Inventing an Indian Slave Conspiracy on Nantucket, 1738


In 1738 British colonists on Nantucket accused their Wampanoag neighbors of plotting to rise in violent rebellion. The colonists quickly discovered the rumor was false, but their retraction did not stop newspaper printers in Boston from creating a sensational story of Indian conspiracy that quickly spread throughout the British Empire, circling the Atlantic from New England to London. In the earliest version of the report, the Boston printer Thomas Draper relied on conventions from his previous stories of slave conspiracy to invent a sensational account of an imminent Indian uprising. Most printers copied his first account of the conspiracy. Examining the Nantucket Indian conspiracy of 1738 illuminates the process by which early American printers altered and even manufactured stories of conspiracy on the basis of conventions established over years of reporting slave unrest. Historians have long relied on newspaper accounts for evidence of subaltern rebellion in the Atlantic world. This case study challenges scholars to reevaluate the process by which printers created news of conspiracy during a formative period in the history of the early American press.


History and Political Science


The Massachusetts Historical Society and the Cosmos Club Foundation provided support for researching and writing this essay.

Keywords and Phrases

Nantucket; Indian; Wampanoag; Conspiracy; Plot; Insurrection; Rebellion; Slavery; Slave; Newspaper; News; Press; Atlantic; New England; Boston; Draper; Franklin

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version

Final Version

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© 2017 The McNeil Center for Early American Studies, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2017