New York Burning by Jill Lepore

Othello’s loved ones’ options were limited where his funeral was concerned.
In West Africa, night funerals are common. He couldn’t be buried at night. The Common Council had ruled that because funerals present the opportunity for uprisings to be planned, slaves had to be buried during daylight.
Pallbearers were not allowed to carry his coffin. The Common Council had ruled that palls conferred too much dignity for the occasion. Violators would be whipped in public. Only a handful of them could attend the funeral at a time because the common council had also ruled that a large gathering for this occasion was an opportunity to plan an uprising. The most interesting thing about Othello is the place that he lived. Othello was a slave in New York City in the early 1700s. At the time, black people who were mostly slaves, made up twenty percent of the population of the city.
New York Burning tells a compelling, horrifying story of an incident in the city which was more bloody than the Salem witch trials. By the end of the prosecution (or rather persecution), 13 blacks were burned to the stake, 17 were hanged and over a hundred more were in jail. The majority of them were shipped to bone crushing labor in the Caribbean.
The pursuit of slave conspiracies and its effect on the development of events surrounding the American Revolution is enough for this book to warrant a serious look. One only needs to look at the recent midterm elections, those in Tennessee in particular, to observe the residue of such acts which continue to be utilized by politicians, almost three hundred years later.
There is so much more I can say about this book, but it reveals so much about the history of this country, and is more than fair to all of the parties involved. I think it was a bit too fair to the New York Supreme Court, but that’s based on my experiences and personal biases. It’s an extraordinary book and I learned a lot about the history of this country and of slavery in this country. The details of the account provides really great insight into the experiences of all involved in the scandal of 1741. It also includes information about the discovery of the negro burial ground, the rescue of remains from the world trade center on 9/11 and the re-burial (and controversy surrounding the treatment) of those remains.
Reading this book truly brought me closer to the struggles that my ancestors faced during their first few centuries in this nation. I HIGHLY recommend it.

4 thoughts on “New York Burning by Jill Lepore

  1. Great review! After hearing you speak so highly of it and knowing how involved you became in reading it, I can’t wait to pick it up.

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