Antigua, 30 December 1736. Report to Governor Mathew of an enquiry into the negro conspiracy.
The slaves chiefly concerned were those born on the Gold Coast whom we style coromantees, led by Court a slave of Thomas Kerby; and those born in the colonies whom we call creoles, led by Tomboy a master carpenter belonging to Thomas Hanson. Court, we are told, was of a considerable family in his own country, brought here at ten years of age, and covertly assumed among his countrymen here the title of king. Both men were well–treated by their masters, Tomboy being allowed to take negro apprentices and make all the profits he could. The other principals were Hercules, Jack, Scipio, Ned, Fortune and Toney, all creoles except Fortune who was either a creole or brought here as an infant. The most active incendiaries under Court and Tomboy were Secundi and Jacko, both creoles of French parentage and both initiated into the Roman Catholic religion. Their employments were crafts, overseeing and house–service. When and by whom the design was first begun cannot be certainly fixed; probably it was by Court, and we know that it was in agitation about November 1735. The chief measures taken to corrupt our slaves were entertainments of dancing and feasting under colour of innocent pretences; those corrupted were bound by oaths. A new government was to be established when the whites were extirpated: Court was flattered by all with being king, but the creoles had privately resolved to settle a commonwealth and make slaves of the coromantees. . . .
The method first proposed for executing the plot was that Tomboy should procure the making of the seats for a great ball to be held on 11 October last, at which all the people of note in the island would be present. He was to contrive laying gunpowder in the house to be fired when the dancing was in progress. Three or four parties of 300–400 slaves were to enter the town and put the whites to the sword; the forts and shipping in the harbour were to be seized. The ball, however, was put off to 30 October, whereupon some conspirators wished to act immediately; but Court persuaded them to defer the action till then. Signs were not wanting of the impending danger, and these led the governor to order an enquiry which led to the discovery of the plot, much owing to the confessions of the various slaves. On the evidence of the facts discovered, the first twelve of the conspirators in the annexed list were executed. Further examination, however, caused us to see that much remained to be done; by various evidences, 35 more slaves were executed and 42 more, the evidence against them being less full, are recommended for banishment. All those executed or recommended for banishment are known to have taken the oath; this was by drinking a health in liquor with gravedirt and sometimes cock’s blood infused, and sometimes the person swearing laid his hand on a live cock. The general tenor of the oath was to kill the whites. The execution of the first twelve did not break the conspiracy, for at least 50 took the oath on 26 October last after the executions.
We may say with certainty that the particular inducement to the slaves to set this plot on foot, next to the hope of freedom, was the inequality of numbers of white and black. We think gentlemen should reside on their estates; that men of the best figure and fortune should not put slights on the commissions of peace and militia; that slaves should not become craftsmen, overseers or tradesmen; that more of our menial servants should be white; and that no fiddlers for gain, except white, should be suffered. The presence of the King’s troops was heartening to us and intimidating to the slaves; we could do with more. . . .
As this horrid conspiracy cannot but be heard of wherever people hold correspondence with Antigua, it will no doubt be variously animadverted upon; and as slavery is the very odium of the Englishmen some of our countrymen may do it to our disadvantage. Yet slavery is among us not of choice but of necessity, and unless (as it is not to be imagined) our mother–country should quit the trade of the sugar–colonies Englishmen must continue to be masters of their slaves.