Summary of the New York Slave Revolt of 1712
The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 was a violent uprising where enslaved people, likely Africans, and Native American Indians, armed themselves, started a fire, and then attacked people who responded to the alarm. It took place on the night of April 6 near the center of New York City, in the Province of New York, and was planned in advance by the slaves. Around midnight, they gathered in an orchard near the center of the city and set fire to a building on Maiden Lane, near Broadway. After they set the fire, they hid and waited. The alarm was raised and people — mostly white inhabitants of the city — rushed to the scene. As people tried to extinguish the fire, the slaves ambushed them, killing and wounding many of them. The next day, the Governor of New York, Robert Hunter, called up the militia, which rounded up the 27 people that were involved in the attack. 21 of them were put on trial, convicted, and executed. Afterward, the Province of New York passed new “Black Codes” — or Slave Laws — that placed significant restrictions on slaves and severe punishments for those that broke the law.
Quick Facts About the New York Slave Revolt of 1712
- The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 took place on Wednesday, April 6.
- The slaves believed they were overworked
- Most accounts say 9 white people were killed and 5-7 were injured.
- It is estimated that at least 70 slaves were arrested for being involved in the plot.
- 39 people were indicted by a grand jury and 21 were found guilty of the crimes they were accused of.
- The slaves who were convicted were executed in horrific fashion, and some were burned at the stake — slowly — so they suffered as much as possible.
- Under the new laws, if an owner wanted to free a slave, he had to pay an excessive fee of $200.
Significance of the New York Slave Revolt of 1712
The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 is important to the history of the United States because the outcome placed severe restrictions on slaves making it more difficult for them to earn their freedom. The horrid manner in which the guilty persons were executed also shows just how harsh the penalty for murder could be in the early part of the 18th century in the Province of New York.
Events that Expanded Slavery
Governor Robert Hunter’s Account of the New York Slave Revolt of 1712
Governor Hunter wrote the following letter to the Lords of Trade in 1712, explaining the incident.
Editor’s Note: Some formatting has been added to help readers skim and comprehend the letter. Some minor text corrections have also been made.
I must now give your Lordships an account of a bloody conspiracy of some of the slaves of this place, to destroy as many of the inhabitants as they could. It was put in execution in this manner, when they had resolved to revenge themselves, for some hard usage they apprehended to have received from their masters (for I can find no other cause) they agreed to meet in the orchard of Mr. Crook in the middle of the town, some provided with fire arms, some with swords and others with knives and hatchets.
This was the sixth day of April, the time of meeting was about twelve or one clock in the night, when about three and twenty of them were got together. One…slave to one Vantiburgh set fire to [a shed] of his masters, and they repairing to his place where the rest were, they all sallied out together with their arms and marched to the fire. By this time, the noise of the fire spreading through the town, the people began to flock to it.
Upon the approach of several, the slaves fired and killed them. The noise of the guns gave the alarm, and some escaping, their shot soon published the cause of the fire, which was the reason that not above nine Christians were killed, and about five or six wounded.
Upon the first notice, which was very soon after the mischief was begun, I order’d a detachment from the fort under a proper officer to march against them, but the slaves made their retreat into the woods, by the favour of the night. Having ordered sentries the next day in the most proper place on the Island [Manhattan] to prevent their escape, I caused the day following, the militia of this town and of the country of West Chester to drive [to] the Island, and by this means and strict searches in the town, we found all that put the design in execution, six of these having first laid violent hands upon themselves [committed suicide], the rest were forthwith brought to their trial before ye Justices of this place, who are authorized by Act of the Assembly to hold a court in such cases.
In that court were twenty seven condemned, whereof twenty one were executed, one being a woman with child, here execution by that means suspended. Some were burnt, others handed, one broke on the wheel, and one hung alive in chains in the town, so that there has been the most exemplary punishment inflicted that could be possibly thought of.
Among these guilty persons severall others were apprehended, and again acquitted by the Court, for want of sufficient evidence, among those was one Mars a negro man slave to one Mr Regnier, who was to his trial and acquitted by the Jury, the Sheriffe the next day moving the Court for the discharge of such as were or should be so acquitted, by reason he apprehended they would attempt to make their escape but Mr. Bickley who then executed the office of the Attorney General, for Mr. Rayner opposed his motion, telling the Court that at that time, none but Mars being acquitted, the motion could be only intended in his favour, against whom he should have something further to object, and therefore prayed he might not be discharg’d.
So the sheriff did not obtain his motion, Mars was then indicted a second time and again acquitted, but not discharg’d, and being a third time presented was transferr’d (the Court of Justices not designing to sit again) to the Supreme Court, and there tried and convicted on the same evidence, on his two former trials, this prosecution was carried on to gratify some private pique of Mr. Bickleys against Mr. Regnier, a gentleman of his own profession, which appearing so partial, and the evidence being represented to me as very defective, and being wholly acquitted of ever having known anything of the Conspiracy by the Negro witnesses, who were made use of in the trials of all the criminals before the Justices, and without whose testimonies very few could have been punished, I thought fit to reprieve him till Her Majesties pleasure be known therein. if this supreme court were likewise tried, one Husea belonging to Mrs. Wenham, and one John belonging Mr. Vantilbourgh and convicted, these two are prisoners taken in a Spanish prize this war and brought into this Port by a Privateer, about six or seven years ago and by reason of their color which is swarthy, they were said to be slaves and as such were sold, among many others of the same color and country, these two I have likewise reprieved till Her Majesties pleasure be signified.
Soon after my arrival in this government I received petitions from several of these Spanish Indians as they are called here, representing to me that they were free men subjects to the King of Spain, but sold here as slaves, I secretly pitied their condition but haveing no other evidence of what they asserted then their own words, I had it not in my power to relieve them, I am informed that in the West Indies where their laws against their slaves are most severe, that in case of a conspiracy in which any are engaged a few only are executed for an example, In this case 21 are executed, and six having done that Justice on themselves more have suffered than we can find were active in this bloody affair which are reasons for my repreiving these, and if your Lordships think them of sufficient weight, I beg you will procure Her Majesty’s pleasure to be signified to me for their pardon, for they lie now in prison at their masters charge, I have likewise repreived one Tom a Negro belonging to Mr. Van Dam and Coffee a Negro belonging to Mr. Walton these two I have repreived at the instance of the Justices of the Court, who were of oppinion that the evidence against them, was not sufficient to convict them.
Events in Colonial New York
Battle of Long Island. It was the first battle that took place after the colonies declared independence.
New York Slave Revolt of 1712 for AP US History (APUSH)
The following resources are for students preparing for the AP US History Exam.
Burning the City of New York Part 1: The Rebellions of 1712 and 1741
This video from Historic Hudson Valley is part of “People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North.” It provides an overview of the New York Slave Revolt of 1712 and the 1741 Slave Rebellion.
Suggested Books About the New York Slave Uprisings of 1712 and 1741
Please note that this section contains links to Amazon.com. If you click the links and purchase anything, American History Central may earn a commission.
When I Die, I Shall Return to My Own Land: The New York City Slave Revolt of 1712 by Ben Hughes
The First Comprehensive Investigation into the First Uprising Against Slavery in North America. At 2 a.m. on April 7, 1712, a fire broke out in New York City’s North Ward. Unbeknown to the residents who roused themselves to combat the flames, the blaze had been started with murderous intent. A group of at least twenty-four enslaved West African men and women, mostly Akan from modern-day Ghana, had long plotted this moment. Armed with guns, daggers, swords, axes, and clubs, they fell upon their enslavers. In the next few frantic moments, eight Europeans were killed and seven were wounded. The perpetrators were rounded up, jailed, and put on public trial. Twenty enslaved men and one woman were executed or transported for carrying out the plot. As the first event of its kind to take place in the North American colonies, this revolt was the progenitor of those that followed—it inspired, the Stono Rebellion of 1739, the New York Conspiracy of 1741, and Nat Turner’s 1831 insurrection (from Amazon.com).
New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan by Jill Lepore
In New York Burning, Bancroft Prize-winning historian Jill Lepore recounts these dramatic events of 1741, when ten fires blazed across Manhattan and panicked whites suspecting it to be the work of a slave uprising went on a rampage. In the end, thirteen black men were burned at the stake, seventeen were hanged and more than one hundred black men and women were thrown into a dungeon beneath City Hall (from Amazon.com).