The details of Diana’s tragic life were revealed in testimony given at the trial of one of the men indicted in an alleged conspiracy to rise up against the whites and burn the city. Despite the apparent predominance of men in armed revolt, women were sometimes implicated in these actions. Whether they advocated violent resistance to bondage, or simply kept the confidence of those men who did, the women showed themselves willing to sacrifice their all for freedom.

     The complicity in armed revolt of at least two women was declared in the insurrection that stunned New Yorkers in 1712. The revolt was a bold move by a group of enslaved people incited by resentment over "hard usage" and motivated by a desire to win their freedom. After having sworn a blood oath and dousing themselves with a magical powder that they believed would render them invincible, the Africans set fire to an outhouse and lay in wait to slay those who came to extinguish the flames.20

     It is unclear why the enslaved women Abigail and Sarah were charged in the revolt. The conviction states simply that they were accessories to murder. The assumption is that the two women did not participate physically in the revolt, but perhaps kept silent about others’ involvement, or assisted in some other way. In any case, Abigail and Sarah were condemned to die by hanging. The pregnancy of one of the two postponed her execution until the birth of her child.21

     In the 1741 alleged conspiracy to burn the city, several women were implicated, but only one -- Sarah (enslaved by Mary Burke) -- figured prominently in testimony at the trials of those persons indicted. Daniel Horsmanden, one of the judges who heard the case, thought her

one of the oddest animals among the black confederates and gave
the most trouble in her examinations. She was a creature of
outrageous spirit…She no doubt, must have had extraordinary
qualifications to recommend her to the confidence of the confederates;
for she was the only wench against whom there was strong and
flagrant evidence of having consented to and approved this execrable

Testimony was given (and Sarah ultimately confessed) that she had been present when plans were hatched and that she had personally threatened one man who was reluctant to join the group.23 One witness/alleged conspirator testified that she and another enslaved person were charged with setting fire to the meal market.24


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August 2000