In 1836, both camps in the so-called Bank War—supporters of U.S. president Andrew Jackson, and supporters of the Second Bank of the United States president Nicholas Biddle—lobbed accusations of conspiracy to sway Americans to their sides (photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine)Commentary

Conspiracy theories in Colonial America

Photo credit, Smithsonian Magazine: In 1836, supporters of U.S. president Andrew Jackson, and supporters of the Second Bank of the United States president Nicholas Biddle lobbed accusations of conspiracy to sway Americans to their sides in what has become known as the “Bank War.

Cotton Mather wrote that “New Englanders are a People of God” who had conquered “the Devil’s Territories.” The first century of American colonization provided fertile ground for superstition, paranoia and conspiracy theories, ranging from Puritan atrocities against Native Americans, the hanging of accused “witches” in Salem, to the tar and feathering of Loyalists during the Revolutionary War.

Negro Conspiracy of 1741

It is unclear if New York’s “Slave Insurrection of 1741” actually existed. After a series of unexplained fires, the white population of the city became convinced that slaves and poor whites were conspiring to burn down the city. Over a hundred slaves were charged with burglary, arson and insurrection. No organized plot was uncovered during the trials, but thirteen slaves were nonetheless hung, and seventy were sent to the Caribbean for hard labor. The prosecution ended by linking the insurrection to the fictitious “Popish plot” by Spaniards and Catholics of the 17th Century.

A conspiracy theory about the Bavarian Order of Illuminists flourished in New England in the late 18th Century, resulting in political, social, and religious turmoil. Vernon Stauffer’s “The Bavarian Illuminati in America: The New England Conspiracy Scare, 1798,” characterizes the mood in New England after the Revolutionary War, an atmosphere of religious disaffection and political confusion that fostered panic and hysteria. culminating in the Illuminati conspiracy theory. Federalist politicians and members of the clergy warned that the Illuminati were behind the Jeffersonian Democrats. In April 1778, a number of prominent merchants and lawyers gathered at Ipswich. The “Essex Junto,” a conservative splinter of the Federalist Party are sometimes accused of a conspiracy to secede New England from the Union.

In “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1964, historian Richard J. Hofstadter explored the influence of “movements of suspicious discontent” throughout American history: the anti-Masonic movement, the nativist and anti-Catholic movement, a “conspiracy of international bankers,” and the allegedly subversive activities of the “Bavarian Illuminati.”

This peculiarly American characteristic is manifested in 21st Century political discourse as a battle between truth and lies.

Warned out of Colonial America Warned Out - The settlement in Ipswich set itself resolutely to the task of guarding against undesirable prospective citizens. The practice of "warning out" strangers was finally abolished in 1793.
whistleblower The Whistleblowers - On February 19, 1777, aboard the warship Warren, ten American sailors met in secret and wrote a letter charging Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy with torturing British prisoners of war.
The Marblehead smallpox riot The Marblehead smallpox riot, January 1774 - In 1773, the selectmen ordered all houses where the disease had appeared to be closed, and dogs to be killed immediately. The fears of the inhabitants increased when permission was granted to build a smallpox hospital on Cat Island.
The Essex Convention The Ipswich Convention and the Essex Result - Delegates from 67 towns arrived in Ipswich on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 1774 and began deliberations regarding a Constitution for Massachusetts. "Surely a state of nature is more excellent than that in which men are meanly submissive to the haughty will of an imperious tyrant."
Great Ispwich Fright, John Greenleaf Whittier The Great Ipswich Fright, April 21, 1775 - A rumor spread that two British ships were in the river, and were going to burn the town. The news spread as far as New Hampshire, and in every place the report was that the regulars were but a few miles behind them, slashing everyone in sight.
The Dark Day The Dark Day, May 19, 1780 - At noon, a "midnight darkness" had fallen on Essex County. Candles were lighted, and fowls went to roost. By the next morning, dark ash lay four or five inches thick.
Cape Ann earthquake The Cape Ann Earthquake, November 18, 1755 - At between 6.0 and 6.3 on the Richter scale, the1755 Cape Ann Earthquake remains the largest earthquake in the history of Massachusetts, and caused great alarm. The Rev. Leslie of Linebrook Church recorded the earthquake's effect: "Between ye hours of four & five in ye morning there happened a most surprising shock of ye earthquake, which was afterwards succeeded by several others, though non equal to ye first in ye Town of Ipswich. Much damage was done to many houses, yet through ye goodness of God no hurt was done either to ye lives or ye limbs of any persons. On Nov. 19 several shocks were heard, tho but small compared to ye first."
Winthrop fleet ships PTSD in the Massachusetts Bay Colony - The Great Migration brought nearly 14,000 Puritan settlers, unprepared for the hardships and trauma that awaited them. Building a new society in the wilderness induced transgenerational post-traumatic stress and mass conversion disorder, culminating in the Salem Witch Trials.
Paul Revere's ride handing out handbills Paul Revere’s not so famous ride through Ipswich, December 13, 1774 - On the cold icy morning of December 13, 1774, Paul Revere headed out on a 60 mile gallop from Boston along the Old Bay Road through Ipswich to warn the citizens of Portsmouth that British troops may be landing.
November 5: Guy Fawkes Day (“Pope Night,” “Gunpowder Day,” “Bonfire Night”) - After Guy Hawkes, a Catholic, attempted to blow up the king and members of Parliament, effigies of Guy Fawkes were burned every year on Nov. 5, accompanied by a day of odd activities. The tradition was continued by English settlers in America.
Ipswich MA and the Salem witchcraft trials Ipswich and the Salem witchcraft trials - During the Salem witch trials, Elizabeth Howe of Linebrook Road was tried and hanged. The Ipswich jail was filled with the accused, but the ministers of the town opposed the trials as a delusion. Residents blocked the bridge to prevent the accusing girls from being brought into Ipswich.
Existential Cop Gavin Keenan Interesting Time To Be Alive - We are fortunate to be living through interesting times. Life seems to have an intense urgency to it now, an edgy feeling of uncertainty and doubt. Having undergone a year of blistering, enervating and sometimes tragically comical presidential political campaigning, we emerged in November with an unexpected result. […]
Hannah Jumper leads raid on Rockport liquor establishments, July 8, 1856 - On the morning of July 8, 1856, two hundred women, three men and their supporters gathered in Rockport's Dock Square and unfurled a banner with a black hatchet, determined to destroy all the alcohol in the town. The leaders of the mob was a 75-year-old seamstress named Hannah Jumper.
Boston Irish Long Remembered the 1834 Charlestown Convent Fire - Featured image: Woodcut image of the 1834 burning of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Catholics and fair minded Bostonians were dismayed by the tragedy. by Helen Breen This week marks the 183th anniversary of the burning and ransacking of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts on August 11, […]
Federalist Papers, Hamilton's response to Objection XIV Alexander Hamilton: “The Ultimate Object” - "The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion."
Anti-Immigrant Know Nothing Party "American Patriot" 1854: Anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party sweeps Massachusetts elections - Prejudice disguised as patriotism repeats itself in American politics. In 1854, the "Know Nothing" American Party formed in opposition to Irish immigration and carried local elections in New England communities. They swept the state of Massachusetts in the fall 1854 elections but were defeated two years later.
Cartoon portraying Loyalist John Calef as a calf 1774: Ipswich mob attacks Loyalist Representative Dr. John Calef - Dr. John Calef was among a handful of members of the Massachusetts Assembly who voted to retract the "Massachusetts Circular Letter" which was adopted in response to the 1767 Townshend Acts. Ipswich citizens' anger at Calef lingered as war with England approached.
A Modern Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft by John Hale, Pastor of the Church of Christ in Beverly, 1967 “We walked in the clouds and could not see our way” - The wife of Rev. John Hale of Beverly participated in the witch trials until his wife was accused. Hale later published an analysis in which he asserted that Satan had tricked the Puritans, and made a plea for forgiveness.
“At long last, sir, have you left no sense of decency?” - On June 9, 1954, before a nationwide television audience, Joseph Welch of Waltham replied to Joseph McCarthy, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness."
George Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States George Washington’s Farewell Address - "The alternating domination of one faction over another... will gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual who turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."

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