It was a bloody chapter in New York’s early history.
On the night of April 7, 1712, 23 black slaves met in an orchard on Maiden Lane in Manhattan. They had hatchets, guns and knives, and, according to historian Edward Ellis, they believed that "by launching a dramatic revolt, they [would] incite other slaves and massacre all the white people in town."
Conditions for the slaves of this city were wretched. They were beaten and starved. Many lived under the most primitive conditions. The meeting on Maiden Lane was the culmination of years of hardship.
The assembled slaves torched several houses of white landowners. Then they turned on the white people who came rushing out of their homes, They shot and killed nine of the white slave holders.
The English governor summoned soldiers and the militia to put down the revolt. The surviving 17 slaves were tried and convicted, tortured and executed.
There was another slave revolt of larger proportions in 1741. Both revolts were put down in bloody fashion.
Dr. Kenneth T. Jackson, the editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of New York City, says that, while the number of rebels implicated in the two plots may not seem large in the light of our current population, these were major rebellions for the time.
He estimated that the total city population in the early 18th century was about 8,000 people. Thus, the rebellions by a couple of hundred slaves, if translated into today’s New York, would total about 25,000 rebels.
Dr. Jackson said: "It was a time of tension and insecurity. New York was a major slave city. By the end of the 18th century, though, most New York’s slaves had been freed. There was no longer unrest because of injustice to slaves."
April, 1712. An anniversary long forgotten, It evokes memories of an old, old New York.