Posts Tagged ‘Riots in New York City’

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]

Astor Place: rocked by a deadly riot

September 14, 2009

A riot sparked by dueling performances of Macbeth? Hard to believe, but it happened 160 years ago in Astor Place. Today, skate rats are the most menacing crowd you’ll find there.

EdwinforrestphotoBut in 1849, things were different. Top U.K. actor William Charles Macready, a favorite of New York City’s upper crust, was booked to perform Macbeth at the refined Astor Place Opera House on May 10. 

That same night, American-born Edwin Forrest (at left, a daguerreotype by Mathew Brady), who started his career in theaters on the nearby Bowery for working-class crowds, was also scheduled to play Macbeth a few blocks away. Once friendly, the actors were now rivals.

On May 7, Forrest’s fans—whipped up by newspaper stories and anti-English sentiment—arrived at Macready’s opening performance and proceeded to bombard the stage with eggs and shoes. 

Macready wanted to go back to Britain, but prominent New Yorkers, like Herman Melville and Washington Irving, persuaded him to stay.

Astorplaceriot

Before the May 10 performance, Forrest’s fans went into riot mode. About 20,000 men amassed outside the opera house, tossing rocks through windows and attempting to set it on fire. While police tried to quell the crowd outside, Macready finished the show and took off.

The rioters did not. National Guardsmen were called in to restore order. They fired on rioters as well as innocent bystanders. After it was finally brought under control, the riot had claimed 22 lives.


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