Posts Tagged ‘Draft Riots’

The Midtown corner where the Draft Riots began

July 13, 2020

It’s the worst riot in New York City history, and it kicked off 157 years ago today.

On July 13, 1863, with the Civil War raging, the New York Draft Riots began: four days of mostly working-class Irish men marauded across the city—burning homes and buildings and targeting police, abolitionists, pro-war newspaper offices, and black residents, among others.

“By far the worst violence was reserved for African-American men, a number of whom were lynched or beaten to death with shocking brutality,” states History.com. An estimated 119 people were killed, and countless buildings destroyed.

Though the riots spread to parts of Brooklyn on the third day, most of the violence took place in Manhattan. The atrocities kicked off on this unassuming East Midtown corner at Third Avenue and 47th Street.

Why here? This is where the Ninth District provost marshal’s office was located. A new federal conscription law had been passed, and the names of all men in the district who were deemed eligible for military duty were entered into a lottery here. Those selected would be called up to serve.

The draft law was unpopular among working men. “The complaints—and the violence that followed—focused mainly on two exempted groups: the rich, who could pay $300 to escape the draft, and blacks, who were not considered citizens,” wrote the New York Times in 2017.

The first day of the lottery, Saturday, July 11, was peaceful. The second drawing, two days later on Monday morning, took a dark turn.

“Employees of the city’s railroads, shipyards, machine shops, and ironworks and hundreds of other laborers failed to show up for work,” stated Stephen D. Lut in an 2000 article in America’s Civil War, via historynet. “By 8 o’clock, the workers were streaming up Eighth and Ninth avenues, closing shops, factories, and construction sites and urging their workers to join them.”

“The procession congregated in Central Park for a brief meeting, then formed into two columns that marched to the Ninth District provost marshal’s office. They carried ‘NO DRAFT’ placards.”

As the lottery got underway, the crowd of about 500 outside threw stones and bricks at the windows, terrifying families who lived on the upper floors of the building, according to a Times article written the next day.

The crowd battled their way inside, destroyed paperwork, beat the deputy provost marshal, and fought off policemen who tried to quell the disorder.

A fire was lit—possibly by firemen who joined in the rioting—and the entire block was consumed, touching off bloodshed and destruction all across Manhattan. A month after the riots were finally stopped by 4,000 federal troops, the draft lottery process resumed.

[Second image: Digital Library of America; third and fourth images: NYPL; fifth image: House Divided/Dickenson College]

The turbulent history of Tompkins Square

January 17, 2009

This photo, from John Gruen’s The New Bohemia, shows a snow-covered, placid Tompkins Square Park in the early 1960s. No hipsters or crusties; no playgrounds or dog runs either.

There’s St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B in the back. The statue of post-Civil War Congressional Rep. Samuel Cox is in the foreground. And you can just make out the shadows of the then-new housing projects on Avenue D. 

tompkinssquareparkTompkins Square is quiet and lovely these days, but it’s been the scene of some pretty bloody riots since it opened in 1850. Food shortages and unemployment prompted demonstrations in 1857; the deadly 1863 Draft Riots spilled into Tompkins Square as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then came the Tompkins Square Riot. In 1874, thousands of workers gathered at the park to protest poor economic conditions brought on by the Panic of 1873. Police on horseback fought back the crowds by beating them with clubs, as illustrated below.

1874tompkinsriot

A new round of Tompkins Square riots pitting cops against protesters started up again in the late 1980s and early 1990s—another period of economic recession.

The evolution of the Bowery Boy

October 3, 2008

In the early 1800s, when the Bowery became the theater and entertainment district of New York, the Bowery Boy of the time was more of a stylish young city guy than outright thug. A New York Times article entitled “Passing of the Old Bowery,” published in 1905, describes him as such:

“The Bowery Boy of those days was more or less of a dandy, so far as oiled hair, grandiloquent manners, and showy clothes go to make a dandy. He was aggressive, and always ready for a spree, regardless of consequences.”

By the 1860s, as the Bowery grew rougher and New York was rocked by the draft riots, the Bowery Boy had became an anti-Catholic, nativist gang member. Incredible New York, published in 1951, explains:

“He had already become a dubious hero of American folklore when the draft riots made him a civic menace, and respectable New York determined to do away with him. The Bowery Boy was not an adolescent. He was a mature tough of bellicose nature, with a taste for easily concealed lethal weapons: brass knuckles, a razor-sharp knife, a short length of iron pipe, a gun.

“In his leisure hours, on parade, he looked like a fancy-dan. He wore a tall beaver hat, an inordinately long black frock coat, loud, checked bell-bottomed pants, a vivid, floppy kerchief knotted under his collar. . . . The Bowery Boy was a plug-ugly always ready for a row, and he resented nothing more than the intrusion of outsiders into his favorite haunts.”

By the end of the century, the Bowery Boys had disappeared . . . only to be revived in the 1940s and 1950s as a streetwise yet loveable group of ruffians in the Bowery Boys movies.