Posts Tagged ‘Draft Riots NYC’

A lynching on a Greenwich Village street in 1863

January 14, 2013

ClarksonstreetsignAt 6 p.m. on the hot evening of July 13, 1863, William Jones, an African-American cartman, left his Clarkson Street home to buy a loaf of bread.

He couldn’t have known that a vicious mob enraged by the Civil War had begun a five-day rampage known as the Draft Riots. And Jones was right in their path.

The rioters were mostly working-class Irish immigrants. They were angry about a federal draft law that conscripted poor men while allowing their wealthier counterparts to buy their way out of the army. And they feared newly freed blacks would come to New York and take their jobs.

That morning, after destroying a draft office at Third Avenue and 47th Street, crowds of rioters dispersed around Manhattan.

Clarksonstreetlynching

They burned the homes of draft supporters, destroyed train tracks, beat wealthy residents, torched and looted the Brooks Brothers store, and attacked police and soldiers.

Their rage was directed especially toward black New Yorkers: they set fire to the Colored Orphan Asylum on Eighth Avenue and 44th Street, killed a black coachman on West 27th Street, and chased three black men who happened to be walking down Varick Street.

Clarksonstreetlynchingharpers2Those three got away. That’s when the mob targeted Jones.

“A crowd of rioters in Clarkson Street . . . met an inoffensive colored man returning from a bakery with a loaf of bread under his arm,” states an 1863 police report about the Draft Riots.

“They instantly set upon and beat him, and after nearly killing him, hung him to a lamp-post. His body was left suspended for several hours. A fire was made underneath him, and he was literally roasted as he hung, the mob reveling in their demonic act.”

A total of 119 people were killed; an estimated 11 of those were black. Finally on July 16, 6,000 soldiers hit the streets, and things went back to normal.

The city’s black residents did not. Twenty percent left the city for good.

[above: an illustration from the NYPL]

Did the Underground Railroad stop in Chelsea?

January 24, 2011

The underground Railroad didn’t skip New York City.

Safe havens for runaway slaves existed in Brooklyn—such as Brooklyn Heights’ Plymouth Church. And the John Bowne House, in Flushing, was also rumored to have been a hideout.

But in Manhattan, the only known Underground Railroad site that still exists is the row house at 339 West 29th Street (Ivy-covered in 1932).

Built in the 1840s on what was then called Lamartine Place, number 339 was owned by James S. Gibbons and his staunch abolitionist wife, Abigail Hopper Gibbons.

According to the Landmarks Preservation Committee Report that declared the house and its neighbors the Lamartine Historic District:

“In his memoirs, the American lawyer and diplomat Joseph Hodges Choate who was a friend of the Gibbons family recollects dining with the Gibbons and a fugitive slave at No. 339 in 1855, citing the residence as a stop on the Underground Railroad.”

No. 339 (in the center, under scaffolding and a new facade) was also attacked and burned in the 1863 Draft Riots, when roving mobs of New Yorkers upset about new draft laws killed African-Americans.

A house with history like that can’t escape scrutiny—which is probably why the city ordered the current owner to tear down the illegal fifth floor that was recently added.


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