Declaration of Independence
(previous ... Colonel William Cosby and the Newspaper
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.
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
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)