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America's "Founding Fathers" Detested the Paradise of Delightful Debauchery and Freedom That Was 18th Century America

There was a lot of fun to be had in early America, before the prudish patrician types did everything they could to stamp it out.

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A group of slaves also regularly bought and sold stolen goods with Hughson, including a great deal of Dutch Geneva gin, after which they named their social group the Geneva Club. The second floor of the tavern contained rooms to rent, including one inhabited by “Margaret Sorubiero, alias Salingburgh, alias Kerry, commonly called Peggy, or the Newfoundland Irish beauty.” Peggy was a prostitute known to prefer black customers, and the rent for the room she kept was paid by Caesar, a leader of the Geneva Club, with whom she had a child.

On March 18, 1741, the roof of the New York governor’s house burst into flames. The fire swept through surrounding Fort George on the Battery. Many of the soldiers and civil servants who lived there, fearing that the stores of gunpowder would explode, fled from the fort. The fire raced from one building to the next, consuming the chapel, the secretary’s office, and the barracks. By the end of the day, everything inside the walls of the fort was ashes. One week later, the home of Captain Peter Warren of the British navy caught #re. Over the next month, it seemed as if all of New York was burning. Houses, stables, and warehouses went up in flames across the city, as did shouts of “The Negroes! The Negroes!” Magistrates ordered slaves newly arrived in the city to be rounded up and thrown in jail. Then two women reported that they had seen three slaves dancing as they sang “Fire, Fire, Scorch, Scorch, A Little, damn it, By and By!” The three black men were arrested, tortured, and burned to death. Mary Burton, a sixteen year-old indentured servant of John Hughson, told the authorities that her master, Peggy, along with Caesar and the Geneva Club, had conspired “to burn this city, and to kill and destroy us all.” All the alleged plotters were hanged or burned at the stake, but the culture they helped to create lived on. It proved to be far more menacing to repressive self-rule in the American republic than it was to social order under the king.

Excerpted from  A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell,Copyright © 2010  Excerpted with permission by the author.

Thaddeus Russell is the author of A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010).
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