Posts Tagged ‘Civil War 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.


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]

When dog vs. rat fights entertained the city

February 3, 2011

New York after the Civil War had a feral edge.

Amid the poverty, crime, and gangs that packed the Bowery, Five Points, and waterfront districts, a brutal pastime reached new heights in popularity: rat-baiting—pitting a terrier against a rat until they fought to the death.

And no dive was more famous for its rat-baiting than Kit Burns’ Sportsmen’s Hall at 273 Water Street (illustrated at right and below).

“The pits, at Kit Burns’ and elsewhere, were uscreened boxes, with zinc-lined wooden walls eight feet long and four and a half feet high,” wrote Luc Sante in his must-read account of 19th century Bowery, Low Life.

“Matches typically drew no fewer than one hundred betting spectators, from all walks of life, with purses starting at $125. A good rat dog could kill a hundred rats in half an hour to forty-five minutes….”

But not all New Yorkers considered rat-baiting morally okay.

A New York Times article about 273 Water Street (now luxury apartments, of course) quoted Edward Winslow Martin’s 1868 The Secrets of the Great City:

“Most of our readers have witnessed a dog fight in the streets. Let them imagine the animals surrounded by a crowd of brutal wretches whose conduct stamps them as beneath the struggling beasts, and they will have a fair idea of the scene at Kit Burns.”’

The sport died out by the 20th century, thanks to the new ASPCA.