Declaration of Independence

(previous ... Colonel William Cosby and the Newspaper wars)

A Declaration of Independence

At the beginning of his administration the assembly met George Clarke with a firm front. When they received from him the customary address or message, they returned a reply as was usual. They used none of the fulsome praise often found in theses responses , but put the case to Clarke in plain terms: " You are not to expect that we either will raise sums unfit to be raised, or put what we shall raise into the power of a governor to misapply." They determined that henceforth they would not raise a revenue " for any longer time than one year; nor do we think," said they, " it convenient to do that until such laws are passed as we conceive necessary." To these words the politic Clarke bowed, bargained to support certain measures of the assembly and secured an ample revenue.

Public Plunder

The revenue seemed to be his main concern. He came from England to be secretary of the colony; he returned worth $500,000, a fabulous sum in those days. Nor does it appear that some other governors were far behind him in getting rich. They took large fees for and grants and titles; they appropriated broad tracts of land and sold it or distributed it among favorites; they took pay from merchants and from other interested persons in return for favoring some regulation of trade. Many of these transactions, which today would be thought scandalous, were then looked upon as the rightful income of the governor's office. One great political job of that time was the bringing of five hundred highlanders from Scotland to people the land about Lake George as a protection against the French. The project failed; but the Scotch mingled with English, Dutch and Germans, making for New York a broad minded population.

The Negro Plot

During the administration of Clarke, the colony passed through affliction. The winter of 1741 was severely cold and was accompanied with suffering. the citizens of New York city excepted each day to see a war ship of Spain, with which nation England was then at war. The city was now a place of 10,000 people, a fifth of whom were negro slaves. As summer followed the cold winter, rumors of a slave riot filled the air. It was no new sensation; 30 years before, the negroes were charged with combining for the burning of the city, and on very poor evidence 19 of them were hanged.  Since then the people had lived in fear of a conspiracy of slaves, and according to law when they found three negroes together they might give them 40 lashes on the bare back.

In the fateful year of 1741 a few small fires occurred about the same time, probably set for the sale of plunder; and in this the fearful citizens saw a bold "negro plot" to burn the city and murder the white people. Rewards for information were freely offered; and the Dutch taverns were filled with gossiping, tale-inventing men, who manufactured a childish fear and foolish hatred of the negro. The people were seized with a panic and many fled from the city as from a pestilence.

After much search for the guilty persons, an ignorant girl, Mary Burton, was arrested in a drunken den on suspicion that she knew the secret of the plot. In her fright she invented wild stories which were eagerly believed. Others in turn acknowledged a plot and soon this was found to be the easiest way of escape. Informers became plentiful; sheriffs and hangmen were busy; the people grew more frantic and less sensible; but not one reasonable fact was found concerning the origins of the fires.

Finally the fury spent itself after nearly 200 people, mostly negroes, had been put in prison. Of the black men many were hanged, more were transported to the West Indies, while 14 suffered the barbarism of a death by burning. Four of the white prisoners were also hanged, among them one John Ury, a Catholic priest, whose religion seemed to deny him the consideration of his fellow citizens. The disgusting negro panic of New York city is parallel to the witchcraft delusion of Salem.

Admiral George Clinton

Soon after these events Lieutenant-Governor Clarke closed his 7 years administration and gave way to Cosby's successor, Admiral George Clinton. With him the assembly began the old fight; they were told to place a revenue and the militia unconditionally in the hands of the governor, since war with France was threatening. They flatly refused. They further declared that an assembly should hold office for 7 years at the most, a term then an now the limit of the English parliament. But soon these quarrels were overshadowed by the strife with France. The time had come to decide whether the French or the English were to govern North America.

(continues ... Final Struggle with France 1744 - 1760)