CHAPTER V

ANTI-NEGRO MOB VIOLENCE IN THE NORTH, 1862-63

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                                                Whatever the change in the spirit of Southern dreams may have been, the Negro had to overcome a great deal of hostility in the North before he could being to exploit the potential opportunities for his race opened up by the Civil War.  In an editorial on March 29, 1862, the Anglo-African declared that a "strong impediment" to Negro advancement was "the prejudice of the North."

                We may as well look this prejudice in the face as a disturbing element in the way of emancipation.  Its manifest expression is, that setting black me free to be the equals of white men in the slave States is something more dreadful than rebellion or secession, or even a dismembered union....The other from in which this prejudice is pronounced, is, in the fear expressed that the retaining of colored free laborers in the South will interfere with the domain of white laborers....Poor, chicken-hearted, semi-barbarous Caucasians, when will you learn that "the earth was made for Man"?  You have arts and arms, and culture, and an overwhelming majority in numbers....Must you die and give no sign that you have been able to surmount the prejudice of race, or your dread of the Negro?

                The Anglo-African had good reasons for its apprehensions, for the anti-Negro feeling in the North boiled over into several serious race riots in 1862-63.  These riots were sparked by job competition between white and Negro laborers, by the white

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workingman's fear that emancipation would loose a flood of Negroes upon the labor market and drive down wages, and by the inflammatory statements of the Democratic press and Democratic politicians.  In southern Illinois, Indiana,Ohio, and Pennsylvania ,a small influx of freedmen from the South seeking employment lent reality to white fears of Negro competition.  In other areas where violence occurred during the war, there was a long tradition of racial friction - this was especially true in New York City, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Buffalo.[1]

Lorillard and Watson's tobacco factory in Brooklyn employed twenty five black people, most of them women and children.  In August 1862, a mob of Irish workers forced their way into the factory and set it afire, hoping to burn down the building with the Negroes in it.  Fortunately the police arrived in time to extinguish the flames and rescue the employees, but the murderous mood of the mob betokened ill for the future.  The Anglo-African published the following editorial concerning the Brooklyn incident:

Irishmen!  The day will come that you will find out that you are making a sad mistake in assisting to crush out our liberties.  Learn! O learn, that the protection of the feeblest of your fellow beings, is the only guarantee you have of the protection for your own liberty in this or any other land.  We call upon the world to bear witness to the dreadful effects which the system of slavery has had upon the Irish people.  In their own country they are kind and hospitable to our poor and constantly abused race; but here, so dreadfully corrupted do some of them become that they are prepared for the vilest deed of diabolism which it is possible for the brain of man to conceive, as is witnessed in their attempt to roast alive a number of people who never did them the least harm.  Americans! We charge you before high Heaven and the whole civilized world with being the authors of this great wickedness.  It was you who first taught them to hate us....Why, our countrymen, will you not put away this great wickedness from among you.[2]

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                On March 6, 1863 , a mob of white men marched into the Negro section of Detroit, destroyed thirty-two houses, killed several Negroes, and left more than two hundred people homeless.  The Christian Recorder, official organ of the A.M.E. Church, declared in an editorial:

                We have to chronicle one of the most disgraceful, inhuman, and heathen-like riots, ever recorded upon the pages of history.  It occurred in the city of Detroit, Mich....What have the coloured people done that they should be thus treated?  Even here, in the city of Philadelphia, in many places it is almost impossible for a respectable colored person to walk the streets without being insulted by a set of blackguards and cowards; and the very lowest and most vulgar language that ever any human being uttered, is addressed to our wives and daughters.  How long shall this state of things continue?  For we solemnly declare that there is not a more true and loyal people to the Union than the colored people, and we hope that our city papers will come down on such conduct.[3]

                On July 13, 1863, New York's lower-class white population erupted into four of the bloodiest days of mob violence ever witnessed by the metropolis.  The immediate object of the mob's wrath was the draft enrollment office, but the city's helpless Negro population bore the brunt of the violence.  Dozens of Negroes were lynched in the streets or murdered in their homes.  The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned to the ground.  Fore years later a Negro author published the following account of the riots:

                The mob was composed of the lowest and most degraded of the foreign population (mainly Irish), raked from the filthy cellars and dens of the city, steeped in crimes of the deepest dye, and ready for any act, no matter how dark and damnable; together with the worst type of our native criminals....Breaking into stores, hotels, and saloons, and helping themselves to strong drink, ad libitum, they became inebriated, and marched through every part of the city.  Calling at places where large bodies of men were at work, and pressing them in, their numbers rapidly increased to thousands, and there fiendish depredations had no

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bounds.  Having been taught by the leaders of the Democratic party to hate the Negro, and having but a few weeks previous seen regiments of colored volunteers pass through New York on their way south, this infuriated band of drunken men, women, and children paid special visits to all localities inhabited by the blacks, and murdered all they could lay their hands on, without regard to age or sex.  Every place known to employ Negroes was searched:  steamboats leaving the city, and railroad depots, were watched, lest some should escape their vengeance.

                Hundreds of the blacks, driven from their homes, and hunted and chased through the streets, presented themselves at the doors of jails, prisons, and police-stations, and begged admission....

                Blacks were chased to the docs, thrown into the river and drowned; while some, after being murdered, were hung to lampposts.  Between forty and fifty colored persons were killed [probably an exaggerated estimate], and nearly as many maimed for life.[4]

                The Brooklyn Correspondent of the Christian Recorder wrote shortly after the riots that

Many men were killed and thrown into the rivers, a great number hung to trees and lamp-posts, numbers shot down; no black person could show their [sic] heads but what they were hunted like wolves.  These scenes continued for four days.  Hundreds of our people are in station houses, in the woods, and on Blackwell's island.  Over three thousand are to-day homeless and destitute, without means of support for their families.  It is truly a day of distress to our race in this section.  In Brooklyn we have not had any great trouble, but many of our people have been compelled to leave their houses and flee for refuge.  The Irish have become so brutish, that it is unsafe for families to live near them, and while I write, there are many now in the stations and country hiding from violence....

                In Weeksville and Flatbush, the colored men who had manhood in them armed themselves, and threw out their pickets

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every day and night, determined to die defending their homes.  Hundreds fled there from New York....The mob spirit seemed to have run in every direction, and every little village catches the rebellious spirit.  One instance is worthy of note.  In the village of Flushing, the colored people went to the Catholic priest and told him that they were peaceable men doing no harm to any one, and that the Irish had threatened to mob them, but if they did, the would burn two Irish houses for every one of theirs, and would kill two Irish men fro every colored man killed by them.  They were not mobbed, and so in every place where they were prepared they escaped being mobbed.  Most of the colored men in Brooklyn who remained in the city were armed daily for self-defence.[5]

                William Powell, a Negro physician, barely managed to save himself and his family from the mob.  He published the following account:

                On the afternoon of [July 13] my house...was invaded by a mob of half grown boys....[They] were soon replaced by men and women.  From 2 P.M. to 8 P.M. myself and family were prisoners in my own house to king mob, from which there was no way to escape but over the roofs of adjoining houses.  About 4 P.M....the mob commenced throwing stones at the lower windows, until they had succeeded in making an opening.  I was determined not to leave until driven from the premises.  My family including my invalid daughter...took refuge on the roof of the next house.  I remained till the mob broke in, and then narrowly escaped the same way....We remained on the roof for an hour; still I hoped that relief would come.  The neighbors, anticipating the mob would fire my house, were removing their effects on the roof - all was excitement.  But as the object of the mob was plunder, they were too busily engaged in carrying off all my effects to apply the torch....

                How to escape from the roof of a five story building, with four females - and one cripple - beside eight men, without a ladder, or any assistance from outside, was beyond my not excited imagination.  But the God that succored Hagar in her

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flight, came to my relief in the person of a little deformed, despised Israelite - who, Samaritan-like, too, my poor helpless daughter under his protection in his house, where I presume she now is, until friends send her to me.  He also supplied me with a long rope.  I then took a survey of the premises, and fortunately found a way to escape, and though pitchy dark, I took soundings with the rope to see if it would touch the next roof, after which I took a clove-hitch around the clothes line which was fastened to the wall by pulleys, and which led from one roof to the other over a space of about one hundred feet.  In this manner I managed to lower my family down on to the next roof, and from one roof to another, until I landed them in a neighbor's yard.  We were secreted in our friend's cellar till 11 P.M., when we were taken in charge by the Police and locked up in the Station house for safety.  In this dismal place we found upwards of seventy men, women and children - some with broken limbs - bruised and beaten from head to foot....

                All my personal property, to the amount of $3,000, has been destroyed and scattered to the four winds....As a devoted loyal Unionist, I have done all I could to perpetuate and uphold the integrity of this free government.  As an evidence of this devotedness, my oldest son is now serving my country as a surgeon in the U.S. army, and myself had just received a commission in the naval service.  What more could I do?  What further evidence was wanting to prove my allegiance in the exigencies of our unfortunate country?  I am now an old man, stripped of everything,...but I thank God that He has yet spared my life, which I am ready to yield in defence of my country.[6]

                "Great God!  What is this nation coming to?" asked the Christian Recorder in an editorial on he Riots in New York."

                These rioters of New York could not be satisfied with the resistance of the draft and doing all the damage they could against the government and those of the white citizens who are

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friends  to the administration, but must wheel upon the colored people, killing and beating every one whom they could see and catch, and destroying their property....A gloom of infamy and shame will hang over New York for centuries....Our citizens are expecting every day that a mob will break out here, in Philadelphia....If so, we have only to say this to our colored citizens of Philadelphia and vicinity:  Have plenty of powder and protection of your wives and children; and even [boiling] water, if need be; for any and every person has a perfect right to protect their [sic] homes.[7]

                Dr. J.W.C. Pennington discussed the lessons of the Draft Riots in a speech at Poughkeepsie on August 24, 1863, which deserves quotation at length:

                The elements of this mob have been centering and gathering strength in New York, for more than two years  And, as soon as the rebellion broke out, prominent colored men in passing the streets, were often hailed as "Old Abe," or "Jeff. Davis," evidently to feel their loyal pulse, and as it became evident that our sympathies were with the Federal government, we became object of more marked abuse and insult.  From many of the grocery corners, stones, potatoes, and pieces of coal, would often be hurled, by idle young loafers, standing about....The language addressed to colored men, not seemly to record on paper, became the common language of the street, and even of some of the fashionable avenues....In no other country in the world would the streets of refined cities be allowed to be polluted, as those of New York have been, with foul and indecent language, without rebuke from the press, the pulpit, or the authorities....What has been the result?  Why, just what we might have expected,  - the engendering of a public feeling unfriendly toward colored people.  This feeling, once created, might at any moment be intensified into an outbreak against its unoffending objects....

               The opposition to the draft comes largely from that class of men of foreign birth who had declared their intention to become citizens, but who have not done so. 

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They have been duly notified that they could leave the country within sixty days, or submit to the draft....They do not wish to leave the country, and they do not wish to fight....Dishonest politicians aim to make these men believe that the war has been undertaken to abolish slavery; and so far as they believe so, their feelings are against colored people....

                Let the greedy foreigner know that a part of this country BELONGS TO US; and that we assert the right to live and labor here:  That in New York and other cities, we claim the right to buy, hire, occupy and use houses and tenements, for legal considerations; to pass and repass on the streets, lanes, avenues, and all public ways.  Our fathers have fought for this country, and helped to free it from the British yoke.  We are no fighting to help to free it from the combined conspiracy of Jeff. Davis and Co.; we are doing so with the distinct understanding, that WE ARE TO HAVE ALL OUR RIGHTS AS MEN AND AS CITIZENS, and, that there are to be no side issues, no RESERVATIONS, either political, civil, or religious.  In this struggle we know nothing but God, Manhood, and American Nationality, full and unimpaired....

                How does the matter sum up?  It sums up thus; for more than a year, the riot spirit had been culminating, before it burst forth....The loss of life and property make only a small part of the damage.  The breaking up of families; and business relations just beginning to prosper; the blasting of hopes just dawning; the loss of precious harvest time which will never again return; the feeling of insecurity engendered; the confidence destroyed; the reaction; and lastly, the gross insult offered to our character as a people, sum up a weight of injury which can be realized by the most enlightened and sensitive minds among us....

                For all the purposes, therefore, of social, civil, and religious enjoyment, and right, we hold New York solemnly bound to insure us, as citizens, permanent security in our homes.  Relief, and damage money, is well enough.  But it cannot atone, fully, for evils done by riots.  It cannot bring back our murdered dead.  It cannot remove the insults we feel; and finally, it gives no proof that the people have really changed their minds, for the better towards us.[8]

                In the end, the sympathy aroused for the black victims of the Draft Riots helped to better the status of Negroes not only in New York but all over the North.  But the black man still had to face many decisions and trials before his position improved....


NOTES

[1] See Williston Lofton, “Northern Labor and the Negro during the Civil War,” Journal of Negro History, XXXIV (July, 1949), 251-73.
[2] Anglo-African, August 9, 1862 .
[3] Christian Recorder, March 14, 1863 .
[4] William Wells Brown, The Negro in the American Rebellion (New York, 1867), pp. 192-97.
[5] Christian Recorder, July 25, 1863 .
[6] Letter to the New Bedford Standard, reprinted in the Pacific Appeal, August 22, 1863 .
[7] Christian Recorder, July 18, 1863 .
[8] Published in the Principia, January 7, 14, 1864.