The two servants at the center of the conspiracy, Friend and Clutton, belonged to Major James Goodwin, of York County. A servant named Thomas T. Collins told the court that he and his fellow laborers were “talking of their hard usage, & that they had nothing but corne & water, & were not kept according to the Law of the Countrey.” That was when Friend stepped up and suggested they should “Joyne in a petition to send for England to ye king to have it redressed.” When an objection was raised as to how such a petition would be delivered, Friend changed tack. Instead, the servants should recruit “a matter of fforty of them toge[th]er, & get Armes & he [Friend] would be ye first & have them cry as [th]ey went along, ‘who would be for Liberty, and free from bondage.'” Friend promised they would kill anyone who opposed them. Meanwhile, John Parkes, an overseer working for Goodwin, testified that the servants in his charge were “very well sattisfyed till William Clutton” made it known “that servants ought by ye custome of ye countrey to have meat 3 times a weeke.”
Friend did not deny to the court that he had made such speeches, noting that “hee might speake such words when [th]ey were all together,” but he insisted that he had not intended to actually lead a rebellion. The court responded by warning that Parkes “take speciall care, & have a strict, dilligent eye uppon Isaack friend his servant, who appeares of a turbulent & unquiett spiritt.” Friend, however, appeared to avoid punishment. Clutton, by contrast, was charged with having “spoken mutinous & seditious words.” The court ordered his arrest.
The York County Conspiracy came at a time when indentured servants were the primary labor source in Virginia, although the colony was slowly transitioning to enslaved African labor. The General Assembly passed a flurry of laws late in the 1650s and early in the 1660s designed to address the concerns of mistreated servants while also controlling their behavior. Concern about a large-scale rebellion was low until, in 1663, servants in Gloucester County were caught conspiring against the governor, Sir William Berkeley. By 1687, when a planned uprising of slaves in Westmoreland County was foiled, Virginia authorities took the possibility of insurrection as a serious threat.