Stefan Bielinski

Bet was a slave who was blamed for setting a fire that destroyed a core part of the city of Albany in 1793.

In November 1793, Bet belonged to the wife of Philip S. Van Rensselaer - who had a residence on upper State Street. At that time, she was sixteen or seventeen years old. It was reported that she was born in Peekskill, raised among the Van Cortlandt family, and was brought to Albany after Anne Van Cortlandt married Van Rensselaer in 1787. She was described as a "handsome wench" and a "great favorite of Mrs. Van Rensselaer."

She conspired with Pomp and Dean (Dinah) to set fire to the stables of Leonard Gansevoort which were located in the rear of Gansevoort's State Street home. The fire spread - burning over several blocks before it was extinguished. Bet was jailed and soon confessed her guilt.

Along with Pomp and Dean, she was sentenced to death by hanging. The girls were executed on March 14, 1794. Pomp went to the gallows the next month.

biography in-progress


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of Bet has not been assigned a CAP biography number. This profile is derived chiefly from community-based resources. A newspaper printing of her confession follows!

The Examination of Bet
a Negro Female Slave of Philip Van Rensselaer, Esquire,
Taken the 28th day of November 1793 _____________________________

This examinant says that on Thursday the fourteenth day of November instant she and Dean a Negro female slave of Volkert A. Douw met Pompey a Negro man slave belonging to the estate of Matthew Vissher, Esquire, dis__ es in Pearl Street that Pompey con___sed with Dean and afterwards Dean informed the examinant that Pompey had proposed to her to set fire somewhere and that Pompey would make the same proposal to this examinant–

This examinant further says that Pompey then made the same proposal to her that she said she had no objection to it but Dean at first declined that she afterwards consented.

That Pompey said five white men had a grudge against Mr. (Leonard*) Gansevoort and had employed him to set fire there that one of them who formerly lived in Market Street had promised him Pompey a watch, that this examinant a_ ____d it was and further said that the other person wore a blue coat and lived in the plains.

And this examinant further says then Pompey requested her and Dean to get coals for the purpose of setting the fire as inforesaid that he would not get them in his own kitchen as his mistress and Grace a Negro woman belonging to the family were always there.

That this examinant asked him where he meant to place the fire to which he answered that he intended to put it on the back stoop of Mr. Gansevoort's dwelling house that the examinant objected to that mode suggesting that the family would have no chance of getting out and proposed to put it farther back to which he acceded.

That Dean was present at this conversation did not see Pompey again until the later day following in the afternoon but had no conversation with him.

That on Sunday afternoon during church service she saw Pompey in Pearl Street at the door of the house where he lives with a strange man who had on a blue coat and striped jacket and was middling tall.

That in the evening she saw him again with Bissbrown in the lane she is almost certain it was him he was a pockmarked man red faced.

That this examinant and Dean then passed and Pompey called out to them and said that was the man and that the man turned to them and laughed.

That after the eight o'clock bell had rung Pompey met this examinant and Dean and asked him if they would get the fire and they said they would.

That this examinant and Dean then went to Mr. Douw's kitchen and waited there till the watch (man) called past ten o'clock.

That they then took a lantern without a door belonging to Mr. Douw, which Dean got out of the bark cellar, put coals in it and pulled at the gate and window in the rear of the lot of the estate of Matthew Vissher esquire aforesaid.

That Pompey came out and followed them .

That the coals in the lantern were extinguished by some grease in the bottom of it.

That this examinant and Dean at the request of Pompey then returned to Mr. Douw's kitchen and took fresh coals in the lantern.

That Pompey was standing at the his gate aforesaid and as they passed, joined them , and went with them.

That when they came to Mr. Gansevoort's dwelling house this examinant went over the fence of Mr. Cornelius C. Vandenburgh's adjoining Mr. Gansevoort's lot on the east side and opened Mr. Gansevoort's gate and that this examinant and Dean and Pompey then passed through the gate to the stable and the door and window of which were open, that Pompey placed the coals in hay and Dean covered them with more hay. This examinant heard Mr. Vandenburgh call for Jack his Negro man slave as she ran out.

That Dean and she came around Mr. Robison's corner through Market Street and Maiden Lane to Mr. Douw's kitchen and Pompey ran the other way up State Street.

That they heard the cry of fire when they reached Van Vechten's corner in Market Street – that they got into Mr. Douw's kitchen through the window that after they got in they heard Mr. Lorrthgate walking the floor.

That during the fire she met Dean said she was sorry they had done it that Dean answered there was no fear that Pompey would not confess it and she would not and it could not be found out.

This examinant further says that Pompey told her the Wednesday after the fire he had got money from Bissbrown.

That this examinant the day after the fire on being asked by old Jane if she knew who had set the fire she told the said old Jane, who is a free black woman who lives near the goal, that she the examinant and Dean had set the fire to Gansevoort's stable – that old Jane said she should tell no one of it for if it was found out she would be hanged for it afterwards. Old Jane said it was not much matter.

Bet   X    her mark

Taken and subscribed this 28th day of November 1793 before us -
Abrahm Ten Eyck
Jeremiah Lansing
Dirck Ten Broeck, alderman

On reverse: Examination of Bet Negro female slave of Philip S. Van Rensselaer, Esquire

Notes: Transcribed by TB in 1995 from document in New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Transcrition notes: * = not part of original text; __ = unreadable words The word male was crossed out in the title and Female was written above. The document had only dashes and no other punctuation. Most dashes have been replaced with a new paragraph so the document could be better understood. Periods and commas were inserted only where text was confusing. Although many words are grammatically incorrect, they were unchanged to preserve eighteenth century language and writing styles. Three fold, 8-by-14-inch.

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first posted: 1/20/04