The New-York Conspiracy, or a history of the Negro plot (Excerpt)

Daniel Horsmanden

Citation Information: Daniel Horsmanden, The New-York Conspiracy, or a history of the Negro plot (Excerpt). New York: Southwick & Pelsue, 1810.

The parties accused of the conspiracy were numerous, and business by degrees multiplied so fast upon the grand jury, which bore the burthen of this inquiry, that there would have been an immediate necessity for others to have lent a helping hand in taking examinations from the beginning, if the judges had not found it expedient to examine the persons accused, upon their first taking into custody, whereby it seemed most likely the truth would bolt out, before they had time to cool, or opportunity of discoursing in the jail with their confederates, who were before committed.

The examinations thus taken by the judges, were soon after laid before the grand jury, who interrogated the parties therefrom in such manner, as generally produced from them the substance of the same matter, and often something more, by which means there accrued no small advantage; for though were the last examination brought to light new discover, yet it will be seldom found, there is any thing in such further examinations contradictory to the former, but generally a confirmation of them; and in such case, the setting forth the same at large, may not be thought a useless tautology; not that this will happen often, and where it does, it will be chiefly found in the examinations and confessions of negroes, who, in ordinary cases, are seldom found to hold twice in the same story; which, for its rarity therefore, if it carried not with it the additional weight of the greater appearance of truth, may make this particular the more excusable; and further, this is a diary of the proceedings, that is to be exhibited, therefore, in conformity to that plan, nothing should be omitted, which may be of use. All proper precautions were taken by the judges, that the criminals should be kept.separate; and they were so, as much as the scanty room in the jail would admit if of; and new apartments were fitted up for their reception: but more particular care was taken, that such negroes as had made confession and discovery, and were to be made use of as witnesses, should be kept apart from the rest, and as much from each other, as the accommodations would allow of, in order to prevent their caballing from each other first, as well upon the trials, as otherwise, and then generally confronted with the persons they accused, who were usually sent for and taken into custody upon such examinations, if they were to be met with; which was the means of bringing many others to a confession, as well as were newly taken up, as those who had long before been committed, perhaps upon slighter grounds, and had insisted upon their innocence; for they had generally the cunning not to own their guilt, till they knew their accusers. But notwithstanding this was the ordinary method taken, both by the judges and grand jury, to send for the parties as soon as impeached, (which however might sometimes through hurry be omitted) yet several who happened then to be out of the way, were afterwards forgot, and slipped through our fingers, from the multiplicity of business in hand, as will hereafter appear; which therefore is particularly recommended to the notice of their owners.

The trouble of examining criminals in general, may be easily guessed at; but the fatigue in that of negroes, is not to be conceived, but by those that have undergone the drudgery. The difficulty of bringing and holding them to the truth, if by chance it starts through them, is not to be surmounted, but by the closest attention; many of them have a great deal of craft; their unintelligible jargon stands them in great stead, to conceal their meaning; so that an examiner must expect to encounter with much perplexity, grope through a maze of obscurity, be obliged to lay hold of broken hints, lay them carefully together, and thoroughly weigh and compare them with each other, before he can be able to see the light, or fix those creatures to any certain determinate meaning.