The seamier side of an unseemly bit of history, this enlarges on the mass hysteria and witch hunting that hung over New York City in 1840-1. With memories of the slave uprising of 1712, with fears of the Spanish and Papists, the train of fire is lighted when Francisco and other Spanish Negroes are brought in aboard a privateer, on which Richard Tucker has sailed to try to escape the knowledge of his bastardy and his quarrel with Johanna; they are sold, become part of the secret slave assemblies at Hughson's tavern, where Richard has found solace with Sarah, the owner's daughter. The incidence of fires increases, Hughson's servant, vengeful Mary, informs, and fright engulfs the courts and the people, as charges of conspiracy are added to those of arson. Confessions are forced, there are hangings and burnings, and Richard, with Johanna's approval, tries to help Sarah, whose parents have been executed, and Francisco, and to prove Mary a liar. The coming of a new governor, a British defeat, and the terrors subside for a happy ending for Richard and Johanna. The stratification of white and black levels, a portrait of the city as ""brutal and cruel, an indifferent monster"", this is a historical case history rather than romancing.