A lynching on a Greenwich Village street in 1863

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.


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]

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12 Responses to “A lynching on a Greenwich Village street in 1863”

  1. ronfrankl Says:

    Excellent post on one of the uglier episodes in New York City history. Interestingly, some of the troops that arrived to restore order were Union troops had fought at the Battle of Gettysburg two weeks earlier.

  2. Lady G. Says:

    I did some research on this a few years ago. So sad. What an ugly mob that was. After burning the orphanage, they beat a little black girl to death. The newspaper building had to hold off the crowds with a Gatling gun too. The first lady of Medicine, Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell, was caught up in this. She worked in a hospital and it was chaos for 3 days. She and a few other doctors served all patients, black and white, and they had to make sure the mob stayed out. Nurses covered the eyes of the patients because they were terrified of all the smoke and fire. I shudder to imagine a scene like that happening in Manhattan these days.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Ugly is the right word.

  4. Ryan Says:

    Gangs of NY was on last night and featured, with much cinematic dramatization, these riots. The movie features ships firing canon into the five points in an effort to quell the riots. I’m not sure if that actually happened but it makes for a good movie about bad times. As innacurate as the movie is, the plug uglies weren’t even a gang in NYC but rather baltimore, it helps younger generations remember that times like this were real and how fortunate we are today.

  5. Laura4NYC Says:

    wow! What a cruel time!

  6. sallieparker Says:

    Look at that police report that is linked and you will see this selfsame “William Jones” had just shot some white people (here called “rowdies,” but presumably unarmed since they didn’t shoot back). Most of the “lynchings” of blacks at this time followed the same pattern. Blacks with firearms, alone and in groups, were shooting white people along Sixth Avenue, Varick, Carmine, Clarkson, Bleecker, and Charlton Streets. Some got caught and beaten, some were hanged, some escaped after wounding or killing their victims.

    Read the daily newspapers of July 13-18, 1863 for more details (but avoid the NY Tribune and the NY Times, which did little first-hand reporting, and were mainly concerned with aiding the Radical Republicans’ effort to turn a legitimate protest into a “riot”).

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    I believe William Jones shot at the “rowdies” in self-defense, after they came after him first.

  8. On Thiz Day In History (our story) | Moorbey'z Blog Says:

    […] A lynching on a Greenwich Village street in 1863 […]

  9. frank caruso Says:

    just when l thought the South were the bad guys when it was the Yankees all along!

  10. Thanksgiving at the new Colored Orphan Asylum | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the asylum’s longtime home, on Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, was burned down during the terrible Draft Riots that rocked New York for days in July […]

  11. Leoman Says:

    The irony lies in the fact that the original inhabitants being the indigenous people were all but wiped out through the white settlers systematic genocide. In truth other than the Dutch, African Americans were the second people to inhabit what would become New York. They were here long before the Irish. The utter paradox is the fact that when the Irish first arrived in large numbers to escape famine in Ireland, they actually began taking the jobs that the African Americans held for years. The Irish felt that just because of their white skin they were better than the African Americans.
    One of the the first buildings the Irish burned was a haven for African American children less than 12 years old. The children barely escaped. The rioters still managed to beat one child to death. I ask you. Who are the true savages?

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