Driving Liberty Boys to the Devil
New England was no stranger to the fear of slave insurrection, New York City had experienced the “Negro Plot of 1741” with many conspirators hanged, burned and corpses left to rot in the open air. The British also knew well the incubus planted in the American colonies should residents contemplate revolt – Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore in 1775 emancipated all slaves who would repair to His Majesty’s banner and bear arms to fight against American independence.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Driving Liberty Boys to the Devil:
“[The] terror of [slave] insurrection, so often and aptly illustrated in the common phrase of “sleeping over a volcano,” that continuous and awful dread which conscious tyranny feels, but hates to acknowledge, we
have already said, was not unknown even in Massachusetts, where the servile class was always a comparatively small element of the population. In times of civil commotion and popular excitement, the
danger was more imminent, and the fear was more freely expressed.
During the difficulties between the people of the town of Boston and the British soldiers in 1768, John Wilson, a captain in the 59th Regiment, was accused of exciting the slaves against their masters, assuring them that the soldiers had come to procure their freedom; and that, “with their assistance, they should be able to drive the Liberty Boys to the devil.” He was arrested on the complaint of the selectmen, and was bound over for trial; “but, owing to the maneuvers of the Attorney-General, the indictment was quashed, and Wilson left the Province about the same time.” Drake’s Boston, 754.
There was a similar alarm in September, 1774. It is noticed in one of the letters of Mrs. John Adams to her husband, dated at Boston Garrison, 22 September, 1774. “There has been in town a conspiracy of the
Negroes. At present it is kept pretty private, and was discovered by one who endeavored to dissuade them from it. He being threatened with his life, applied to Justice Quincy for protection. They conducted in this
way, got an Irishman to draw up a petition to the Governor [Gage], telling him they would fight for him provided he would arm them, and engage to liberate them if he conquered. Adams letters, I., 24.
(Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts, George Henry Moore,
D. Appleton & Company, 1866, pp. 129-130)