife.) And she answered, yes, by G-d; they were both sworn as well as the rest. Then the deponent asked her, if she was not afraid that the negroes would discover her? And she said no; for Prince, Cuff and Caesar, and Forck's (Vaarck's) negro, were all true-hearted fellows. Then he asked her, if Caesar was not Forck's negro? And she answered, no, by G-d, it was the other; but what other she meant he did not know.
2. "That yesterday in the afternoon the said Peggy came to him again, and told him, she had no stomach to eat her victuals; for that bitch (meaning Hughson's maid as he understood) has fetched me in, and made me as black as the rest, about the indigo, and Mr. Hogg's goods: but if they did hang the two poor fellows below (meaning Caesar and Prince, as understood) they (meaning the rest of the negroes) would be revenged on them yet; but if they sent them away, it was another case. Upon which this deponent said to Peggy, I don't doubt but they will endeavor to poison this girl that has sworn, (meaning Hughson's maid.) And Peggy replied, no, by G-d, I don't believe that; but they will be revenged on them some other ways: And she further said to the deponent, for your life and soul of you, you son of a b-h, don't speak a word of what I have told you."
WEDNESDAY, MAY 6
[John and Sarah Hughson and Peggy Kerry were all indicted for receiving stolen goods on March 3. All pled not guilty.]
The conviction of Caesar and Prince read.
The examination of Hughson before the justices read.
And the charge against them being fully proved; the evidence summed upon; the arguments closed, and the jury charged, they withdrew; and being returned, found them all guilty.
Sarah Hughson, single woman, daughter of John Hughson and Sarah his wife, was this morning committed as one of the confederates in the conspiracy, being apprehended while the court was sitting.
Jack (Sleydall's negro) was this day committed on suspicion of putting fire to Mr. Murray's haystack.
THURSDAY, MAY 6
Deposition taken before the judges – No. 2. Arthur Price being duly sworn, saith,
1. "That yesterday morning having discourse with Sarah, the daughter of John Hughson, about the fires which have lately happened in the town; she told him, that she had been with a fortune teller, who told her that in less than five weeks time, she would come to trouble, if she did not take good care of herself; but after that she would come to good fortune; then he inquired of her father's fortune; and she said, her father would be tried and condemned, but not hanged; but was to go over the water.
2. "That then, after some other discourse, the deponent told her, that some of' the negroes who were concerned in the plot about the fires, had discovered; upon which she said, she did not know of any plot; and thereupon he told her, that they that were sworn in the plot, had discovered, and brought them everyone in: upon which she coloured, and put her bonnet back, and changed colour several times, and asked him if he knew who it was and when he had heard it? and he told her, he had heard it by the by, and it was kept private: upon which she made a long stop; and then said, it must be either Holt's negro, or Todd's; for, said she, we were always afraid of them, and mistrusted them, though they were as bad as the rest, and were to have set their own master's houses on fire; and then she said, I wish that Todd had sent his black dog away, or sold him, when he was going to do it.
3. "That then the deponent told her, sure you had better tell every thing that you know; for that may be of some service to your father; upon which she said no, for that they were doing all that they could to take his life away; and that she would sooner suffer death, and be hanged with her daddy (if he was to be hanged) than she would give them that satisfaction of telling or discovering any thing to them; or words to that effect: that she was to have gone up into the country (like a fool that she was that she did not go) but staid to see what would become of her mammy and daddy; but that now she would go up in the country, and that she would be hanged if ever they should get her in York again; but if they (meaning the people of this city, as he understood) had not better care of themselves, they would have a great deal more damage and danger in York, than they were aware of; and if they did hang her daddy, they had better do something else; and as to the fire at the fort, they did not set the saddle on the right horse.
4. "That on Monday last Peggy came to him, and bid him not discover any thing for his life, that she had told him; for if he did, by G-d she would cut his throat.
5. "The deponent further saith, that as to the expression made use of by Sarah Hughson, viz., As to the fire at the fort, they did not set the saddle on the right horse; the occasion of these words was, the deponents telling her, that they had been picking out of him what they could concerning the fire at the fort, and thought that he knew something of it; but he said to her, that he took God to be his judge, that he did not know any thing of it.
Upon the information by this deposition, Dundee (Todd's negro) was apprehended and committed; but, upon examination, denied knowing any thing of the conspiracy.
The other negro was at this time gone with his master (Holt) a dancing master, to Jamaica, in the West Indies, who thought it proper to remove from hence soon after the fire at the fort.
FRIDAY, MAY 8
[Caesar and Prince, having been found guilty of larceny, were sentenced by Judge Philipse.]
"You, Caesar and Prince, the grand jury having found two indictments against each of you, for feloniously stealing and taking away from Mr. Hogg, and Mr. Meyers Cohen, sundry goods of considerable value. To these indictments you severally pleaded not guilty; and for your trials put yourselves upon God and the country; which country having found you guilty, it now only remains for the court to pronounce that judgment which the law requires, and the nature of your crimes deserve.
'''But before I proceed to sentence, I must tell you, that you have been proceeded against in the same manner as any white man, guilty of your crimes, would have been. You had not only the liberty of sending for your witnesses; asking them such questions as you thought proper; but likewise making the best defence you could; and as you have been convicted by twelve honest men upon their oaths, so the just judgment of God has at length overtaken you.
"I have great reason to believe, that the crimes you now stand convicted of, are not the least of those you have been concerned in; for by your general characters you have been very wicked fellows, hardened sinners, and ripe, as well as ready, for the most enormous and daring enterprises especially you, Caesar: and as the time you have yet to live is to be but very short, I earnestly advise and exhort both of you to employ it in the most diligent and best manner you can, by confessing your sins, repenting sincerely of them, and praying God of his infinite goodness to have mercy on your souls: and as God knows the secrets of your hearts, and cannot be cheated or imposed upon, so you must shortly give an account to him, and answer for all your actions; and depend upon it, if you do not truly repent before you die, there is a hell to punish the wicked eternally.
"And as it is not in your powers to make full restitution for the many injuries you have done the public; so 1 advise both of you to do all that in you is, to prevent further mischief’s, by discovering such persons as have been concerned with you, in designing or endeavouring to burn this city, and to destroy its inhabitants. This 1 am fully persuaded is in your power to do if you will; if so, and you do not make such discovery, be assured God Almighty will punish you for it, though we do not: therefore I advise you to consider this well, and 1 hope both of you will tell the truth.
"And now, notl1mg further remains for me to say, but that you Caesar, and you Prince, are to be taken hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, and there you, and each of you, are to be hanged by the neck until you be dead. And I pray the Lord to have mercy on your souls."
Ordered, that their execution be on Monday next, the eleventh day of this instant, between the hours of nine and one of the same day. And further ordered that after the execution of the said sentence, the body of Caesar be hung in chains.
MONDAY, MAY 11
Caesar and Prince were executed this day at the gallows, according to sentence. They died very stubbornly, without confessing any thing about the conspiracy; and denied they knew any thing of it to the last. The body of Caesar was accordingly hung in chains.
These two negroes bore the characters of very wicked idle fellows; had before been detected in some robberies, for which they had been publicly chastised at the whipping-post, and were persons of most obstinate and untractable tempers; so that there was no expectation of drawing any thing from them which would make for the discovery of the conspiracy, though there seemed good reason to conclude, as well from their characters as what had been charged upon them by information from others, that they were two principal ringleaders in it amongst the blacks. It was thought proper to execute them for the robbery, and not wait for the bringing them to a trial for the conspiracy, though the proof against them was strong and clear concerning their guilt as to that also; and it was imagined, that as stealing and plundering was a principal part of the he1lish scheme in agitation, amongst the inferior sort of these infernal confederates, this earnest of example and punishment might break the knot, and induce some of them to unfold this mystery of iniquity, in hopes thereby to recommend themselves to mercy, and it is probable, that with some it had this effect.