Thursday, September 28, 2006

Item of the Day: United State's Gazette, for the Country. (1804)

Full Title: United States' Gazette, for the Country. Volume IV. No. 344. [Philadelphia] 4 December 1804.

From the Charleston Times.


A planter of the state of South Carolina, takes the liberty to propose to you an object of manufacture, in his opinion very well worthy of your attention; and in which opinion he is not singular, but from a communication he has had with many respectable planters, who with himself hold a number of slaves, and wish to see them cloathed in the winter seasons, with the manufacturers of our own states, rather than be dependent on foreign supplies of this kind; as our country can never be said to be independent , while we rely entirely on foreign cloth to cover us. The present time we deem highly propitious for the beginning of the manufacture of this cloth in the eastern states. The fabrick recommended is a warp of cotton, and to be filled with wool dyed brown, or in its natural colour; to be seven-eights of a yard wide, and to be well milled of good thickness, and dressed on the surface. For such cloth, from 55 to 75 cents per yard might be readily obtained, if delivered in Charleston, fitting for this manufacture, at the rates of from 16 to 20 cents per pound; a quantity of wool, which is now thrown aside for want of a market, might also be had at a low rate; and thus a beneficial exchange of our raw material for your manufacture, would be established. I wish the enterprizing spirit of my fellow citizens to the Northward, would make the experiment above recommended; I can assure them of success, if the cloth is well made, and of sufficient warmth to make our people comfortable in winter. Negro cloths imported from England are yearly advancing in price, to an extent this season (the best 92 cents per yard;) and the next season it may be expected by the troubles of war, it will be 100 cents, and perhaps more. In our revolutionary war, were at first put to many shifts and difficulties for clothing of our slaves comfortably in winter, but in a little time we got the better of it, and many of us made to our plantations, as much cloth of this kind as clothed all our people in a warm comfortable manner; but on the return of peace we returned to our former habits of buying imported cloth, which then was reasonable in price; but of late, and the present season, the prices are greatly advanced, which in my opinion makes the present time favourable to the introduction of our own manufactures, besides the advantage of strengthening the bond of our union. I wish it be understood, that I have no private interested motives in his hint, am as little embarrassed in my fortune as any man, therefore find as little difficulty in paying these high prices for imported negro cloth -- but it has long been a wish of mine to see our supplies of this article come from the Eastern States of our union; and no time was ever more favourable to the introduction of them than the present.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Item of the Day: A Compendious History of New England (1809)

Full Title: A Compendious History of New England Designed for Schools and Private Families by Jedidiah Morse, D.D. and Elijah Parish, D.D. Second Edition, with Improvements by the Authors. Published at Newburyport, by Thomas & Whipple Sold Wholesale and Retail at their Book-store No. 2 State Street, 1809.

Chap. XIX.

Comet; Philip's War; life and character of captain Church.

The people of New England were surprised by the appearance of a comet, from the 17th of November, 1664, til the 4th of February following. They deemed it ominous (as they afterward did the Aurora Borealis,) of some calamity, which was shortly to befall them.

In the year 1675, a war with the Indians, by the name of Philip's war, broke out, which endangered the existence of the colony. Some doubted whether the Indians would not succeed in the total extirpation of the English. This distressing war lasted more than a year.

This was the first hostile attack from the natives, which had been really alarming to the country. In 1637, the troops of Massachusetts and Connecticut had destroyed the Pequots. In 1643, there were some disturbances with the Narragansets, but matters were settled without shedding blood. In 1646, a plot was formed by Sequasson a sachem near new Haven, to assassinate the magistrates of that colony; but he effected nothing. In 1647, there were some transient difficulties with the Narragansets and Mohegans. The next year, the Narragansets hired the Mohawks to assist them against the Mohegans, but were detected. The following year, some persons were murdered by the Indians at New Haven and Long Island.

In the year 1653, the public mind was agitated, a general panic seized the country, from an apprehension that there was a conspiracy of the Indians through the country to cut off the English. These rumors and terrors of the day appeared, afterward, to have had no just foundation.

In 1657, Alexander, the son of Massasoit, invited the Narragansets to join with him in revolting from the English; general Winslow went with only ten men, and brought him to Plymouth, where, though he was treated very civilly, his vexation and madness threw him into a fever, of which he died. His brother Philip succeeded him, and renewed his covenant with the English in 1662; yet, in 1671, he commenced hostilities against the English, but was soon subdued, and promised never to begin war again, before he had made complaint himself to Plymouth colony. Exception these slight difficulties, for almost forty years the English had enjoyed peace with the Indians.

In 1675, John Sausaman, an Indian whom the English had employed as a missionary to instruct his brethren, informed the governor of Plymouth, that Philip, with several other tribes, was plotting the destruction of the English. Soon after this, Sausaman was found murdered; three Indians were arrested, tried, convicted, and hung for the murder. Philip, now more offended, sent away his women, armed his men, and robbed several houses in the vicinity of his own dwelling. June 24, 1675, the colony observed as a day of humiliation and prayer. As the people of Swanzey were returning from public worship, the Indians, lying in ambush, fired a volley, killed one man and wounded another. Two men, who went for a surgeon, were shot, and at the same time, in another part of the town, six other persons were killed. Immediately, a company of horse and foot, marched from Boston, and another company of foot from Plymouth, and arrived the 28th near Philip's seat; twelve men the same evening reconnoitred his camp, were fired upon, one was killed, and one wounded; the next morning a resolute assault was made, when the savages fled, leaving their camp and their country to the conquerors.

. . .

The enemy soon burnt 32 houses in Springfield. The general court, then sitting in Boston, appointed a committee, who, with the ministers of the vicinity, might suggest what were the sins, which brought these heavy judgments, and what laws could be enacted for the prevention of those sins. Their report was received October 19, and measures were taken to carry the design into effect. The same day, at Hatfield, the new England troops obtained a decisive victory over the enemy. Seven or eight hundred of them assaulted the town, but were repulsed in such a vigorous manner, that they fled in every direction; numbers of them were drowned in attempting to cross the river; others reached the Narraganset country before they rested. The English, on this important day, lost but one man. Those in Narraganset retired to a small piece of dry land, in a great swamp seven miles west of the south ferry that goes over to Newport.

. . .

This was a most distressing time in new England. The war had been raging almost a year; the towns all over the country had been in a constant state of alarm and terror; the enemy appearing in different and distant places at the same moment. The season of planting was at hand; to neglect this service would produce a famine; to call home their troops would be only to invite the enemy to destroy them. Parties must be sent out, garrisons must be manned; the labors of the field must be performed. In this crisis a spirit of prayer was remarkably conspicuous through country. Fervent supplications were offered by the churches of New England.

. . .

Never has New England seen so dismal a period as the war with Philip. About 600 men, the flower of her strength, had fallen in battle, or been murdered by the natives. A great part of the inhabitants were in mourning. There were few families, who had not lost some near relative. In Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Rhode Island, twelve or thirteen towns had been utterly destroyed, and others greatly damaged. About 600 buildings, chiefly dwelling houses, had been burned; a large debt had been contracted, and bast quantities of goods, cattle and other property had been destroyed. About every eleventh family had been burned out, and an eleventh part of the militia through New England had been slain in the war. So costly is the inheritance we have received from our valiant forefathers. The land we sow has been stained with their blood.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Item of the Day: An Enquiry into the Duties of Men (1794)

Full Title: An Enquiry into the Duties of Men in the Higher and Middle Classes of Society in Great Britain, Resulting from their Respective Stations, Professions, and Employments. By Thomas Gisborne, M.A. London: Printed by J. Davis, For B. and J. White, Fleet-Street, 1794.

Chapter I
Plan of the Work Explained.

To apply moral truths to practical purposes; to point out their bearings on modern opinions and modern manners; and to deduce from them rules of conduct by which the inhabitants of the country in particular, each in his respective station, may be aided in acquiring the knowledge and encouraged in the performance of their several duties, are objects of unequivocal utility. They are the objects which it is my wish to attain, as far as I am able, in the present work.

. . .

The plan proposed required me to enter into a regular and to a certain degree minute detail of the various duties of the different classes of society, which fall within its limits; to combine in every branch of my enquiry, as far as the nature of the subjects will admit, the conclusions of reason with the dictates of religion; and to deduce such inferences, and subjoin such remarks, as appear immediately applicable to the circumstances of Englishmen in common life. In the prosecution of a plan of this nature, the attention will of course be attracted in the first place by those objects which are of the most general importance, and those situations which render the persons fixed in them particularly conspicuous. And it will afterwards be directed to points which interest either a smaller proportion of the community, or that part of it which is more withdrawn from public observation. I propose therefore, in the outset of the undertaking, to investigate the conformity between the acknowledged principles of the British Constitution, as it stands and is administered at present, and those fundamental rules of political wisdom, which ought to be carefully regarded in every civil society: to offer, in the next place, some remarks on the functions of the sovereign, and to notice the general duties of Englishmen as subjects and fellow-citizens: and afterwards to discriminate the upper and middle classes of the inhabitants of this country according to the several ranks, professions, and employments, into which they are distributed, beginning with those of a public nature, and descending to those which are private and domestic, and to state the several duties and temptations peculiar to each. It will not be expected that in a work of this kind a distinct part should be appropriated to those, who are placed in the lowest ranks of society. By them argumentatives and bulky treatises on morality will not be read. The careful perusal of their bible, and the study of short and familiar expositions of its precepts, aided by the public and private admonitions of their pastors, are to them the principal sources of instruction. Not but that the morals of the common people may be materially corrected, their understandings improved and their misconceptions rectified, with equal benefit to themselves and to the whole community, by judicious attention on the part of their superiors among the laity. To pursue those objects with diligence, with perseverance, and with a studious regard to the difference of temporary or local circumstances, practices, and opinions, is a moral obligation strictly incumbent on all persons in the higher classes; and one which will not pass without further notice in the course of the following pages.

To the choice of this plan I was determined by a persuasion, that it offered the fairest opportunity of effectually bringing home the duties of men to their understandings and bosoms. He who would read with indifference an abstract enquiry into the nature of a particular duty, and the proper means of performing it, might be struck with a faithful representation of the occasions on which the performance of that duty is required, the manner in which it is to be effected, and the pretences by which it is commonly evaded, exemplified in the occurrences which attend his own profession and situation in life. Remarks, which in the former case he might probably have slighted as the reveries of speculative theory, in the latter press upon his mind corroborated by the energy of authentic facts, of the truth of which he has had ocular and almost hourly demonstration. I may likewise add as a further reason for adopting the method proposed, that I do not recollect any ethical work in which a similar plan is pursued with regularity, and at the same time extended to any considerable variety of subjects.

There is however one imperfection inseparable from this mode of proceeding, which it may be requisite briefly to mention. No man acts in a single character; nor can all his duties be brought into one point of view. The member of the legislature, the minister of state, the counsellor, the merchant, is also a subject, a husband, a parent, a landlord, or a master. In order then to avoid the repetition which would only swell the bulk of the performance without conveying additional information; I request the reader, of whatever description he may be, not to confine his attention to the chapter appropriated to the station or profession to which he belongs; but to consider those chapters also which include the general duties of subjects, and the especial obligations of private and domestic life, as particularly addressed to himself. If I should be told that remarks and directions will still be found applied to persons of one description which equally appertain to those of another; instead of sheltering myself under the acknowledged impossibility of avoiding all defects in any undertaking, or pleading that the defect alleged is of no prominent magnitude, I might reply that it is a circumstance which I scarcely desire to be otherwise. For, as the matter now stands, even the cursory enquirer, who turns to a particular chapter from curiosity to know what is there stated concerning the profession of which it treats, though a profession in which he is not personally engaged; may chance to meet with observations, which he may perceive to be not altogether inapplicable to his own.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Item of the Day: A Fragment out of the sixth book of Polybius (1743)

Full Title: A Fragment out of the sixth book of Polybius, containing a dissertation upon government in general, particularly applied to that of the Romans, together with a description of the several powers of the consuls, Senate, and people of Rome, Translated from the Greek with notes. To which is prefixed a preface, wherein the system of Polybius is applied to the government of England: and, to the above-mentioned Fragment concerning the powers of the Senate, is annexed a Dissertation upon the constitution of it. By a Gentleman [Edward Spelman]. London: Printed by J. Bettenham, and sold by W. Meyer, 1743.

[Elements of the political beliefs of the 2nd-century historian Polybius are evident in the writings of the John Adams and in the debates among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. These would include the importance to a republic of a mixed government and a system of checks and balances. The text immediately below is taken from the preface of Spelman’s preface to the Fragment, and is followed by a translated excerpt of Polybius. This 1743 volume contains both the Greek and the English translation.]


Several Considerations led me to lay before the Publick a Translation of the following Fragment of Polybius: The Principal of which was, the very great Satisfaction I received, as an Englishman, in finding the whole Reasoning of that excellent Author as applicable to our own Constitution, as to That, for which it was intended.

The great Advantages flowing from the happy Temper, and equal Mixture of the three Orders, for which he so justly celebrates the Roman Government, are all to be found in our own; with this Circumstance in our Favour, that our Situation, as an Island, forbids us either to fear, or aim at Conquests; by the gaining, as well as the suffering of which, that political Harmony is in Danger of being destroyed: By the Spoils of conquered Nations Caesar was enabled to corrupt the Roman People, and bribe them to be the Instruments of their own Ruin, by erecting an absolute Monarchy in his Favour; which, growing, afterwards, wanton for Want of a Check from the other Orders, weak for Want of their Assistance, became, at last, a Prey to a barbarous Invader, often vanquished, and always despised, while the Balance of all Three was preserved.

If my Countrymen will attentively consider every Argument, made Use of by Polybius, to shew the Excellence of a Government founded on an equal Mixture of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, they will, I dare say, have the same Satisfaction I enjoyed; that is, they will find the System of Policy, laid down by that great Man, in the following Dissertation of the Constitution of the Romans, to be a Description of the Advantages enjoyed under That of England.

I would not be thought to say this in Flattery to the Government, under which I was born, and hope to pass the Remainder of my Life; not only my own Reason, but, what is of much greater Weight, even to my self, the Authority of the grates of Men of antiquity convinces me that a Government mixed like Those of Sparta, Rome and England, is, of all other, the easiest, the securest, and the happiest to live under. If any of us are insensible of the Blessings we enjoy, I must think it owing to our being accustomed to them; custom, I know, can both deaden the Sense of the greatest Misfortunes, and pall the Enjoyment of the greatest Blessings; and Custom may, possibly, make us view that State with Indifference, which all other Nations look upon with Envy. But this Indifference is far from being Epidemical; the Fears, the Jealousies of Innovations, all pardonable in a free Sate, however groundless, are to me a Proof, beyond Contradiction, that we love what we so much fear to lose. And how general must those Fears be, when it is popular only to pretend to fear? . . .
[Edward Spelman]

. . . What, therefore, are the Beginnings of Government, and from whence do they originally spring? When, either by a Deluge, a Pestilence, a Famine, or the like Calamity, such as we know have happened, and Reason teaches us will often happen again, the Race of Mankind is well night destroyed, and all their Institutions and Arts destroyed with them; from the few that are left, as from so many Seeds, a new Generation, in Process of Time, encreases [sic] to a Multitude; then it comes to pass, as in other Animals, so in Men, when they are got together (which it is reasonable to suppose they would be, as they are of the same Kind, by Reason of their natural weakness) that he, who excels in Strength of Body and Courage, must, of Necessity, gain the Command and Authority over the rest: And, as in Animals of other Kinds also, which are not influenced by Opinions, but by the Instinct of Nature alone, we observe the same Thing commonly falls out, This ought to be looked upon as the most genuine Work of Nature: Among these the strongest are, by common Consent, allowed to be the Masters; such as Bulls, wild Boars, Cocks, and Animals of the like Nature: In the same Manner, it is probable that Men also, when they first get together, like a Herd, are governed by those of the greatest Strength an Courage; the Measure of whose Power is Strength, and their Government, Monarchy. When the Individuals, thus assembled, by living together, become, through Time, habituated to one another, then is the Foundation laid for Kingly Government, and then do Mankind receive the first Tincture of Honour and Justice, and of their Opposites: the Notions of which are first formed in the following Manner. . . .

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Item of the Day: The Rights of the British Colonies (1764)

Full Title: The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved by James Otis, Esq. Boston: Printed and Sold by Edes and Gill, in Queen-Street, 1764.

Of the Origins of Government

The origin of government has in all ages no less perplexed the heads of lawyers and politicians, than the origin of evil has embarrassed divines and philosophers: And 'tis probable the world may receive a satisfactory solution on both those points of enquiry at the same time.

The various opinions on the origin of government have been reduced to four. 1. That dominion is founded in Grace. 2. On force or meer power. 3. On compact. 4. On property.

The first of these opinions is so absurd, and the world has paid so very dear for embracing it, especially under the administration of the roman pontiffs, that mankind seem at this day to be in a great measure cured of their madness in this particular; and the notion is pretty generally exploded, and his'd off the stage.

To those who lay the foundation of government in force and meer brutal power, it is objected; that, their system destroys all distinction between right and wrong; that it overturns all morality, and leaves it to every man to do what is right in his own eyes; that it leads directly to scepticism, and ends in atheism. When a man's will and pleasure is his only rule and guide, what safety can there be either for him or against him, but in the point of a sword?

On the other hand the gentlemen in favor of the original compact have been often told that their system is chimerical and unsupported by reason or experience. Questions like the following have been frequently asked them, and may be again.

"When and where was the original compact for introducing government into any society, or for creating a society, made? Who were present and parties to such compact? Who acted for infants and women, or who appointed guardians for them? Had these guardians power to bind both infants and women during life, and their posterity after them? Is it in nature or reason that a guardian should by his own act perpetuate his power over his ward, and bind him and his posterity in chains? Is not every man born as free by nature as his father? Has he not the same natural right to think and act and contract for himself? Is it possible for a man to have a natural right to make a slave of himself or of his posterity? Can a father supersede the laws of nature? What man is or ever was born free, if every man is not? What will there be to distinguish the next generation of men from their forefathers, that they should not have had the same right to make original compacts as their ancestors had? If every man and woman born or to be born has, and will have, a right to be consulted, and must accede to the original compact before they can with any kind of justice be said to be bound by it, will not the compact be every forming and never finished, ever making but never done? Can it with propriety be called a compact original or derivative, that is ever in treaty but never concluded?"

. . .

There are other questions which have been started, and a resolution of them demanded, which may perhaps be deemed indecent by those who hold the prerogatives of an earthly monarch, and even the power of a plantation government, so sacred as to think it little less than blasphemy to enquire into their origin and foundation: while the government of the supreme ruler of the universe is every day discussed with less ceremony and decency than the administration of a petty German prince. I hope the reader will consider that I am present only mentioning such questions as have been put by high-flyers & others in church and state, who would exclude all compact between a Sovereign and his people, without offering my own sentiments upon them; this however I presume I may be allowed hereafter to do without offence. Those who want a full answer to them may consult Mr. Locke's discourses on government, M. De Vattel's law of nature and nations, and their own consciences.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Item of the Day: Travels through Germany. Vol. I. (1768)

Full Title: Travels through Germany. Containing observations on customs, manners, religion, government, commerce, arts and antiquities. With a particular account of the Courts of Mecklenburg. In a series of letters to a friend, by Thomas Nugent. Embellished with elegant cuts of the palaces and gardens of the Dukes of Mecklenburg. Vo. I. London: Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, 1768.

The following letters were committed to the press, exactly in their native simplicity. This, perhaps, has occasioned a few repetitions, and a recital of particulars, which may appear uninteresting to some readers. The author, however, on submitting them to public view, did not chuse to make any alteration in their dress; this would have too much the appearance of art; and letters to a friend, such as these, should discover none. They are the effusions of a heart warmed with sentiments of affection. The taste of readers is various; and what appears minute and trifling to many, is to others, at least, a matter of entertainment. The author’s design in going abroad, was to improve his History of Vandalia, by investigating things at the fountain-head. This has induced him carefully to study the various scenes of life, and the humours and characters of men, from the prince to the cotager; agreeably to the words of a very ingenious female traveler*, Pour connoitre au vrai le moeurs des pais, nous examinons les cabanes. If we view things in a philosophical light, are not the occupations of the farmer, the gardener, and the artificer, as instructive and interesting a subject, as plays, operas, and other fashionable entertainments? These the author, however, has not omitted, when they came in his way, merely in compliance with the prevailing taste. A traveler generally makes himself the hero of his piece, by reciting his hardships and sufferings . . . the author has followed the example of his predecessors; and if this has sometimes rendered him too personal, he humbly hopes for the reader’s indulgence. Though no poet, he is an admirer of the Muses, and has been naturally led to intersperse these Letters with several passages from our best writers, which helped to sooth some toilsome scenes, and, perhaps, will contribute to enliven the narration. This is all he thinks proper to mention by way of apology; the necessity of any farther preface is superseded by the beginning of the first letter.

*Madam de Boccage.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Item of the Day: The Letters of Governor Hutchinson (1774)

Full Title: The Letters of Governor Hutchinson, and Lieut. Gover Oliver, &c., Printed at Boston, 1774.

Boston, August 1768

. . .

It is very necessary other information should be had in England of the present state of the commissioners of the customs than what common same will bring to you, or what you will receive from most of the letters which go from hence, people in general being prejudiced by many false reports and misrepresentations concerning them. Seven eights of the people of the country suppose the board itself to be unconstitutional, and cannot be undeceived and brought to believe that a board has existed in England all this century, and that the board established here has no new powers given to it. Our incendiaries know it, but they industriously and very wickedly publish the contrary. As much pains have been taken to prejudice the country against the persons of the Commissioners, and their characters have been misrepresented and cruelly treated, especially since their confinement at the Castle, were they are not so likely to hear what is said of them, and are not so able to confute it.

It is now pretended they need not to have withdrawn, that Mr. Williams had stood his ground without any injury, although the mob beset his house, etc. There never was that spirit raised against the under officers as against the Commissioners, I mean four of them. They had a public affront offered them by the town of Boston, who refused to give the use of their hall for a public dinner, unless it was stipulated that the Commissioners should not be invited. An affront of the same nature at the motion of Mr. Hancock was offered by a company of cadets. Soon after a vessel of Mr. Hancock's being seized, the officers were mobb'd, and the Commissioners were informed they were threatened. I own I was in pain for them. I do not believe if the mob had seized them, there was any authority able and willing to have rescued them. After they had withdrawn, the town signified to the Governor by a message that it was pected or desired they should not return. It was then the general voice that it would not be safe for them to return. After all this, the sons of liberty say they deserted or abdicated.

The other officers of the customs in general either did not leave the town, or soon returned to it. Some of them seem to be discontented with the Commissioners. Great pains have been taken to increase the discontent. Their office by these means is rendered extremely burdensome. Everything they do is found fault with, and yet no particular illegality or even irregularity mentioned. Thee is too much hauteur, some of their officers say, in the treatment they receive. They say, they treat their officers as the Commissioners treat their officers in England, and require no greater deference. After all, it is not the persons, but the office of the Commissioners which has raised this spirit, and the distinction made between the commissioners, is because it has been given out that four of them were in favour of the new establishment, and the fifth was not. If Mr. Hallowell arrived safe, he can inform you many circumstances relative to this distinction, which I very willingly excuse myself from mentioning.

I know of no burden brought upon the fair trader by the new establishment. The illicit trader finds the risk greater than it used to be, especially in the port where the board is constantly held. Another circumstance which increases the prejudice is this; the new duties happen to take place just about the time the commissioners arrived. People have absurdly connected the duties and Board of Commissioners, and suppose we should have had no additional duties, if there had been no Board to have the charge of collecting them. With all the aid you can give to the officers of the crown, they will have enough to do to maintain the authority of government, and to carry the laws into execution. If they are discountenanced, neglected, or fail of support from you, they must submit to every thing the present opposers of government think fit to require of them.

There is no office under greater discouragements than that of the commissioners. Some of my friends recommended me to the ministry. I think myself very happy that I am not one. Indeed it would have been incompatible with my post as chief justice, and I must have declined it, and I should do it although no greater salary had been affixed to the chief justice's place, than the small pittance allowed by the province.

From my acquaintance with the Commissioners I have conceived a personal esteem for them, but my chief inducement to make this representation to you, is a regard to the public interest, which I am sure will suffer if the opposition carry their point against them.

I am, with very great esteem, Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,

August 10. Yesterday at a meeting of the merchants, it was agreed by all present to give no more orders for goods from England, not receive any on commission until the late acts are repealed. And it is said all except sixteen in the town have subscribed an engagement to that tenor. I hope the subscription will be printed, that I may transmit it to you.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Item of the Day: Carey’s Pennsylvania Evening Herald and The American Monitor (1785)

Full Title: The Pennsylvania Evening Herald, and the American Monitor. Vol. I. No. 47. [Philadelphia] 6 July 6 1785.

Regular bred Physician, having
had his tuition on Montpelier
for a considerable time,
Being a resident of the city of Philadelphia for upwards of five years, has had many opportunities of being employed in the way of his profession, and hopes, to those who were pleased to employ him, he has given such proofs of his abilities as will be an inducement to them, from the relief they may have experienced by the use of his medicines, to recommend him to their friends and the public in general; to whom he will ever be studious to give the greatest satisfaction, agreeable to their complaints.

He begs leave to inform the public, that, among many other diseases too tedious to enumerate in a method of this kind, he will infallibly (under God’s mercy) perform the following cures, viz. the venereal disease, if increased to the last degree; the cancer, king’s evil, the wen, all kinds of ulcers, the rheumatism, gout, any kind of tetter, the leprosy, and all the maladies which to some might appear incurable.

Likewise, said Doctor will restore the sight to any person unhappily afflicted by blindness caused from a cataract on the eye, performed by a delicate operation. –He has a most marvelous eye-water of his own composition, to cure or prevent cold in sore eyes. –He has compounded a balsam, which infallibly cures consumptive disorders from the first, second, third, and perhaps fourth degree, as several can affirm during his residence in this city; likewise a number of other compounds for different maladies, such as the elixir for curing the stomach-ach, or cholic, often so dangerous to numbers of people; hypochondriac and hysteric disorders attending either male or female, which is most excellent for.

Said Doctor likewise begs leave to inform the public, that he has been happily successful in curing the fever and ague, which numbers can testify from the benefit they have received by his prescription. –He thinks fit to insert prices according to the age of the patient, viz. from two to seven years old, 8s. from 7 to 15, 15s. from 15 upwards, 30s. He will give proper directions for taking all his medicines, according to the complaint of the patient. He destroys all kinds of worms in infants or grown people, and prepares a plaister that will infallibly cure children afflicted with a lax and pukeing, a disorder which has brought many children to the grave. –He will consult those who please to favour him with their confidence upon any kind of malady, three days in the week, viz. on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturday in the mornings from six to ten o’clock, and in the evenings from two to five.

Said Dr. Goss will have three convenient places for the reception of patients, and will give strict attention to all who shall favour him with their confidence.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Item of the Day: Miscellany Politicks. For the Farmer’s Weekly Museum. (1798)

Full Title: “Miscellany Politicks. For the Farmer’s Weekly Museum.” The Farmer’s Weekly Museum: Newhampshire and Vermont Journal. Vol. V. No. 251. [Walpole, New Hampshire] 23 January 1798.

[The Farmer’s Weekly Museum was printed by David Carlisle, Jr. and edited by Joseph Dennie. This serial was continued under the title “The Farmers’ Museum, or. Lay Preacher’s Gazette." The following excerpt is signed “PLAIN TRUTH.”]



In proportion as publick opinion is right or wrong, the sound principles of our constitution will be cherished, and the wise measures of our government supported by the citizens; or, on the contrary, false and erroneous principles will bring in bad men, and bad measures are sure to follow.

It is the undoubted and uniform tendency of every revolution to propagate, at least during the heat of contest, a violent democratick spirit, which is seldom friendly to rational liberty, while it lasts, and is almost always fatal to it., when it expires. For nothing is more likely first to discredit, and then ruin a good cause, than carrying its principles to extremes. The forlorn and almost desperate condition of French liberty is an example still reeking in blood, still smoking in ruins before the eyes of mankind. No statesmen ever talked fairer, no men ever acted worse. No theories were ever wrought with a smoother polish, or glittered more with the mock diamonds and tinsel of philosophy; and never did the servile maxims of despotism, and the rage of tyrants inflict a more diffusive and pestiferous curse upon a nation.

We are more astonished at the contrast between theories and measures, between prophecies and events, between the same men demagogues and tyrants, than we ought to be. We overlook, or want patience to apply the known laws of the human character and passions, and the unvaried testimony of history.

It has been hinted, and the writer has not the smallest hesitation in asserting, that the tendency of publick opinion has been often MUCH TOO DEMOCRATICK in the United States. The unexpended heat of our revolution and the scorching and blasting reflection from that of France have not permitted the American republick to enjoy that uninterrupted health, which many, were led to anticipate, from the soundness of its temperament, and the prudent exactness of its regimen. The publick pulse has been many times feverish, and the nervous system irritable to a degree, that indicates a morbid leaven of democracy in the blood. The Shays and whisky insurgents, successfully assumed democratick principles, as equally true and popular, and endeavoured, thank heaven in vain, to excite an enthusiastick zeal to sustain them. The decline of this fiery spirit will be lamented by those, who cannot conceive that the love of liberty exists, if it be not exalted to fury. With them it is not a right, a dictate of reason, but a passion, equally sanguinary and stupid; sanguinary, because it neither discerns, nor approves any, but violent means, and , stupid, because, if left to itself, is sure to destroy its object. Accordingly, we hear the Democrats affecting to lament the supposed extinction of the spirit of 1776, as if there were no reason for repose, when the struggle is over. When resistance ceases, the passions must subside, nor is it in nature for them to keep up. It would be well for us if the revolutionary fervour had actually passed off. However necessary it may be for the security of liberty, when it is endangered, it disturbs the tranquil possession when it is not. Every popular ferment bewilders the judgment of those, whom it affects, and is the fruitful sources of the most obstinate errours. A man in a passion is not the best reasoner; and why should the Democrats imagine that the nation cannot reason, unless it raves, or that we are all in a lethargy, because we are not in a frenzy; yet who cares less for 1776 than they, for they would yield independence, now it is won, to France, and Washington, John Adams, Jay, Hamilton, Knox, Pickering, the Pinckneys, and the chief patriots of that day, are their abhorrence.

Times of publick convulsion certainly give an energy to the national character. –They call forth heroes and martyrs; at present we have not occasion for either. All the passions, which it is the business of laws in quiet times to refrain, then taking the ascendant, become the virtues of the day, and clamorous for indulgence. When men are taught to hold their own lives cheap, and its pleasures are spurned, as bringing dishonour in their allurements; when they are in the habit of spilling blood, as if they spilt water; when they taste the sweetness of revenge, and enjoy the luxury of inflicting on their foes the pain, and want, and wounds, that they themselves suffer, are they then and then only, qualified to be Republicans? As well as a raging fever may be called health, or fanaticism be confounded with true devotion. . . .


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Item of the Day: Hannah More's Tales for the Common People (1801)

Full Title: The Works of Hannah More, in Eight Volumes; including several pieces never before published. Vol. V. “Tales for the Common People.” London: Printed by A. Strahan for T. Cadell Jun. and w. Davis, 1801.


To improve the habits, and raise the principles of the common people, at a time when their dangers and temptations, moral and political, were multiplied beyond the example of any former period, was the motive which impelled the Author of these volumes to devise and prosecute the institution of the Cheap Repository. This plan was established with an humble wish, not only to counteract vice and profligacy on the one hand, but error, discontent, and false religion on the other. And as an appetite for reading had, from a variety of causes, been increasing among the inferior ranks in this country, it was judged expedient, at this critical period, to supply such wholesome aliment as might give a new direction to their taste, and abate their relish for those corrupt and inflammatory publications which the consequences of the French Revolution have been so fatally pouring in upon us.

The success of the plan exceeded the most sanguine expectation of its projector. Above two millions of the Tracts were sold within the first year, besides very large numbers in Ireland; and they continue to be very extensively circulated, in their original form of single Tracts, by Evans, in Long-lane, West Smithfield, Hatchard in Piccadilly, and Hazard in Bath, as well as in three bound volumes sold by Rivington, Hatchard, and all other booksellers.

As these stories, though principally, are not calculated exclusively for the middle and lower classes of society, the Author had, at the desire of her friends, selected those which were written by herself, and presented them to the public in this collection of her works, in an enlarged and improved form.

  • The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain: In Two Parts.
  • The Two Shoemakers: In Six Parts.
  • The History of Tom White the Postboy: In Two Parts.
  • The History of Hester Wilmot: In Two Parts; being the Sequel to the Sunday School.
  • The Grand Assize, or General Goal Delivery: An Allegory.
  • The Servant Man turned Soldier: An Allegory.
  • The History of Betty Brown the St. Giles Orange Girl, with some Account of Mrs. Sponge the Money-Lender.
  • Black Giles the Poacher: In Two Parts. Containing some Account of a Family who had rather live by their Wits than their Work.
  • Tawney Rachel; or, The Fortune-teller; with some Account of Dreams, Omens, and Conjurers.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Item of the Day: Geographia Antiqua Delineata (1775)

Full Title: Geographia Antiqua Delineata; or, Antient Geography, Exhibited in a Set of Thirty-one Maps: Comprehending all the Several States of Greece, and the Numerous Parts of the Roman Empire, contained in the Greek and Latin Classicks, viz. Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Eutropius, Corn. Nepos, Justin, Quin. Curtius, Sallust, Livy, Caesar, Plutarch, Xenophon, Herodotus, and Others. To which is added, A Map of the Places Mentioned in the Old and New Testament. The Whole Containing Several Hundred Places not laid down in Former Publications, with their Numerous Errors rectified. Designed for use of Schools. By Sol. Bolton; and engraved by the late Mr. Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King. London: Printed for R. Sayer, and J. Bennett, map and print sellers, 1775.


The utility of the following collection of Maps, is too obvious to need any apology for their appearance, as the great omissions and considerable errors in all former collections for the use of Students, render it absolutely necessary to have a complete and correct set published; which was in great forwardness before the death of the Editor, since when it has been finished with as great care and exactness as their size will admit of. They are designed chiefly for the Students of Universities, and gentlemen of learned academies, to whom, their time being employed in literature with Greek and Latin authors, a correct set of Antient Maps cannot but be entertaining, useful, and improving.

All gentlemen who make their studies regular, will endeavour to be masters of the ancient geography, at the same time they study the modern; because the present system of maps and charts can be imperfectly useful without a collection of Antient ones to explain, not only what we read in the Jewish history, and Bible geopgaphy, but the multitude of places, and remarkable events, that we observe in perusing the celebrated works of Greek and Roman authors; and consequently Justin, Nepos, Sallust, Caesar, and Livy, have been, in our schools, taught with as much success as Terence, Virgil, Horace, and Cicero. And notwithstanding care has been taken to explain, by notes, in school-books, the names of hills, rivers, and cities; pointing out what kingdom or province they are situated in, yet for want of draughts to describe these kingdoms, and their divisions into provinces, neither the distance nor the respective situations of the places want of which distinction great confusion must necessarily arise in the mind. For which reason, to all the valuable editions of such schools-book as have wanted them, maps have been added; but as these editions have been necessarily held at so great a price, as not to be easily obtained for the youth at schools, for whom it was needful to print editions of a cheaper sort, so consequently in them these helps were omitted; to supply which this collection of Maps of the Antient World, and of such parts of it chiefly as are mentioned in the Classic Authors, is designed; wherein are described the chief citi4es, towns, rivers, and mountains, in as perfect a manner as so confined a size will admit; whereby the scholar will be able, by inspection, to see their situations, and, observing that each degree in the scale on the sides of the maps, contains about 60 miles, he may, in some tolerable manner, judge of their distance from each other.

  1. A Map of the World, as known to the Antients.
  2. The World, with Greece and Italy, according to Justin.
  3. Ancient Greece, in its whole Extent.
  4. Hellas, or Greece, with the Kingdom of Croefus, according to Herodotus.
  5. The Roman Empire, at its Beginning, according to Florus.
  6. The Roman Empire in its growing State, according to Florus.
  7. The Roman Empire, according to the Commentaries of Caesar.
  8. The Roman Empire, according to Lucan.
  9. The Roman Empire at its highest State, in the Reign of Trajan.
  10. The conquests made my Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, according to Plutarch, ante Christum 280.
  11. The Expedition of Hannibal into Italy, ante Christum 216.
  12. A View of the Civil War between Pompey and Caesar.
  13. The African War, according to Julius Caesar.
  14. Syria, and Assyria, according to Ptolemy and others.
  15. The Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.
  16. The Persian Empire, divided by Darius Hystaspis into 20 Provinces.
  17. The Return of so many of the 10,000 Greeks as survived the Battle of Cunaxa, according to Xenophon, ante Christum 400.
  18. The several Expeditions of Alexander the Great, according to Q. Curtius, Arrian, and others, ante Christum 330.
  19. The Dominions that were subdued by Demetrius Poliorcester, whose father, Antigonus, was killed at the Battle of Ipsus, in Phrygia.
  20. The Compass of the Trojan war, according to Dirtys and Dares, ante Christum 1184.
  21. The Navigation of Ulysses, according to Homer, from his Birthplace Ithaca, to the Siege of Troy.
  22. The Navigation of Aeneas from Troy to Rome, according to Dionysius.
  23. The Navigation of Aeneas, according to Virgil.
  24. The Expeditions of Agesilaus, King of Sparta, according to Xenophon.
  25. Antient Gaul, according to Caesar.
  26. Boeetica, or the South Part of Spain, as described by Caesar, in the Spanish War.
  27. Places mentioned in the Church History of Eusebius.
  28. Lybia, according to Herodotus.
  29. Egypt, according to Herodotus.
  30. The Journeyings of the Israelites mentioned in the Mosaick History. Also the Land of Canaan, shewing the Divisions of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the most remarkable Places in Joshua and Judges.
  31. The Extent of St. Paul’s Travels, mentioned in the New Testaments.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Samuel Johnson and Metaphorical Propriety

The following essay is by Jason Turetsky of the College of Staten Island, who tied for first place in the 2006 Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Contest. Congratulations to Jason!

Samuel Johnson and Metaphorical Propriety

There is a famous passage in Samuel Johnson’s Life of Denham which has confused critics and produced a variety of interpretations. I.A. Richards, Allen Tate, Jean Hagstrum and William Edinger, have tried to decipher the passage. I will consider the comments of each in an attempt to arrive at some sound conclusions about the meaning of Johnson’s statement. It is my view that this difficult passage, if read properly, will help to establish a better understanding of Johnson’s concept of metaphorical propriety.

Johnson analyzes the following lines from Sir John Denham’s “Cooper’s Hill”:

O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream

My great example, as it is my theme!

Though deep, yet clear: though gentle, yet not dull;

Strong without rage, without o’erflowing full. (qtd. in Lives 34)

Johnson admires the passage but qualifies his praise with the following criticism:

The lines are in themselves not perfect; for most of the words, thus artfully opposed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphorically on the other; and if there be any language which does not express intellectual operations by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. (34-35)

The cryptic formulation of Johnson’s language has vexed his readers for a long time. The confusion partly results from Johnson’s decision to treat the tenor of the conceit as the “intellectual operations” of the poet rather than poetic style.1 Poetic style is evaluated by its effect on the listener. It is a result of the oral effects and aural impressions of diction, syntax and meter. This is distinguished from “intellectual operations,” or purely cognitive processes, which are understood abstractly. In the Life of Cowley, Johnson uses the same phrase in an apparent binary sense: “They neither copied nature nor life; neither painted the forms of matter nor represented the operations of the intellect” (9). This pronouncement suggests that Johnson may have considered any non-material activity or process, such as the flow of a poem, to be an “intellectual operation.” Nonetheless, poetic style is far more analogous to the flow of a river insofar as its effects are realized through sense experience. Poetic style therefore can be aligned with material processes more easily than can pure thought or cognition. The problem with the conceit is that Denham’s tenor seems to alternate between poetic style and mental process. Denham invokes the river as a model for the “flow” of his poetic style; yet his first descriptive clause, “Though deep, yet clear,” suggests a profound mind rather than a smooth poetic style. Certainly the imaginative faculty, from which poetic style flows, may be considered as an operation of the intellect. And since Denham initially seems to describe the mind, Johnson’s treatment of the tenor as “intellectual operations” is perhaps understandable. But after the initial descriptive clause, the rest of the terms all apply to style far more directly than if they were applied to the intellect.

If we consider Johnson’s own analytical style, as exemplified in the Lives of the Poets, we find that he exhibits a critical habit of mind very similar to Denham’s method in the Thames conceit. Johnson’s tendency in his moral and critical writings to use parallel and antithetical constructions to separate praiseworthy qualities from their corresponding faults accounts for his high estimation of the passage. According to Johnson, “…[T]he particulars of resemblance are so perspicaciously collected, and every mode of excellence separated from its adjacent fault by so nice a line of limitation; the different parts of the sentence are so accurately adjusted… (35). This principle of analysis is prevalent in the Lives of the Poets. In the memorable, encomiastic closing to the Life of Addison, Johnson describes his style as “familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious” (248). In the Life of Milton, speaking of the poet’s depiction of Adam and Eve, Johnson states, “In the first state, their affection is tender without weakness, and their piety sublime without presumption” (72). Johnson uses this style for negative criticism as well, as in Life of Cowley, where he complains of the “metaphysical poets”: “Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just” (9). In the Life of Pope, Johnson says of Warburton’s poetry, “His style is copious without selection, and forcible without neatness” (403). In each example, we see Johnson using antithesis in a manner similar to Denham’s. In the last example, his descriptive words are very similar in meaning to those used by Denham. “Forcible without neatness” is essentially an inverted version of Denham’s “strong without rage.” “Copious without selection,” is almost a perfect analogue, though constructed as a negative, to Denham’s “without o’er-flowing full.” In light of Johnson’s negative comments, Tate suggests, “His remark that the ‘particulars of resemblance are perspicaciously collected,’ seems incomprehensible” (91). But if we consider Johnson’s own tendency to separate “mode[s] of excellence” from “adjacent fault[s],” it is not difficult to see why Johnson admired Denham’s lines. The confusing part of Johnson’s comment is the criticism.

Before we can assess Johnson’s exact meaning, we must determine what he refers to when he uses the word “comparison.” William Edinger supposes that the “comparison” Johnson refers to is the antithesis of terms in each clause. He correctly points out, “The words ‘artfully opposed’ include ‘deep’ versus ‘clear,’ ‘gentle’ versus ‘not dull,’ ‘strong’ versus ‘without rage,’ and ‘full’ versus ‘without o’erflowing’” (597). This point is obvious enough, but he proceeds to the questionable conclusion that the “comparison” Johnson refers to is each antithesis taken individually. According to Edinger, “If Johnson’s observation that one side of each comparison is to be understood ‘simply’ i.e., literally, and the other side metaphorically were true of all, then ‘deep,’ ‘gentle,’ ‘strong,’ and ‘full’ would describe the Thames, while ‘clear,’ ‘not dull,’ ‘without rage,’ and ‘without o’erflowing’ would only describe qualities of style, Denham’s ‘tenor.’” (598). Here Edinger has interpreted Johnson’s statement to mean that, in each antithesis the first term literally applies to the river and the second term metaphorically applies to the intellect. He goes on to say, “Johnson does not, however, make this claim, saying only that ‘most’ of the antitheses are to be understood in this way. An unmistakable instance is ‘gentle, not dull,’ where gentle can apply both to the river and to style… but dull can apply only to style… Other instances are more open to question (598).” Edinger’s assumption that Johnson refers to the antitheses when he uses the word “comparison” leads him to a shaky interpretation. He acknowledges that only one of the four “comparisons” seems to legitimately fit his reading of Johnson’s comment. And he does seem to recognize the problem when, to support his reading, he points out that Johnson qualifies his statement by saying that “most” of the words function this way. Even with Johnson’s qualification, Edinger would have to demonstrate that more than one of the antithetical clauses can clearly exemplify his reading. One out of four comparisons would not justify Johnson’s use of the term “most.” It seems doubtful that Johnson is censuring Denham, as Edinger supposes, for a failure of the visual side of the metaphor to afford images.

Edinger’s problematic reading proceeds from a mistaken interpretation of the word “comparison.” He is perhaps confused by the structure of Johnson’s sentence. Following the implied logic of apposition, Edinger assumes Johnson’s insertion of the qualifying phrase “thus artfully opposed” implies that the comparison he refers to is each individual antithesis formed by the artful opposition of terms. A more reasonable conclusion is that the “comparison” Johnson refers to is the whole conceit—the comparison of the river with the poet’s style. The two sides of the comparison are not the first and second term of each antithesis, but rather the vehicle on one side and the tenor on the other: the river and the poet’s style.

If we accept that Johnson means the entire conceit when he refers to the “comparison,” we see that, in Johnson’s view, most of the words in Denham’s conceit are literally applicable to the river but only figuratively describe the intellect. As we’ve already considered, the tenor of the conceit is more appropriately thought of as poetic style, with the exception of the first descriptive clause which would seem to apply to the mind; nonetheless, I will take Johnson on his own terms—as Tate, Hagstrum and Richards have each done in their respective discussions of the passage—in an attempt to elucidate his meaning and infer a principle from it. Johnson’s criticism suggests that the ground of the comparison is obscure because Denham’s conceit employs a vehicle to elucidate a tenor which is already figurative. For Johnson, this represents an impropriety in the structure of the analogical relationship of the metaphorical components because that which is figurative, the intellect or imagination, is transferred over to an image, the river, where the descriptive terms have a different literal meaning.

Jean Hagstrum interprets Johnson’s criticism in terms of Addison’s concept of “mixed wit” (121). According to Addison, “Mixt Wit… is a Composition of Punn and true Wit, and is more or less perfect as the Resemblance lies in the Ideas or in the Words” (252). His examples are taken from passages where poets have formed metaphors based on the common use of “fire” and “flame” as figures for the passion of love. He states, “…[T]he Poet mixes the Qualities of Fire with those of Love; and in the same Sentence speaking of it both as a Passion and as real Fire, surprises the Reader with those seeming Resemblances or Contradictions that make up all the Wit in this kind of Writing” (251-52). Johnson was influenced by Addison’s theories about metaphor and quoted his comments on “mixed wit” in the Life of Cowley (20). The concept of “mixed wit” is helpful in understanding Johnson’s critique of Denham because in Denham’s metaphor the descriptive terms, which form the comparison, function simultaneously on both sides of the analogy. For a resemblance to be found, as Addison supposes, in the words, the metaphor must employ the same words in different senses on both sides of the metaphor. It is important to recognize the difference between a pun, which Addison terms “false wit,” which is simply an accidental coincidence of language, and an instance of “mixed wit,” where the double entendre is formed by a secondary, figurative sense of the word that proceeds from a perceived resemblance to its primary meaning (250). This form of wit is “mixed” rather than “false” in Addison’s view because there is in fact a partial correspondence between the two meanings without which the figurative sense would not have arisen. Furthermore, Addison acknowledges the possibility of a mixed-wit metaphor having propriety when he states that such a metaphor “is more or less perfect as the Resemblance lies in the Ideas or in the Words” (emphasis added). Based on this concept, Hagstrum argues, “The assertion about the river is clear; but the assertion about the poet himself is not… [N]o words in the comparison literally and clearly explain the poet’s mental operations” (121). Allen Tate similarly suggests, “The imperfection… lies in its failure to work both ways; that is, the qualities that Denham would like to achieve cannot be found literally in the river” (91). Addison’s theory, which defines a specific type of metaphor in which the analogy is partly true and partly a verbal felicity, provides a plausible basis for Johnson’s criticism of Denham’s lines. The crux problem he detects is that words like “deep,” “clear,” “gentle,” “strong,” “o’erflowing,” and “full” have literal meanings in a material context, but the abstract transference of those terms into an immaterial context, such as creative processes of the intellect, requires the terms to function figuratively. The terms must perform a double role, with literal meaning on one side of the conceit and figurative meaning on the other. Understood in terms of “mixed wit,” the analogy is built partly upon puns that exploit the double meanings of the descriptive terms. What is said of the river is said of the poet’s style; the illusion of analogical correspondence is created by the double meaning of each descriptive term. A degree of correspondence in the nature of the two things may exist, but the poet has only hinted at such a correspondence.

Tate construes Johnson’s complaint the following way: “The tenor of the figure, in order to be convincing, ought to have translatability into a high degree of abstraction; it ought to be detachable from the literal image of the flowing river” (91). This means that all of the descriptive terms should literally apply to the immaterial side of the conceit. Johnson’s judgment that the lines are imperfect reveals something important about his idea of metaphorical propriety. His remarks on “Cooper’s Hill,” implicitly demand a strictly literal correspondence in any metaphor that compares material and immaterial processes. The problem with this stricture is that the ground of a comparison of physical and mental operations cannot achieve a perfectly literal correspondence because qualities of the intellect cannot be visualized or understood by the senses except through the use of figurative language. Even if we treat Denham’s tenor as poetic style and distinguish that from “intellectual operations,” the difference is only a matter of degree. A phrase like “without o’erflowing, full” may be more directly applicable to style than to the intellect, but it is still somewhat figurative. It is not as literal in reference to style as it is in reference to the river. As Richards suggests, “…[M]etaphor is the omnipresent principle of language” (Philosophy 92). It is precisely this facility with which we revert to figurative language which Johnson mistrusts in the structure of metaphors such as Denham’s, where words are pressed into functioning both literally and figuratively at the same time. We inherently rely on figurative language in describing the processes of the mind. Johnson recognizes this and expects the poet to observe a greater degree of care and clarity in his use of figurative language when the objective is to exemplify an unexpected but accurate resemblance of different entities.

The problem with Johnson’s idea of metaphoric literalism is that all languages “express intellectual operations by material images.” This is precisely why Johnson’s hypothetical language, which does not express operations of the intellect in material images, is only hypothetical. Abstract terminology results from the human intellect’s ability to grasp intuitively a resemblance of immaterial qualities of the mind to the material processes of the physical world. As Richards points out, “...[H]istorians of language have long taught that we can find no word or description for any of the intellectual operations which, if its history is known, is not seen to have been taken, by metaphor, from a description of some physical happening” (Philosophy 91). This is precisely the point which renders Johnson’s criticism of Denham’s lines problematic and necessitates his use of a hypothetical language devoid of figures of speech to elucidate his point. The words we use exclusively in reference to mental qualities have been so distinctly separated from their original literal meaning that we mistake their abstract meanings for primary ones. Johnson himself offers a pertinent reflection on this feature of language in the preface to his Dictionary of the English Language:

The original sense of words is often driven out of use by their metaphorical acceptations, yet must be inserted for the sake of a regular origination. Thus I know not whether ardour is used for material heat, or whether flagrant, in English, ever signifies the same with burning; yet such are the primitive ideas of these words, which are therefore set first, though without examples, that the figurative senses may be commodiously deduced. (b3 recto)

A perfect example of this would be the word Johnson uses to praise the manner in which Denham’s “resemblances” are collected: “perspicaciously.” It is incidentally noteworthy that two of the first three examples of the word “perspicaciously” in the OED are from Johnson. The third example is the exact sentence which I am currently discussing from the “Life of Denham.” The OED defines “perspicacious” as follows: “Of eyes, sight, etc.: keen, sharp; clear-sighted. Chiefly fig.” (def. 1); “Of a person, wit, etc.: penetrating; perceptive, discerning.” (def. 2); “Clear, transparent. Obs. rare.” (def. 3). Definition 2 is an abstract application of the term which relies on other abstract terms taken from material processes, such as “penetrating,” “perceptive” and “discerning” to define its meaning. The etymological entry also displays the word’s original denotation of a physical, sense-related process:

[<>perspicc-, perspicx having keen or penetrating sight, discerning (< perspicere to see through, look closely into, discern, perceive (see PERSPECTIVE adj.) + -x: see -ACIOUS suffix) + -IOUS suffix.

Another particularly pertinent example of this relationship between material and abstract terminology can be seen in one of the problem words from Denham’s conceit discussed earlier: “dull.” As I noted, Edinger suggests that the word “dull,” as it is used in Denham’s conceit, only applies to the intellect. Richards, on the other hand suggests that the term describes the river literally but the intellect only derivatively (121). The disagreement over the signification of “dull” in Denham’s line suggests the reciprocity of mental and physical qualities. Common usage can easily give rise to a material application of a term where the common signification is mental. Here is the OED’s first definition for “dull”: “Not quick in intelligence or mental perception; slow of understanding; not sharp of wit; obtuse, stupid, inapprehensive. In early use, sometimes: Wanting wit, fatuous, foolish” (def. 1). Here too, we see how an apparently abstract term is inherently reliant upon material images to elucidate its meaning. The OED definition employs physical terms, such as “quick”, “slow” and “sharp” to explain the mental signification of “dull,” supporting Richards’s contention about the physical origin of abstract terms. Also supporting Richards’ interpretation of the word “dull” as descriptive of the river, here is the OED’s third entry for “dull”: “Slow in motion or action; not brisk; inert, sluggish, inactive; heavy, drowsy” (def. 3a). And the following example is cited from Spenser, where “dull” is applied to moving water: “Thenceforth her waters wexed dull and slow” (def. 3a). Johnson himself quotes this same passage from Spenser to exemplify the sixth entry for “dull” in his Dictionary.

The figurative, verbal structure of the analogy which Johnson recognizes is apparent, but Johnson’s judgment that the lines are thus imperfect indicates a narrow view of metaphorical decorum. The ingenuity of Denham’s metaphor is in the use of an image that allows him to exemplify the relational aspects of the intellectual qualities he aspires to. Richards suggests, “What the lines say of the mind is something that does not come from the river. But the river is not a mere excuse, or a decoration only, a gilding of the moral pill. The vehicle is still controlling the mode in which the tenor forms” (Philosophy 122-23). By this he means that although an overly scrupulous reading of the conceit would recognize a lack of perfect analogical propriety in the terms of the metaphor, the arrangement and structure of the metaphor is such that the relations of the terms on both sides of the conceit make sense to the reader. The fidelity of the analogy is not found in the terms taken individually but in the antithetical relations of the terms to each other. The bottom of the river is mysterious as is the bottom of a profound idea. Just as the river’s clearness is all the more surprising considered in relation to its depth, a profound intellect is all the more impressive for its ability to express itself lucidly. This relation can only be visualized in the image of the river, but the tenuous relation of depth and clarity—the difficulty of achieving both—may be appropriately applied to the river and the intellect in a way that is acceptable and even felicitous by Johnson’s standards. Similarly, the river is “strong, without rage.” This means that the river flows powerfully but stays within the limit of its banks. Similarly, Denham’s ideal style of poetic expression is forceful but tempered and focused. Although the correspondence is not literal, the relation of the terms is analogically fit to describe both the river and the poet’s style. These relational analogies, the separations of virtues from concomitant faults, are the resemblances which Johnson celebrates as “perspicaciously collected.”

The metaphor is not simply a verbal felicity that compares a set of literal qualities with a corresponding set of figurative qualities; it is not simply an instance of Addison’s mixed wit. It is a collection of analogous antithetical relations of qualities. It would seem that although Johnson is troubled by the figurative application of Denham’s terms to the intellect, he recognizes the fitness of the antithetical relations of the terms in both the vehicle and the tenor.

Edinger cites one of Johnson’s own images from “The Vanity of Human Wishes” as an example of a metaphor which observes his own guidelines for a proper metaphor. The image of fireworks to represent the transience of worldly prominence affords an opportunity to analyze Johnson on his own terms, but with perhaps a different conclusion than Edinger’s:

Unnumber’s suppliants crowd Preferment’s gate,

Athirst for wealth, and burning to be great;

Delusive Fortune hears th’ incessant call,

They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall (Vanity 73-76).

Edinger says that this image “fulfills all the requirements we have inferred from his criticism” because “Johnson’s particulars function on both the metaphoric and descriptive levels” and afford a striking image with visual propriety (607). This conclusion relies on Edinger’s assumption that Johnson criticized Denham for a “failure of the visual” (598). But the use of terms that “are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphorically on the other,” which Edinger observes as the propriety of Johnson’s metaphor, is precisely Johnson’s complaint about Denham’s lines. The words, “mount,” “shine,” “evaporate,” and “fall,” are all derived from material processes. They are literally applicable to an image of fireworks, just as Denham’s terms do, in spite of Edinger’s claims, afford a literal image of the river. But, like the terms in Denham’s conceit, Johnson’s four verbs, “mount,” “shine,” “evaporate,” and “fall,” are to be understood figuratively when applied to the tenor. The structure of the metaphor is similar to that of Denham’s insofar as the verbs perform a double function, which is literal on the side of the vehicle and figurative on the side of the tenor. The figurative sense of words like “mount,” “shine” and “fall” is so common to the language that one easily forgets they are figurative at all. In this sense, the words, as they function in Johnson’s metaphor, bear a similarity to Addison’s mixed wit. What Johnson makes evident with this conceit, he fails to acknowledge in his criticism of Denham: namely, that the analogy of an abstract process to a material one can be evinced by the use of figurative speech—and this can be the proper ground of a successful metaphor. Johnson’s verbs are no more literally true of worldly ascension and decline than Denham’s qualities are literally descriptive of the intellect. Johnson’s tenor is no less dependent on the visual image of the fireworks to elucidate the meaning of the analogy than Denham’s is on the river. To say that someone who has risen to prominence “shines” would be as meaningless as Denham’s conceit in a language that does not express abstract operations by material images. “[E]vaporate” is a particularly problematic word from Johnson’s image because it is a technical, scientific term which is only understood in Johnson’s metaphor because of its position between two other common, figurative terms.

It may be true that Johnson’s analogy is more clear and direct than Denham’s. But this is simply a matter of degree. As Addison suggested, mixed-wit metaphors may exhibit a range of analogical propriety between the illusory verbal resemblance and true resemblance. As a type of metaphor, the structure of Johnson’s fireworks image is similar to that of Denham’s Thames conceit. In Denham’s metaphor, it is not the qualities themselves, but the analogous relations of the terms in each of the four antitheses that accounts for the fidelity of the comparison. In Johnson’s image, it is the arching figure formed by the chronological relation of the four verbs which is analogous in the vehicle and the tenor. Both conceits rely on the vehicle not to explain a perfect analogy of operations but to provide a concise unifying power of summation. Both images establish a mode in which the figurative terms make sense.

It is difficult to see why Edinger chose the fireworks metaphor as an example of Johnson observing his own critical precepts. If Denham’s image suffers from a failure of literalness in the tenor, the same can be said of Johnson’s. Perhaps a better example, one which avoids the qualities which Johnson censures in Denham, can be found in the Life of Cowley where he criticizes the methods of the metaphysical poets: “Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he who dissects a sunbeam with a prism can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon” (9). Here we have a metaphor with a different structure from Denham’s Thames conceit. There is sufficient abstraction because none of the terms function on both sides of the comparison, thus avoiding Addison’s problem of mixed wit. Each of the elements of the tenor lines up neatly with the features of the vehicle. The vehicle is perfectly suited to exemplify the actions and qualities of the tenor. The image of a scientist using a prism to divide sunlight into a narrow view of the refracted light spectrum exemplifies the style of analysis that Johnson found distasteful in the metaphysical poets.

According to Richards, “A metaphor may be illustrative or diagrammatical, providing a concrete instance of a relation which would otherwise have to be stated in abstract terms” (Principles 239). The image from the Life of Cowley avoids the problems Johnson discusses in Denham’s conceit because it is a simile that does not require any of its terms to function simultaneously on both sides of the metaphor. In Denham’s lines, depth and clarity of the river are compared with depth and clarity of intellect, pressing the terms to function both figuratively and literally. Likewise, in the fireworks image, the terms “mount,” “shine,” “evaporate” and “fall” function on both sides of the comparison. In both metaphors, it is up to the reader to see the figurative relationship of the terms to the tenor. Johnson seems to prefer the diagrammatical form of analogy. Of course, he could not avoid the use of figurative language to exemplify resemblances of material and abstract processes any more than other poets can.

Works Cited

Addison, Joseph and Steele, Richard. The Spectator. Volume The First. “No. 62.” Glasgow: Printed for A. Stalker and R. Murie, 1745. 248-254.

Edinger, William. “Johnson on Conceit: The Limits of Particularity.” ELH, Vol. 39, No. 4. Dec.
1972. 597-619. http:/www/

Hagstrum, Jean H. Samuel Johnson’s Literary Criticism. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1952.

Johnson, Samuel. “Preface.” A Dictionary of the English Language. Vol. I. Sixth ed. London:
Printed for J. F. and C. Rivington, L. Davis, T. Payne and Son, 1785.

-- -- --. Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. London: Frederick Warne & Co., n.d.

-- -- --. “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” Samuel Johnson: A Critical Edition of the Major
. Ed. Donald Greene. New York: Oxford UP. 1984. 12-21.

The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd. Ed. 1989.

Richards, I.A. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. New York: Oxford UP, 1965.

-- -- --. Principles of Literary Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Inc., 1925.

Tate, Allen. “Johnson on the Metaphysical Poets.” Samuel Johnson. Ed. Donald J. Greene. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1965. 89-101.

The Origins of the New York Slave Conspiracy of 1741: Slavery, Racism and Historical Memory in Colonial New York

The following essay is by Michael Brenes of Hunter College, who tied for first place in the 2006 Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Contest. Congratulations to Michael!

The Origins of the New York Slave Conspiracy of 1741: Slavery, Racism and Historical Memory in Colonial New York

In July of 1763, the attorney general of New York, John Tabor Kempe, wrote a letter to the newly appointed Chief Justice, Daniel Horsmanden, regarding the abduction of a freed African American man.1 For what appeared to be the purposes of profit, the kidnappers were intent on sending the freedman to South Carolina, where he would be sold back into the bonds of slavery.2 Kempe implored Horsmanden to prevent this from occurring, requesting that a warrant be issued to bring those responsible for the man’s capture to justice.3 While Kempe normally would have made it a point to visit Horsmanden in person, being known for his industriousness, he had been “quite undressed having been very much engaged all day.”4

With the disadvantage of not being in person to address Horsmanden, Kempe had to employ vociferous rhetoric to describe the direness of the situation. Kempe exhorted Horsmanden to salvage the destiny of the freeman otherwise “he may never be able to extricate himself” from slavery.5 Hoping that Horsmanden possessed a modicum of humanitarianism, Kempe claimed that Horsmanden should intervene because the man was “so unfortunate as to have a Black Face, and be Friendless and unable to assist himself.”6 Kempe went on to apologize to Horsmanden for “the Trouble of this Letter” but that he was compelled to petition the Chief Justice because of his “Detestation of the cruel practice of infringing the Liberty of a poor Man.”7 If this argument failed to persuade Horsmanden, Kempe also deferred to the unflagging rule of the law when it came to the legal status of blacks, writing that the man “is certainly free and…ought to be protected in his Liberty as much as a White Man.”8

Kempe’s twofold appeal to Horsmanden was most likely grounded in his knowledge of Horsmanden’s racism and his previously harsh treatment of African Americans that had been brought before his court. In 1741, Daniel Horsmanden was the city recorder and the third presiding judge in what became known as the New York Conspiracy trials. After a series of fires had consumed several buildings in New York within a span of weeks, slaves were perceived to be the primary suspects. Based on a collection of circumstantial evidence and on the coerced testimony of one witness, the cadre of New York’s legal elite arrested dozens of supposed criminals, both black and white, and ended up executing the ringleaders of the fires as well as exiling many others.

Whether a conspiracy truly existed is a topic of contention, but the hysteria that led to the mass arrests is undeniable. Many scholars have acknowledged the origins of the conspiracy but they have failed to explore them in detail as they have been shrouded in the broader concerns of whether a conspiracy did in fact occur. While the evidence is available to explore the viable explanations for the mass terror that engendered the executions of slaves, there appears to be no concise monograph on the topic. However, when one reviews the sources of the conspiracy, one finds that the New York Conspiracy of 1741 was due to whites’ racist and conspiratorial fear of African Americans as well as the nature of slavery in New York.

The alleged slave plot that would come to terrorize the residents of New York City for almost a year began with a burglary in the late winter of 1741. On February 26th, a young man named Wilson came into a shop owned by one Mr. Robert Hogg in order to make some purchases.9 Hogg’s wife had been in charge of the shop that morning, and after Wilson had bought his items, Mrs. Hogg produced “a considerable quantity of milled Spanish pieces of eight” when she went to make change.10 The large sum of money appealed to Wilson and he decided to steal the coins.11 To accomplish this, Wilson recruited slaves “of very suspicious character” to confiscate the money from Hogg’s house where it was presumably stored.12 These slaves included Caesar, owned by John Vaarck, Prince, owned by John Auboyneau, and Cuffee, owned by Adolph Philipse.13 The plan was further abetted by business owner John Hughson, who caught notice of the plot and agreed to hold the stolen items at his house.14 Hughson was a tavern owner and alleged sympathizer of enslaved African Americans, as his bar was known to be “a place where numbers of negroes used to resort.”15

Originally, everything went according to plan up until March 1st, when Wilson returned to Mrs. Hogg’s shop. It was then that she told Wilson she had been the victim of theft.16 Earlier in the week, Mrs. Hogg had seen Wilson eyeing the coins, and when they had gone missing, she immediately suspected he was the culprit.17 To deflect the blame from himself, Wilson alerted the authorities to where the money was and claimed that Caesar was the person who had stolen it.18 When the money was reclaimed at Hughson’s, an indentured servant named Mary Burton (who was living at John Hughson’s residence at the time of the robbery) was then questioned by the town clerk.19 Initially, Burton was reticent to reveal what she knew about the robbery, but after being brought before the court, she eventually implicated both the slaves and Hughson in the robbery after she was told that “she might be taken care of” if she confessed.20

Burton would not only become the key witness to the robbery but also the slave conspiracy as it began to unfold. On March 18th, a fire engulfed “his majesty’s house at Fort George” and burned it to the ground.21 A pair of fires then subsequently broke out within the next two weeks. On April 4th, fires erupted at two more residences, one of which was determined to be set “upon examination…whereon a negro slept.”22 The following day, Mrs. Earle spotted three slaves together sauntering down Broadway.23 One was “Mr. Walter’s Quaco” who Mrs. Earle heard exclaim with “a vaporing sort of an air, “Fire, Fire, Scorch, Scorch, A LITTLE, damn it, BY-AND-BY.”24 Again on April 6th, multiple fires broke out, one of which was at a storehouse owned by Adolph Philipse where a witness had seen “a negro leap out at the end window” of the building ablaze.25 The African American man turned out to be Philipse’s own slave Cuffee who “had a great deal of idle time, which…he employed to very ill purposes,” and he was soon hunted down and arrested.26

With Mrs. Earle’s accusations and the seizure of Cuffee, New Yorkers were convinced that the fires had been the effort of slaves who had intended “to burn the town, kill the white men, and take their wives and daughters as mistresses.”27 After Cuffee’s arrest, Burton would implicate Hughson as the person who orchestrated the slave uprising.28 Eventually, he would be one of the first suspects to be hanged.29 Burton continued to accuse greater numbers of slaves in order “to please her patrons” and those she indicted pointed to others with the hopes that it would stave off any attempts at legal retribution.30 When the trials waned down in early 1742, by then, up to 152 blacks had been arrested, eighty one of whom had implicated more slaves that were either burned at the stake or hanged.31

Only a few months after the events had reached their dissolution, people questioned whether the executions were justified. Some began to critically examine whether a slave conspiracy really existed.32 These doubters feared they had unfortunately been captured by “the merciless Flames of an Imaginary Plot.”33 To counteract the criticisms revolving around the vicissitudes of the conspiracy, Daniel Horsmanden wrote a lengthy account of the trials to explicate the actions of the court and finally put to rest these concerns. Relying on his own observations of the events as well as court records, Horsmanden recreated the events of 1741 in his one-sided, subjective version of the plot and the trials.34 However, Horsmanden’s account failed to persuade many people, including historians.

By the nineteenth-century, the notion that the plot had been a fabrication in the harried and panic-stricken minds of New Yorkers was insinuated into popular historiography. In 1839, William Dunlap, a playwright turned historian, published his multivolume history of New York. In his concise treatment of the conspiracy, Dunlap claimed that the conspiracy was indeed invented, and that the “best parallel” to the New York Conspiracy of 1741 was the “popish plot of 1679 in the reign of Charles II.”35 Dunlap’s ostensibly abolitionist leanings also appear in his book as he suggests that the abhorrent nature of slavery created the conditions for the uprising.36

Indeed, Dunlap’s inference that the nature of slavery in New York had exacerbated fears of a plot has merit. In the city, “the free and the slave lived in close proximity” as close to 20,000 people inhabited an area approximately 1.1 square miles.37 Of these twenty thousand, the 1737 census revealed that blacks comprised nearly 25% of the total population in New York.38 The predominant numbers of African American men present in the colony made the white colonists’ uneasy and aroused fears that slaves would overwhelm the whites. William Dunlap wrote that before the conspiracy, “slaves were comparatively small” in number, but their population had increased by 1741, spreading fear of a slave uprising.39 In addition, lawyer William Smith feared that New Yorkers “shall never be quite safe, till that wicked [black] race are under more restraint, or their number greatly reduced within this city.”40

The primary fear among whites was that a gathering of slaves would share collective experiences of oppression, decide that their situation had become intolerable, and foment a revolution. In response to these fears, New York City had promulgated a variety of legal barriers to restrict the autonomy of African Americans. New York’s “Negro Law” was comprised with the intent to discourage “the ability of enslaved people to move at will, and to gather.”41 Slaves were proscribed from social activities that required group participation. Gambling was deemed illegal for slaves as well as drinking in taverns without the presence of their masters.42 To avert slaves from acting in concert under the cover of darkness, those who were “over the age of fourteen had to be off the streets by sunset” unless escorted by their owners.43 Slaves could not even leave “from their Masters Houses or Plantations on the Lords Day” without documented proof that their owners permitted them to be off the premises.44

These laws were legal extensions of New Yorkers’ racist attitudes towards slaves. Because they believed that slaves “were naturally annoying and vexing,” whites thought they had to be consistently vigilant and restrictive with their slaves out of trepidation that they would incite a rebellion.45 Reflecting on the conspiracy in his Journal, Horsmanden wrote that it demonstrated that slave owners should view their slaves as “enemies of their own household, since we know what they are capable of” doing.46 Horsmanden recommended that masters should not provide slaves “with too great liberties” of which they will only “make use of to the worst purposes” including “caballing and confederating together in mischief, [and] in great numbers.”47

Yet despite the multifarious controls on their liberty, slaves did find ways to circumvent such restrictions. Slaves would commit various crimes as acts of opposition to white hegemony, including drinking, stealing and sleeping with white prostitutes.48 However, one of the most popular crimes for slaves in colonial New York was arson. As Edgar McManus writes, “next to theft, arson was the most common crime committed by slaves.”49

Fire was an enduring threat to New York City in the mid 18th century.50 Just the fear of fire alone was disconcerting to the colonists.51 When recalling the burning of Fort George, Horsmanden wrote that the “flames spread so fast, that in about an hour and a quarter’s time the house was burnt down to the ground.”52 Compounding this fear, prior to the conspiracy of 1741, slaves had established a precedent that they would use fire to voice their discontent.53 When the fires in 1741 broke out in such quick succession, the accusations of slaves being involved in their inception was therefore a reflexive conclusion. Indeed, when Cuffee had been spotted in the midst of the storehouse, he was not considered to be the lone culprit, as there were cries that all of “the negroes were rising” throughout the city.54

In addition to being worried about the eruption of fire, colonial New Yorkers were perpetually concerned about slave uprisings. Before March 1741, fears of vast conspiracies pervaded the minds of most American colonists, not just New Yorkers. The British colonists were sensitive to any gossip that intimated that slaves and Native Americans would subvert their way of life. In 1738, inhabitants of Nantucket thought that there was a Native American “conspiracy to destroy all the English, by first setting Fire to their Houses…and then falling upon them with their Fire Arms.”55 Such a plot turned out to be false, as did one in Kingston, New York, where after a group of slaves were involved in a physical scuffle, it was reported by whites as a sign of a nascent rebellion.56 Despite the repudiation of the plots, the American colonists continued to remain suspicious of others and “spotted plotters lurking behind nearly every shadow.”57

However, slave conspiracies were not entirely an illusion by the time fires started to destroy buildings in 1741.58 Slave rebellions were nearly ubiquitous events in the early eighteenth-century. Newspapers invariably brought accounts of slave conspiracies throughout the colonies. Of the most infamous in the prewar era, slave revolts in Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and Pennsylvania had appeared since the mid 17th century.59 But more recent accounts of slave conspiracies alarmed New Yorkers. In Jamaica, a slave named Cudjoe led a group of slaves who had fled from their owners in the 1730’s and established self-sufficient outposts on the island.60 New Yorkers were also cognitive of the Stono Rebellion in 1739, where one hundred rebel slaves took the lives of over twenty whites before their revolt came to a violent end.61

However, the slave conspiracy that hit closest to home was one that occurred in New York almost thirty years before the conspiracy of 1741. In 1712, a slave insurrection unlike New York had encountered since its settlement by the Dutch shook the attention of the citified elite. A group of slaves on April 6th armed themselves with a variety of weapons and proceeded to unleash a furious attack on the whites of the town.62 Two slaves took revenge upon those slave owners who had continuously reduced them to chattel, personally stabbing and shooting Andrew Beekman, Joris Marschalk and Adrian Hoighlandt.63 By the time the murders were squelched, nine white New Yorkers were killed and a handful more suffered wounds.64

Despite the space of nearly thirty years separating the conspiracies, the happenings in 1712 were still fresh in the minds of many New Yorkers. As Jill Lepore writes, there were indeed “hints that whoever set the fires in 1741…was commemorating 1712,” as there were a great deal of similarities between both.65 To begin with, the two conspiracies occurred on the dates of March 25th and April 6th.66 Both involved fire, as those who rose up against whites in 1712 did so by setting fire to a building and then fleeing.67 Additionally, slaves in 1712 kept their plans for insurrection well-hidden before they struck.68 Whites who were therefore compelled to blame the fires in 1741 on slaves had a founded basis on which to make such a conclusion, as they most likely based their accusations on the affinities the fires shared with the most recent slave uprising in memory.

The events of 1712 were also kept alive because a number of the city’s white leaders who were spectators to the 1712 conspiracy had a vital role in the prosecution of slaves in 1741 as well. Of those involved in the conspiracies of 1741 and 1712 were Adolph Philipse, Rip Van Dam and Gerardus Beekman, who survived the death of his son in 1712 at the hands of slaves.69 These men possessed lucid memories of 1712 and the punishments that were then meted out to slaves. Lawyer William Smith was angered by what he viewed as the slaves’ insubordination, claiming that the conspiracy of 1741 was “the second attempt of the same kind that this brutish and bloody species of mankind have made within one age.”70 He thought it appropriate to invoke the legacy of 1712 to claim that the “Justice that was provoked by Former Fires…should have been a perpetual Terror to the Negroes that survived the Vengeance of that Day, and…a Warning to all that had come after them.”71

In order to understand the origins of the New York Slave Conspiracy, one must examine it within the broader context of the history of slavery in the United States.

The New York Slave Conspiracy of 1741 was the product of several factors: racism, fear of slave rebellion, and the distinct nature of slavery in New York. The reactions of white New Yorkers to the conflagrations, thefts and other crimes that sprouted throughout the city in 1741 are symptomatic of much bigger historical issues. Ultimately, the conspiracy of 1741 takes an important place in the recurrent oppression of African Americans throughout history and is an example of how slavery forever altered American society.


1. John Tabor Kempe to Daniel Horsmanden, July 14, 1763, Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th century Reading room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.
2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid. For Kempe’s work ethic see Catherine Snell Crary, “The American Dream: John Tabor Kempe’s Rise from Poverty to Riches,” The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 14 (1957) 176-195. (accessed March 13, 2006), 184.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. My account of the plot is taken directly from Daniel Horsmanden, The New York Conspiracy, or a History of the Negro Plot, with the Journal of the Proceedings Against the Conspirators in the Years 1741-2. Together with Several Interesting Tables (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969) 15-16. The edition I consulted is the reprint of the second edition of Horsmanden’s Journal, printed in 1810.

10. Ibid., 16.

11. Ibid., 16.

12. Ibid., 16.

13. Ibid., 16.

14. Ibid., 16.

15. Ibid., 16.

16. Ibid., 16.

17. Ibid., 16.

18. Ibid., 18-19.

19. Ibid., 21.

20. Ibid., 21.

21. Ibid., 23.

22. Ibid., 26.

23. Ibid., 27.

24. Ibid., 27.

25. Ibid., 28-29.

26. Ibid., 29.

27. Leopold S. Launitz-Schurer, Jr., “Slave Resistance in Colonial New York: An interpretation of Daniel Horsmanden’s New York Conspiracy,” Phylon 41 (1980): 137-152. (accessed March 15, 2006), 138.

28. Ibid., 138.

29. For Hughson’s execution see Lepore, 119-120, and Horsmanden 144.

30. See William Dunlap, History of the New Netherlands, Province of New York, and State of New York, to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 1., (New York:, Carter &Thorpe, 1839), 330.

31. Lepore, xvi. See also Appendix B of Lepore’s book, beginning with page 248. Lepore lists the names of the slaves that were arrested, their pleas, their sentences, and whether they confessed to the crimes brought before them. This list is extensive and takes up eleven pages of her book.

32. Ibid., xviii.

33. Quoted in Lepore, xviii.

34. For the sources he used, see Horsmanden, 5.

35. Dunlap, 322.

36. Ibid., 320-322.

37. Hoffer, 33.

38. This figure is disclosed in Appendix A of New York Burning. Lepore, 236.

39. Dunlap, 321. Dunlap’s statement is supported by the table on page 42 of McManus.

40. Horsmanden, 93. Part of this quote from Horsmanden’s Journal also appears in Thomas J Davis “The New York Slave Conspiracy of 1741 as Black Protest,” The Journal of Negro History 56 (1971): 17-30. (accessed March 13, 2006), 22.

41. Lepore, 57.

42. McManus, 80-82.

43. Ibid., 80.

44. Quoted in Lepore, 57.

45. Davis., 19.

46. Horsmanden, 12.

47. Horsmanden, 11-12.

48. Davis., 25-27.

49. McManus, 85.

50. Lepore, 42.

51. Hoffer, 35.

52. Horsmanden, 24.

53. McManus, 85.

54. Ibid., 29.

55. Quoted in Lepore, 55.

56. McManus, 122.

57. Lepore, 51.

58. Lepore, 55.

59. Marion D. deB. Kilson, “Towards Freedom: An Analysis of Slave Revolts in the United States,” Phylon 25 (1964): 175-187. (accessed March 20, 2006). See Table 1 on p. 177 and Table 2 on p. 179.

60. Lepore, 53.

61. Ibid., 53.

62. Ibid., 53.

63. Ibid., 53.

64. Lepore, 53.

65. Ibid., 59.

66. Lepore, 59.

67. McManus., 123.

68. McManus., 123.

69. Ibid., 59.

70. Horsmanden, 93.

71. Ibid., 93. Also quoted in Lepore, 59-60.