A deadly riot rocks Eighth Avenue in 1871

The first round of violence happened on July 12, 1870.

That’s when Irish Protestants called the Orangemen paraded up Eighth Avenue from their headquarters on 29th Street to 92nd Street.

They were celebrating the anniversary of the of the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690, when Protestants regained control of the country.

Not everyone in the city’s huge Irish immigrant community felt like celebrating. At the park, hundreds of Irish Catholics heckled and attacked the marchers, killing eight men.

Tensions simmered all year long, and when the Orangemen got the go ahead to hold their parade one year later, they were protected by a thousand cops plus several National Guard regiments.

On July 12, 1871, they marched—south this time—from Eighth Avenue and 29th Street.

A hostile crowd of Irish Catholics lined the sidewalks, and at 25th Street (above), a shot was fired from a tenement.

“A scene of mad confusion ensued, during which the soldiers of the escort, deploying around the paraders whom they were protecting, lifted their rifles and poured a volley into the crowds,” recalls a 1921 New York Times article.

“On the instant Eighth Avenue was strewn with dead and dying and wounded persons, while hundreds of others dashed into door ways or down side streets in an attempt to escape the bullets flying in all directions.”

The parade made it to 23rd Street, where it reached Fifth Avenue and a friendlier reception. It continued to Cooper Union, were another hostile crowd made it impossible to move forward.

Sixty people were killed, mostly Irish Catholic laborers. Thanks to what became known as the Orange Riot, the parade was never held again.

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20 Responses to “A deadly riot rocks Eighth Avenue in 1871”

  1. Lady G. Says:

    Wow. I never heard of this riot. I’m glad they stopped the parade before more people got senselessly killed! Now I understand more where the expression, ‘The fightin’ Irish’ comes from.

  2. Paul Ruoso Says:

    Do the Syracuse Orangemen get their name from the same? Surprising.

    • Sean Says:

      That’s likely just a coincidence, just like NYU are known as the Violets. But it is interesting that they no longer wish to be known as Orangemen or Orangewomen, but The Orange.

      On that upstate note, it is not surprising that Orange County is adjacent to Ulster County. America shared some of the sectarianism.

      • Joe R Says:

        I’m not too up on European dynastic history but I’ll guess that Orange County upstate may be named after the Dutch House of Orange, key players in the independence of the Netherlands and probably running the place when Henry Hudson first visited this area. I think that the Oranges in New Jersey are named after them, too. Come to think of it, even the orange color in the flag of NYC might come from them.

  3. Sean Says:

    This was not the only anti-Orange riot. There was another in the vicinity of 6th Ave and W. 4th Street in the same era.

    However, there is a glaring error!

    Orangemen, those belonging to the Orange Order, are not simply “Irish Protestants”, who are a good people,

    Orangemen are a bigoted, sectarian, triumphalist association that wants to maintain Protestant Ascendancy at the expense of the Nationalist (Catholic) population by instilling fear and terror.

    Intimidation, property destruction, beatings and murders are the trademark of this group.

    What the KKK has done to blacks in America, the Orange Order has done to Irish Catholics in Ireland.
    In fact, it is my belief that the KKK was founded by those with Orange affiliation, since the Orange Order had hooded, night-riding vigilantes in Ireland well before the KKK was established.

    Even today, their daytime marches are severely curtailed by – of all people – the British government, due to the sectarian violence and provocation that the Orangemen incite against the Nationalist community.

    So the Orange Riot was not just a case of Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants fighting each other. It was a popular uprising against a group of racist bigots.

    • petey Says:

      sean is100% right about sectarianism. the OO is (or was) in the main anglican, and ulster presbyterians and ulster catholics from time to time understood that they had common cause as being outside the power structure. the united irishmen and the official IRA were of very different natures of course but both were non-sectarian.

  4. ronfwnc Says:

    My old neighborhood! Thanks for sharing. It’s remarkable how much of Chelsea’s rough past has been forgotten.

  5. Joe R Says:

    Amazingly, most of the buildings on the left side of the first picture and the Orangemen’s HQ building in the second picture still exist. I had read somewhere (Low Life? Gangs of New York?) that a building just off to the left of the first picture – then a hotel called the Utah House – was the meeting place of a pro Irish-Republic group. It now houses a Korean deli. http://www.antiquemapsandprints.com/scansr/P-5-00594a.jpg

  6. Joe R Says:

    BTW, in the first picture, the large building with the flag was the Grand Opera House. You wrote an item about it a few years back.

    • Sean Says:

      Yeah, when the Orangemen march past an Irish Republican headquarters, that’s a sure sign of disaster.

      Although the annual Orange psrsdes on July 12, celebrating the 1690 victory of William of Orange over King James, ceased in NYC soon after this, there was one was still being held in Philadelphia well into this century, as well as in Canada, which has a large Scots-Irish (Protestant) demographic.

      Of course, they are still held annually on the 12th in Ireland and Scotland with all the customary pomp. My parents’ local R.C. church in Scotland would get its stained-glass windows broken and its walls graffitied with sectarian hate messages every July 12th

      Here is a link to a recent (peaceful) one in Northern Ireland in a Protestant town http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PO95KehsLhg

      and also a link to a contemporary riot after the British had banned the Orangemen from marching through a Nationalist neighborhood

      And the beat goes on……

  7. fivepointsguy Says:

    One very visible participant in the procession was Jim Fisk, who narrowly escaped with his person in one piece.

  8. T.J. Connick Says:

    According to Gotham by Burrows and Wallace (pp. 1003-1008): New York of 1871 had become a place where the working class was regularly getting it in the neck. The “Orange vs. Green” animosity, the spark that ignited the bloodbath, was but a part of a larger conflict. The arrayed forces of the powerful and the privileged expressed their convictions clearly: Tammany, the laborers, the “rabble”, the “mob” — all must be taught a lesson.

    Some may recall Richard Nixon’s assessment of the 1970 Kent State massacre: “When dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy.” Consider New York’s Police Commissioner Henry Smith’s comments on military slaughter in 1871: “Had one thousand of the rioters been killed, it would have had the effect of completely cowing the remainder.”

    New York was at the time witness to a terrific concentration of wealth, fearsomely paired with a relentless and grinding abasement of the have nots. In a coincidence for which a writer of fiction would be ridiculed, at the very moment that regimental rifles were playing upon massed crowds lining 8th Avenue, many of the city’s well-connected were cheering home the winner of the Travers Stakes in the leafy setting of Saratoga’s opening day. The Tribune covered both stories — in tones remarkably similar — in adjoining columns on page 9 of their July 13 edition.

  9. MO Says:

    The Oangemen are creating a controversy in Dublin again they want to resume having their marches in Dublin again.Things are better left alone hopefully the city of Dublin will not allow it .The march is just going to stir up old crap again.

  10. Matthew Says:

    The former Utah House Hotel at 300 Eighth Avenue and 25th Street is currently under renovation again after the Korean deli closed a few weeks ago. The sign for the Utah House Hotel is visible for the moment.

  11. A 19th century hotel sign comes back into view | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] But Utah House’s most infamous moment came during the Orange Riots of 1871. […]

  12. Marsha Corcoran Says:

    I was in Belfast a few years ago when the Orange people were acting up and setting busses on fire blocking the highway. I was confined to hotel that evening and was glad to leave early the next day.

  13. Rita Hestand Says:

    My question, why can’t the two religious sectors co-exist? What makes this so impossible? I really don’t understand it. Are they all using religion just to fight? Makes no sense to me.

    • S.S. Says:

      It has little to do with religious doctrine or theology, and much more to do with the fact that in the 17th and 18th centuries, the English introduced into Northern Ireland impoverished Scottish settlers (who just happened to be Protestant) to work and administer the land that the English had seized from the defeated Irish (who just happened to be Catholic).

      Later, when the Irish rose up to demand equal rights, fair distribution of the land and independence, the British government supported the creation of this Orange organization of extremists who fought at all costs to keep the Irish (Catholics) from procuring the little they (the Protestants) had gotten from the English.

      Throughout its imperial history, England – in a cynical strategy of Divide and Conquer – often paired native religious/ethnic groups against each other (Palestine, India, Africa), despite the commonalities these groups shared, in order to maintain supremacy over each.

      Again, it has little to do with theology and all to do with who controls the land: the natives, the settlers – or their masters.

  14. John Says:

    It has everything to do with religious doctrine. It goes back a lot further than the 17th and 18th centuries, to the time of the formation of the Anglican Church, and the subsequent attempts at a Catholic restoration. The Catholic Irish and those damned Frenchies caused so much trouble that Cromwell sorted them out. The Orangemen came later, of course, but the cause was the same.

    None of this was either pleasant or by today’s standards defensible; life under any of the despots, Protestant, Catholic or other, was tough for the peasants, and wicked things happened in America as well as England and Ireland. When it was no longer allowed to bash somebody’s head in willy-nilly, due deference was made to the rule of law, and then you got legally burned at the stake.

    Of course the English played divide and conquer, so did all the others. Herod, Romans……they are stll doing it.

    It’s time we grew up.

    • S.S. Says:

      If you really believe that the wars in Ireland have nothing to do with colonialism and imperialism, and instead are based entirely on the religious doctrine of, say, transubstantiation or papal infallibility, then you are as misguided and beyond the Pale in that respect as when you mockingly refer to Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing and genocide of Irish peasantry as “sorting them out”.

      That makes as much sense, old chap, as believing that the reason Hitler “sorted out the Jews” was for their not accepting Jesus as their personal savior.

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