The Great Riots of New York 1712 to 1873
by J.T. Headley
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1712 to 1873

































The materials for the descriptions of the Negro and Doctors' Riots were gathered from the Archives of the Historical Society; those of the immediately succeeding ones, from the press of the times.

For the scenes and incidents that occurred on the stage and behind the curtain in the Astor-place Opera Riot, I am indebted to a pamphlet entitled "Behind the Scenes."

The materials for the history of the Draft Riots were obtained in part from the Daily Press, and in part from the City and Military Authorities, especially Commissioner Acton, Seth Hawley, General Brown, and Colonel Frothingham, who succeeded in putting them down.

Mr. David Barnes, who published, some ten years ago, a pamphlet entitled "The Metropolitan Police," kindly furnished me facts relating to the Police Department of great value, and which saved me much labor and time.

Much difficulty has been encountered in gathering together, from various quarters, the facts spread over a century and a half, but it is believed that everything necessary to a complete understanding of the subjects treated of has been given, consistent with the continuity and interest of the narrative.

Of course some minor riots—a collection of mobs that were easily dispersed by the police, and were characterized by no prolonged struggle or striking incidents—are not mentioned.



Character of a City illustrated by Riots.—New Material for History of Draft Riots.—History of the Rebellion incomplete without History of them.—The Fate of the Nation resting on the Issues of the Struggle in New York City.—The best Plan to adopt for Protection against Mobs.



Almost impossible for the present Generation to comprehend its true Character and Effect on the People.—Description of New York at that Time.—The Negro Slaves.—The Negro Riot of 1712.—Description of it.—The Winter of 1741.—Governor's House burned down.—Other Fires.—Suspicion of the People.—Arrest and Imprisonment of the Blacks.—Reward offered for the supposed Conspirators.—Alarm and Flight of the Inhabitants.— Examination and Confession of Mary Burton.—Peggy, the Newfoundland Beauty, and the Hughson Family.—The Conspiracy.—Executions.—Fast.— Hughson's Hearing.—Hung in Chains.—The Body, and that of a Negro, left to swing and rot in the Air.—Strange Change in the Appearances of the Bodies.—The People throng to look at them.—Negroes burned at the Stake. —Terrific Spectacle.—Bloody Summer.—Execution of a Catholic Priest.— Strange Scenes.—Upper Classes accused.—Executions stopped.—Reason of the Panic.



Thorough Understanding of the Principles of Liberty by the People.—The Stamp Act.—How viewed by the Colonists.—Colden strengthens Fort George in Alarm.—Arrival of the Stamps.—How the News was received by the Sons of Liberty.—A Bold Placard.—Stamp Distributor frightened.—Patriotic Action of the Merchants.—Public Demonstration against the Stamp Act.— Colden takes Refuge in the Fort.—Dare not fire on the People.—The People at the Gate demand the Stamps.—Colden and Lord Bute hung in Effigy.— Colden's Coach-house broken open.—The Images placed in the Coach, and dragged with Shouts through the Streets.—Hung again in Sight of the Fort.—A Bonfire made of the Fence around Bowling Green, and the Governor's Carriages, while the Garrison look silently on.—Prejudice against Coaches.—Major James' House sacked.—Great Joy and Demonstration at the Repeal of the Stamp Act.—Celebration of the King's Birthday.— Loyalty of the People.—Mutiny Act.—A Riot becomes a Great Rebellion.



Body-snatching.—Bodies dug up by Medical Students.—Excitement of the People.—Effect of the Discovery of a human Limb from the Hospital.—Mob ransack the Building.—Destruction of Anatomical Specimens.—Arrival of Mayor, and Imprisonment of Students.—Second Day.—Examination of Columbia College and Physicians' Houses.—Appeal of the Mayor and distinguished Citizens to the Mob.—Mob attempt to break into Jail and seize the Students.—The Fight.—The Military called out.—Beaten by the Mob.— Larger Military Force called out.—Attacked by the Mob.—Deadly Firing.— Great Excitement.—Flight of Doctors and Students.



Fatal Error in our Naturalization Laws.—Our Experiment of Self-government not a fair one.—Fruit of giving Foreigners the Right to Vote.—Bitter Feeling between Democrats and Whigs.—First Day of Election.—Ships "Constitution" and "Veto."—Whigs driven from the Polls.—Excitement.— Whigs determined to defend themselves.—Meeting called.—Resolutions.— Second Day's Election.—Attack on the Frigate "Constitution."—A Bloody Fight.—Mayor and Officers wounded.—Mob triumphant.—Excitement of the Whigs.—The Streets blocked by fifteen thousand enraged Whigs.—Military called out.—Occupy Arsenal and City Hall all Night.—Result of the Election.—Excitement of the Whigs.—Mass-meeting in Castle Garden.



The Slavery Question agitated.—The End, Civil War.—The Results.—William Lloyd Garrison.—Feeling of the People on the Subject.—First Attempt to call a Meeting of the Abolitionists in New York.—Meeting in Chatham Street Chapel.—A Fight.—Mob take Possession of Bowery Theatre.—Sacking of Lewis Tappan's House.—Fight between Mob and Police.—Mobbing of Dr. Cox's Church, in Laight Street.—His House broken into.—Street Barricaded.—Attack on Arthur Tappan's Store.—Second Attack on Church in Laight Street.—Church sacked in Spring Street.—Arrival of the Military. —Barricades carried.—Mr. Ludlow's House entered.—Mob at Five Points.— Destruction of Houses.—The City Military called out.—Mob overawed, and Peace restored.—Five Points Riot.—Stone-cutters' Riot.



Starvation will always create a Riot.—Foreign Population easily aroused against the Rich.—Severe Winter of 1836.—Scarcity of Flour.—Meeting of Citizens called without Result.—Meeting called in the Park.—Speeches.— Sacking of Hart & Co.'s Flour Store, in Washington Street.—Strange Spectacle.—National Guards called out.—Disperse the Mob.—Attack on Herrick's Flour Store.—Folly of the Riot.



Rivalry between Forrest and Macready.—Macready's Arrival in this Country.—The Announcement of his Appearance at the Astor-place Opera House, and Forrest at the Broadway Theatre the same Night posted Side by Side.—Bowery Boys crowd the Opera House.—Anxiety of the Managers.— Consultations and Dramatic Scenes behind the Curtain.—Stamping of the People.—Scene on raising the Curtain.—Stormy Reception of Macready.— Howled down.—Mrs. Pope driven from the Stage by the Outrageous Language of the Mob.—Macready not allowed to go on.—His foolish Anger.—Flees for his Life.—His Appearance the Second Night.—Preparations to put down the Mob.—Exciting Scene in the Theatre.—Terrific Scenes without.—Military arrive.—Attacked by the Mob.—Patience of the Troops.—Effort to avoid Firing.—The Order to Fire.—Terrific Scene.—Strange Conduct of Forrest. —Unpublished Anecdote of General Scott.



Creation of the Metropolitan District.—Collision between Mayor Wood's Police and the Metropolitan Police.—Seventh Regiment called out.—Dead- Rabbits' Riot.—Severe Fight between the Roach Guards and Dead Rabbits.— Police driven back.—Barricades erected.—Military called out.—Killed and Wounded.—Bread Riot.—Financial Distress.



Cause of the Riots.—The London Times.—Draft called a despotic Measure.—The despotic Power given to Washington by Congress.—Despotic Action sometimes Necessary, in order to save the Life of the Nation.—The Rights of Government.—Drafting he Legitimate Way to raise an Army—It is not Unequal or Oppressive.


Rights of Municipalities.—Interference of the Legislature with the City Government.—Conflict between the Governor and Police Commissioners.—A Wrong becomes a Practical Blessing.—Provost Marshals.—Riot not anticipated.—Bad time to commence the Draft.—Preparations of Superintendent Kennedy.—The Police System.—Attack on Provost Marshal Captain Erhardt.—Telegrams of the Police.—Kennedy starts on a Tour of Observation.


Commencement of the Mob.—Its Line of March.—Its immense Size.—Attacks a Provost-marshal's Office, in Third Avenue.—Set on Fire.—Terrible Struggle of Kennedy for his Life with the Mob.—Carried to Head-quarters unconscious.—Acton's Preparations.—The Telegraph System.—Mob cutting down Telegraph Poles.—Number of Despatches sent over the Wires during the Riot.—Superintendent of Telegraph Bureau seized and held Prisoner by the Mob.


Soldiers beaten by the Mob.—Gallant Fight of Sergeant McCredie.—Mob Triumphant.—Beat Police Officers unmercifully.—Fearful Scenes.—Fifty thousand People block Third Avenue.—A whole Block of Houses burning.— Attack on a Gun Factory.—Defeat of the Broadway Squad.—Houses sacked in Lexington Avenue.—Telegraph Dispatches.—Bull's Head Tavern burned.— Block on Broadway burned.—Burning of the Negroes' Orphan Asylum.—Attack on Mayor Opdyke's House.—A Crisis nobly met.—Gallant Fight and Victory of Sergeant Carpenter.—A thrilling Spectacle.


No Military in the City.—The Mayor calls on General Wool, commanding Eastern Department, for Help.—Also on General Sandford.—General Wool sends to General Brown, commanding Garrison in the Harbor, for U. S. Troops.—Marines of the States appealed to for Troops.—General Brown assumes Command.—Attack of Mob on the Tribune Building.—Its severe Punishment.—Government Buildings garrisoned.—Difficulty between Generals Brown and Wool.—Head-quarters.—Police Commissioners' Office Military Head-quarters.


Telegraph Bureau.—Its Work.—Skill and Daring and Success of its Force.— Interesting Incidents.—Hairbreadth Escapes.—Detective Force.—Its arduous Labors.—Its Disguises.—Shrewdness, Tact, and Courage.—Narrow Escapes.—Hawley, the Chief Clerk.—His exhausting Labors.



Appearance of the City.—Assembling of the Mob.—Fight between Rioters and the Police and Soldiers.—Storming of Houses.—Rioters hurled from the Roofs.—Soldiers fire on the People.—Awful Death of Colonel O'Brien.— Fight in Pitt Street.—Deadly Conflict for a Wire Factory.—Horrible Impaling of a Man on an Iron Picket.—Mystery attached to him.—Second Attack on Mayor Opdyke's House.—Second Fight for the Wire Factory.— Telegraphic Dispatches.—Citizens Volunteering.—Raid on the Negroes.— They are hunted to Death.—Savage Spectacle.—Negroes seek Head-quarters of Police.—Appearance and State of the City.—Colonel Nugent's House sacked.—Fight with the Mob in Third Avenue.—Battle at Gibbon's House.— Policeman Shot.—Night Attack on Brooks and Brothers' Clothing Store.— Value of the Telegraph System.—Captain Petty.—Seymour's Speech to the Mob.—Cars and Stages seized.—Barricades.—Other Fights.—Acton and his Labors.



Scenes in the City and at Head-quarters.—Fight in Eighth Avenue.—Cannon sweep the Streets.—Narrow Escape of Captain Howell and Colonel Mott.— Battle for Jackson's Foundry.—Howitzers clear the Street.—State of Things shown by Telegraph Dispatches.—General Sandford sends out a Force against a Mob, at Corner of Twenty-ninth Street and Seventh Avenue.— Colonel Gardin's Fight with the Mob.—Is Wounded.—Mob Victorious.—Dead and Wounded Soldiers left in the Street.—Captain Putnam sent to bring them away.—Disperses the Mob.—Terrific Night.



Proclamations by the Governor and Mayor.—City districted.—Appearance of the East Side of the City.—A small Squad of Soldiers chased into a Foundry by the Mob.—Fierce Fight between the Mob and Military in Twenty- ninth Street.—Soldiers driven from the Ground, leaving a dead Sergeant behind.—Captain Putnam sent to bring the Body away.—Mows down the Rioters with Canister.—Storms the Houses.—Utter Rout of the Mob.— Colored Orphans and Negroes taken by Police to Blackwell's Island.— Touching Scene.—Coming on of Night and a Thunder-storm.—Returning Regiments.—Increased Force in the City to put down Violence.—Archbishop Hughes offers to address the Irish.—Curious Account of an Interview of a Lady with him and Governor Seymour.—Strange Conduct of the Prelate.



Tranquil Morning.—Proclamation of the Mayor.—Mob cowed.—Plunderers afraid of Detection.—Dirty Cellars crowded with rich Apparel, Furniture, and Works of Art.—Archbishop Hughes' Address.—Useless Efforts.—Acton's Forty-eight Hours without Sleep over.—Change in Military Commanders in the City.—General Brown relinquishes his Command.—True Words.—Noble Character and Behavior of the Troops and Police.—General Brown's invaluable Services.


Continued Tranquillity.—Strange Assortment of Plunder gathered in the Cellars and Shanties of the Rioters.—Search for it exasperates the Irish.—Noble Conduct of the Sanitary Police.—Sergeant Copeland.— Prisoners tried.—Damages claimed from the City.—Number of Police killed.—Twelve hundred Rioters killed.—The Riot Relief Fund.—List of Colored People killed.—Generals Wool and Sandford's Reports.—Their Truthfulness denied.—General Brown vindicated.



Religious Toleration.—Irish Feuds.—Battle of Boyne Water.—Orangemen.— Origin and Object of the Society.—A Picnic at Elm Park.—Attacked by the Ribbonmen.—The Fight. After Scenes.—Riot of 1871.—Conspiracy of the Irish Catholics to prevent a Parade of Orangemen.—Forbidden by the City Authorities.—Indignation of the People.—Meeting in the Produce Exchange.—Governor Hoffman's Proclamation.—Morning of the 12th.—The Orangemen at Lamartine Hall.—Attack on the Armories.—The Harpers threatened.—Exciting Scenes around Lamartine Hall and at Police Head- quarters.—Hibernia Hall cleared.—Attack on an Armory.—Formation of the Procession.—Its March.—Attacked.—Firing of the Military without Orders.—Terrific Scene.—The Hospitals and Morgue.—Night Scenes.—Number of killed and wounded.—The Lesson.



Character of a City illustrated by Riots.—New Material for History of Draft Riots.—History of the Rebellion incomplete without History of them.—The Fate of the Nation resting on the Issues of the Struggle in New York City.—The best Plan to adopt for Protection against Mobs.

The history of the riots that have taken place in a great city from its foundation, is a curious and unique one, and illustrates the peculiar changes in tone and temper that have come over it in the course of its development and growth. They exhibit also one phase of its moral character—furnish a sort of moral history of that vast, ignorant, turbulent class which is one of the distinguishing features of a great city, and at the same time the chief cause of its solicitude and anxiety, and often of dread.

The immediate cause, however, of my taking up the subject, was a request from some of the chief actors in putting down the Draft Riots of 1863, to write a history of them. It was argued that it had never been written, except in a detached and fragmentary way in the daily press, which, from the hurried manner in which it was done, was necessarily incomplete, and more or less erroneous.

It was also said, and truly, that those who, by their courage and energy, saved the city, and who now would aid me not only officially, but by their personal recollections and private memoranda, would soon pass away, and thus valuable material be lost.

Besides these valid reasons, it was asserted that the history of the rebellion was not complete without it, and yet no historian of that most important event in our national life had given the riots the prominence they deserved, but simply referred to them as a side issue, instead of having a vital bearing on the fate of the war and the nation. On no single battle or campaign did the destiny of the country hinge as upon that short, sharp campaign carried on by General Brown and the Police Commissioners against the rioters in the streets of New York, in the second week of July, 1863. Losses and defeats in the field could be and were repaired, but defeat in New York would in all probability have ended the war. It is not necessary to refer to the immediate direct effects of such a disaster on the army in the field, although it is scarcely possible to over-estimate the calamitous results that would have followed the instantaneous stoppage, even for a short time, of the vast accumulations of provisions, ammunition, and supplies of all kinds, that were on their way to the army through New York. Nor is it necessary to speculate on the effect of the diversion of troops from the front that such an event would have compelled, in order to recover so vital a point. Washington had better be uncovered than New York be lost. One thing only is needed to show how complete and irreparable the disaster would have been; namely, the effect it would have had on the finances of the country. With the great banking-houses and moneyed institutions of New York sacked and destroyed, the financial credit of the country would have broken down utterly. The crash of falling houses all over the country that would have followed financial disaster here, would have been like that of falling trees in a forest swept by a hurricane. Had the rioters got complete possession of the city but for a single day, their first dash would have been for the treasures piled up in its moneyed institutions. Once in possession of these, they, like the mobs of Paris, would have fired the city before yielding them up. In the crisis that was then upon us, it would not have required a long stoppage in this financial centre of the country to have effected a second revolution. With no credit abroad and no money at home, the Government would have been completely paralyzed. Not long possession of the city was needed, but only swift destruction.

Doubtless the disastrous effects would have been increased tenfold, if possible, by uprisings in other cities, which events showed were to follow. Even partial success developed hostile elements slumbering in various parts of the country, and running from Boston almost to the extreme West.

In this view of the case, these riots assume a magnitude and importance that one cannot contemplate without a feeling of terror, and the truth of history requires that their proper place should be assigned them, and those who put them down have an honorable position beside our successful commanders and brave soldiers. It is also important, as a lesson for the future, and naturally brings up the question, what are the best measures, and what is the best policy for the city of New York to adopt, in order to protect itself from that which to-day constitutes its greatest danger— mob violence? If it ever falls in ruins, the work of destruction will commence and end within its own limits. We have a police and city military which have been thought to be sufficient, but experience has shown that though this provision may be ample to restore law and order in the end, it works slowly, often unwisely, and always with an unnecessary expenditure of life. In conversing with those of largest experience and intelligence in the police department on this subject of such great and growing importance, we are convinced, from their statements and views, a vast improvement in this matter can be made, while the cost to the city, instead of being increased, will be lessened; that is, a cheaper, wiser, and more effectual plan than the present one can be adopted. Of course this does not refer to mere local disturbances, which the police force in the ordinary discharge of its duties can quell, but to those great outbreaks which make it necessary to call out the military. Not that there might not be exigencies in which it would be necessary to resort, not only to the military of the city, but to invoke the aid of neighboring States; for a riot may assume the proportions of a revolution, but for such no local permanent remedy can be furnished.

The objections to relying on the military, as we invariably do in case of a large mob, are many. In the first place, it takes the best part of a day to get the troops together, so that a mob, so far as they are concerned, has time not only to waste and destroy for many hours, but increase in strength and audacity. The members of the various regiments are scattered all over the city, engaged in different occupations and employments, and without previous notice being given, it is a long and tedious process to get them to their respective headquarters and in uniform. This wastes much and most valuable time. Besides, they are compelled to reach the mustering place singly or in small groups, and hence liable to be cut off or driven back by the mob, which in most cases would know the place of rendezvous.

In the second place, the members are taken out from the mass of the people, between whom there might be a strong sympathy in some particular outbreak, which would impair their efficiency, and make them hesitate to shoot down their friends and acquaintances.

In the third place, in ordinary peace times, these uniformed regiments are not the steadiest or most reliable troops, as was witnessed in the riots of 1863, as well as in those of the Astor Place in 1849.

They hesitate, or are apt to become hasty or disorganized in a close, confused fight, and driven back. In the commencement of a riot, a defeat of the military gives increased confidence, and indeed, power to a mob, and snakes the sacrifice of life, in the end, far greater.

In the fourth place, clearing the streets does not always dissipate a mob. A whole block of houses may become a fortress, which it is necessary to storm before a permanent victory is gained. Half-disciplined men, unaccustomed, and unskilled to such work, make poor headway with their muskets through narrow halls, up stairways, and through scuttle-holes.

In the fifth place, the military of the city cannot be called away from their work for two or three days, to parade the city, without a heavy expense, and hence the process is a costly one.

In the last place, the firing of these troops at the best is not very judicious, and cannot be discriminating, so that those are shot down often least culpable, and of least influence in the mob—in fact, more lives usually are taken than is necessary.

The simplest, most efficient, and most economical plan would be to select five hundred or more of the most courageous, experienced, and efficient men from the police department, and form them into a separate battalion, and have them drilled in such evolutions, manoeuvres, and modes of attack or defence, as would belong to the work they were set apart to do. A battery might be given them in case of certain emergencies, and a portion carefully trained in its use. At a certain signal of the bell, they should be required to hasten, without a moment's delay, to their head-quarters. A mob could hardly be gathered and commence work before this solid body of disciplined, reliable men would be upon them. These five hundred men would scatter five thousand rioters like chaff before them. It would be more efficient than two entire regiments, even if assembled, and would be worth more than the whole military of the city for the first half day.

Besides, clubs are better than guns. They take no time to load—they are never discharged like muskets, leaving their owners for the time at the mercy of the mob. Their volleys are incessant and perpetual, given as long and fast as strong arms can strike. They are also more discriminating than bullets, hitting the guilty ones first. Moreover, they disable rather than kill—which is just as effectual, and far more desirable. In addition to all this, being trained to one purpose, instructed to one duty, a mob would be their natural enemies, and hence sympathy with them in any cause almost impossible.



Almost impossible for the present Generation to comprehend its true Character and Effect on the People.—Description of New York at that Time.—The Negro Slaves.—The Negro Riot of 1712.—Description of it.—The Winter of 1741.—Governor's House burned down.—Other Fires.—Suspicion of the People.—Arrest and Imprisonment of the Blacks.—Reward offered for the supposed Conspirators.—Alarm and Flight of the Inhabitants.— Examination and Confession of Mary Burton.—Peggy, the Newfoundland Beauty, and the Hughson Family.—The Conspiracy.—Executions.—Fast.— Hughson's Hearing.—Hung in Chains.—The Body, and that of a Negro, left to swing and rot in the Air.—Strange Change in the Appearances of the Bodies.—The People throng to look at them.—Negroes burned at the Stake. —Terrific Spectacle.—Bloody Summer.—Execution of a Catholic Priest.— Strange Scenes.—Upper Classes accused.—Executions stopped.—Reason of the Panic.

Probably no event of comparatively modern times—certainly none in our history—has occurred so extraordinary in some of its phases, as the negro riot of 1741. We cannot fully appreciate it, not merely because of the incompleteness of some of its details, nor from the lapse of time, but because of our inability to place ourselves in the position or state of mind of the inhabitants of New York City at that period. We can no more throw ourselves into the social condition, and feel the influences of that time, than we can conceive the outward physical appearance of the embryo metropolis. It is impossible to stand amid the whirl and uproar of New York to-day, and imagine men ploughing, and sowing grain, and carting hay into barns, where the City Hall now stands. The conception of nearly all the city lying below the Park, above it farms to Canal Street, beyond that clearings where men are burning brush and logs to clear away the fallow, and still farther on, towards Central Park, an unbroken wilderness, is so dim and shadowy, that we can hardly fix its outlines. Yet it was so in 1741. Where now stands the Tombs, and cluster the crowded tenements of Five Points, was a pond or lakelet, nearly two miles in circumference and fifty feet deep, and encircled by a dense forest. Its deep, sluggish outlet into the Hudson is now Canal Street. In wet weather there was another water communication with the East River, near Peck Slip, cutting off the lower part of the island, leaving another island, containing some eight hundred acres. Through Broad Street, along which now rolls each day the stream of business, and swells the tumult of the Brokers' Board, then swept a deep stream, up which boatmen rowed their boats to sell oysters. The water that supplied these streams and ponds is now carried off through immense sewers, deep under ground, over which the unconscious population tread. Where Front and Water Streets on the east side, and West Greenwich and Washington on the west side, now stretch, were then the East and Hudson Rivers, having smooth and pebbly beaches. There was not a single sidewalk in all the city, and only some half dozen paved streets. On the Battery stood the fort, in which were the Governor's and secretary's houses, and over which floated the British flag.

But all this outward appearance is no more unlike the New York of to-day than its internal condition.

The population numbered only about ten thousand, one-fifth of which was negroes, who were slaves. Their education being wholly neglected, they were ignorant and debased, and addicted to almost every vice. They were, besides, restive under their bondage amid the severe punishments often inflicted on them, which caused their masters a great deal of anxiety. Not isolated as an inland plantation, but packed in a narrow space, they had easy communication with each other, and worse than all, with the reckless and depraved crews of the vessels that came into port. It is true, the most stringent measures were adopted to prevent them from assembling together; yet, in spite of every precaution, there would now and then come to light some plan or project that would fill the whites with alarm. They felt half the time as though walking on the crust of a volcano, and hence were in a state of mind to exaggerate every danger, and give credit to every sinister rumor.

The experience of the past, as well as the present state of feeling among the slaves, justified this anxiety and dread; for only thirty years before occurred just such an outbreak as they now feared. On the 7th of April, in 1712, between one and two o'clock in the morning, the house of Peter Van Tilburgh was set on fire by negroes, which was evidently meant as a signal for a general revolt.

The cry of fire roused the neighboring inhabitants, and they rushed out through the unpaved muddy streets, toward the blazing building. As they approached it, they saw, to their amazement, in the red light of the flames, a band of negroes standing in front, armed with guns and long knives. Before the whites could hardly comprehend what the strange apparition meant, the negroes fired, and then rushed on them with their knives, killing several on the spot. The rest, leaving the building to the mercy of the flames, ran to the fort on the Battery, and roused the Governor. Springing from his bed, he rushed out and ordered a cannon to be fired from the ramparts to alarm the town. As the heavy report boomed over the bay and shook the buildings of the town, the inhabitants leaped from their beds, and looking out of the windows, saw the sky lurid with flames. Their dread and uncertainty were increased, when they heard the heavy splash of soldiers through the mud, and the next moment saw their bayonets gleam out of the gloom, as they hurried forward towards the fire. In the meantime, other negroes had rushed to the spot, so that soon there were assembled, in proportion to the white population, what in the present population of the city would be fully 10,000 negroes.

The rioters stood firm till they saw the bayonets flashing in the fire- light, and then, giving one volley, fled into the darkness northward, towards what is now Wall Street. The scattered inhabitants they met, who, roused by the cannon, were hastening to the fire, they attacked with their knives, killing and wounding several. The soldiers, firing at random into the darkness, followed after them, accompanied by a crowd of people. The negroes made for the woods and swamps near where the Park now stands, and disappearing in the heavy shadows of the forest, were lost to view. Knowing it would be vain to follow them into the thickets, the soldiers and inhabitants surrounded them and kept watch till morning. Many, of course, got off and buried themselves in the deeper, more extensive woods near Canal Street, but many others were taken prisoners. Some, finding themselves closely pressed and all avenues of escape cut off, deliberately shot themselves, preferring such a death to the one they knew awaited them. How many were killed and captured during the morning, the historian does not tell us. We can only infer that the number must have been great, from the statement he incidentally makes, that "during the day nineteen more were taken, tried, and executed—some that turned State's evidence were transported." "Eight or ten whites had been murdered," and many more wounded.

It was a terrible event, and remembered by the present inhabitants with horror and dismay. To the little handful occupying the point of the island, it was a tragedy as great as a riot in New York to-day would be, in which was a loss of 5,000 or more on each side.

Many middle-aged men, in 1741, were young men at that time, and remembered the fearful excitement that prevailed, and it was a common topic of conversation.

The state of things, therefore, which we have described, was natural. This was rendered worse by the arrival, in the winter of 1741, of a Spanish vessel, which had been captured as a prize, the crew of which was composed in part of negroes, who were sold at auction as slaves. These became very intractable, and in spite of the floggings they received, uttered threats that they knew would reach their masters' ears. Still, no evidence of any general plot against the inhabitants was suspected, and things were moving on in their usual way, when, on the 18th of March, a wild and blustering day, the Governor's house in the fort was discovered to be on fire. Fanned by a fierce south-east wind, the flames spread to the King's chapel, the secretary's house, barracks, and stables; and in spite of all efforts to save them, were totally consumed. The origin of the fire was supposed to be accidental, but a few days after, Captain Warren's house, near the fort, was found to be on fire. Two or three days later, the storehouse of Mr. Van Zandt was discovered on fire. Still, no general suspicions were aroused. Three more days passed, when a cow-stall was reported on fire, and a few hours later, the house of Mr. Thompson; the fire in the latter case originating in the room where a negro slave slept. The very next day, live coals were discovered under the stable of John Murray, on Broadway. This, evidently, was no accident, but the result of design, and the people began to be alarmed. The day following, the house of a sergeant near the fort was seen to be on fire, and soon after, flames arose from the roof of a dwelling near the Fly Market. The rumor now spread like wildfire through the town that it was the work of incendiaries. It seems to us a small foundation to base such a belief on, but it must be remembered that the public mind was in a state to believe almost anything.

The alarm was increased by the statement of Mrs. Earle, who said that on Sunday, as she was looking out of her window, she saw three negroes swaggering up Broadway, engaged in earnest conversation. Suddenly she heard one of them exclaim, "Fire! fire! Scorch! scorch! a little d—n by and by!" and then throwing up his hands, laughed heartily. Coupled with the numerous fires that had occurred, and the rumors afloat, it at once excited her suspicions that this conversation had something to do with a plot to burn the city. She therefore immediately reported it to an alderman, and he, next day, to the justices.

Although the number of buildings thus mysteriously set on fire was, in reality, small, yet it was as great in proportion to the town then, as three hundred would be in New York to-day. Less than that number, we imagine, would create a panic in the city, especially if the public mind was in a feverish state, as, for instance, during the recent civil war.

Some thought the Spanish negroes had set the buildings on fire from revenge, especially as those of the Government were the first to suffer. Others declared that it was a plot of the entire negro population to burn down the city. This belief was strengthened by the fact that, in one of the last fires, a slave of one of the most prominent citizens was seen to leap from the window, and make off over garden fences. A shout was immediately raised by the spectators, and a pursuit commenced. The terrified fugitive made desperate efforts to escape, but being overtaken, he was seized, and, pale as death, lifted on men's shoulders and carried to jail.

Added to all this, men now remembered it lacked but a few days of being the anniversary of the bloody riot of thirty years ago. They began to watch and question the negroes, and one of the Spanish sailors, on being interrogated, gave such unsatisfactory, suspicious answers, that the whole crew were arrested, and thrown into prison. But that same afternoon, while the magistrates, whom the alarming state of things had called together, were in consultation about it, the cry of "Fire!" again startled the entire community. The ringing of the alarm-bell had now become almost as terrifying as the sound of the last trumpet, and the panic became general. The first step was to ascertain if there were any strangers in town who might be concealed enemies, and a thorough search was made—the militia being ordered out, and sentries posted at the ends of all the streets, with orders to stop all persons carrying bags and bundles. This was done on the 13th of April. None being found, the conclusion became inevitable that some dark, mysterious plot lay at the bottom of it all, and the inhabitants thought the city was doomed, like Sodom. First, the more timorous packed up their valuable articles and fled into the country, up toward Canal Street. This increased the panic, which swelled until almost the entire population were seen hurrying through the streets, fleeing for their lives. The announcement of an approaching army would not have created a greater stampede. Every cart and vehicle that could be found was engaged at any price, into which whole families were piled, and hurried away to the farms beyond Chambers Street, in the neighborhood of Canal Street. It was a strange spectacle, and the farmers could hardly believe their senses, at this sudden inundation into their quiet houses of the people of the city. The town authorities were also swept away in the general excitement, and negroes of all ages and sexes were arrested by the wholesale, and hurried to prison. The Supreme Court was to sit in the latter part of April, and the interval of a few days was spent in efforts to get at the guilty parties. But nothing definite could be ascertained, as the conspirators, whoever they were, kept their own secret. At length, despairing of getting at the truth in any other way, the authorities offered a reward of a hundred pounds, and a full pardon to any one who would turn State's evidence, and reveal the names of the ringleaders. This was pretty sure to bring out the facts, if there were any to disclose, and almost equally sure to obtain a fabricated story, if there was nothing to tell. A poor, ignorant slave, shaking with terror in his cell, would hardly be proof against such an inducement as a free pardon, and to him or her an almost fabulous sum of money, if he had anything to reveal, while the temptation to invent a tale that would secure both liberty and money was equally strong.

On the 21st of April the court met, Judges Philips and Horsmander presiding. A jury was impanelled, but although there was no lack of prisoners, there was almost a total want of evidence sufficient to put a single man on trial. The reward offered had not borne its legitimate fruits, and no one offered to make any revelations.

Among the first brought up for examination was Mary Burton, a colored servant girl, belonging to John Hughson, the keeper of a low, dirty negro tavern over on the west side of the city, near the Hudson River. This was a place of rendezvous for the worst negroes of the town; and from some hints that Mary had dropped, it was suspected it had been the head- quarters of the conspirators. But when, brought before the Grand Jury, she refused to be sworn. They entreated her to take the oath and tell the whole truth, but she only shook her head. They then threatened her, but with no better success; they promised she should be protected from danger and shielded from prosecution, but she still maintained an obstinate silence. They then showed her the reward, and attempted to bribe her with the wealth in store for her, but she almost spat on it in her scorn. This poor negro slave showed an independence and stubbornness in the presence of the jury that astonished them. Finding all their efforts vain, they ordered her to be sent to jail. This terrified her, and she consented to be sworn. But after taking the oath, she refused to say anything about the fire. A theft had been traced to Hughson, and she told all she knew about that, but about the fires would neither deny nor affirm anything. They then appealed to her conscience painted before her the terrors of the final judgment, and the torments of hell, till at last she broke down, and proposed to make a clean breast of it. She commenced by saying that Hughson had threatened to take her life if she told, and then again hesitated. But at length, by persistent efforts, the following facts were wrenched from her by piecemeal. She said that three negroes—giving their names—had been in the habit of meeting at the tavern, and talking about burning of the fort and city and murdering the people, and that Hughson and his wife had promised to help them; after which Hughson was to be governor and Cuff Phillipse king. That the first part of the story was true, there is little doubt. How much, with the imagination and love of the marvellous peculiar to her race, she added to it, it is not easy to say. She said, moreover, that but one white person beside her master and mistress was in the conspiracy, and that was an Irish girl known as Peggy, "the Newfoundland Beauty." She had several aliases, and was an abandoned character, being a prostitute to the negroes, and at this time kept as a mistress by a bold, desperate negro named Caesar. This revelation of Mary's fell on the Grand Jury like a bombshell. The long- sought secret they now felt was out. They immediately informed the magistrates. Of course the greatest excitement followed. Peggy was next examined, but she denied Mary Burton's story in toto—swore that she knew nothing of any conspiracy or of the burning of the stores; that if she should accuse any one it would be a lie, and blacken her own soul.

It is rather a severe reflection on the courts of justice of that period, or we might rather say, perhaps, a striking illustration of the madness that had seized on all, that although the law strictly forbade any slave to testify in a court of justice against a white person, yet this girl Mary Burton was not only allowed to appear as evidence against Peggy, but her oath was permitted to outweigh hers, and cause her to be sentenced to death. The latter, though an abandoned, desperate character, was seized with terror at the near approach of death, and begged to be allowed another examination, which was granted, and she professed to make a full confession. It is a little singular that while she corroborated Mary Burton's statement as to the existence of a conspiracy, she located the seat of it not in Hughson's tavern, but in a miserable shanty near the Battery, kept by John Romme, who, she said, had promised to carry them all to a new country, and give them their liberty, if they would murder the whites and bring him the plunder. Like Mary Burton's confession, if truthful at all, it evidently had a large mixture of falsehood in it.

On Saturday, May 9th, Peggy was again brought in, and underwent a searching examination. Some of her statements seemed improbable, and they therefore tested them in every possible way. It lasted for several hours, and resulted in a long detailed confession, in which she asserted, among other things, that it was the same plot that failed in 1712, when the negroes designed to kill all the whites, in fact, exterminate them from the island. She implicated a great many negroes in the conspiracy; and every one that she accused, as they were brought before her, she identified as being present at the meetings of the conspirators in Romme's house. The court seemed anxious to avoid any collusion between the prisoners, and therefore kept them apart, so that each story should rest on its own basis. By this course they thought they would be able to distinguish what was true and what was false.

Either from conscious guilt, or from having got some inkling of the charge to be brought against him, Romme fled before he could be arrested. His wife, however, and the negroes whose names Peggy gave, were sent to jail.

On the 11th of May, or twenty days after the court convened, the executions commenced. On this day, Caesar and Prince, two of the three negroes Mary Burton testified against, were hung, though not for the conspiracy, but for theft. They were abandoned men, and died recklessly. Peggy and Hughson and his wife were next condemned. The former, finding that her confession did not, as had been promised, secure her pardon, retracted all she had said, and exculpated entirely the parties whose arrest she had caused.

An atmosphere of gloom now rested over the city; every face showed signs of dread. In this state of feeling the Lieutenant-governor issued a proclamation, appointing a day of fasting and humiliation, not only in view of this calamity, but on account also of the want and loss caused by the past severe winter, and the declaration of war by England against Spain. When the day arrived, every shop was closed and business of all kinds suspended, and the silence and repose of the Sabbath rested on the entire community. Without regard to sect, all repaired to the places of worship, where the services were performed amid the deepest solemnity.

The day of execution appointed for Hughson, his wife, and Peggy was a solemn one, and almost the entire population turned out to witness it. The former had declared that some extraordinary appearance would take place at his execution, and every one gazed on him as he passed in a cart from the prison to the gallows. He was a tall, powerful man, being six feet high. He stood erect in the cart all the way, his piercing eye fixed steadily on the distance, and his right hand raised high as his fetters would permit, and beckoning as though he saw help coming from afar. His face was usually pale and colorless, but to-day it was noticed that two bright red spots burned on either cheek, which added to the mystery with which the superstitious spectators invested him. When the sad procession arrived at the place of execution, the prisoners were helped to the ground, and stood exposed to the gaze of the crowd. Hughson was firm and self-possessed; but Peggy, pale, and weeping, and terror-struck, begging for life; while the wife, with the rope round her neck, leaned against a tree, silent and composed, but colorless as marble. One after another they were launched into eternity, and the crowd, solemn and thoughtful, turned their steps homeward.

Hughson was hung in chains; and in a few days a negro was placed beside him, and here they swung, "blind and blackening," in the April air, in full view of the tranquil bay, a ghastly spectacle to the fishermen as they plied their vocation near by. For three weeks they dangled here in sunshine and storm, a terror to the passers-by. At length a rumor passed through the town that Hughson had turned into a negro, and the negro into a white man. This was a new mystery, and day after day crowds would come and gaze on the strange transformation, some thinking it supernatural, and others trying to give an explanation. Hughson had threatened to take poison, and it was thought by many that he had, and it was the effect of this that had wrought the change in his appearance. For ten days the Battery was thronged with spectators, gazing on these bloated, decomposing bodies, many in their superstitious fears expecting some new transformation. Under the increasing heat of the sun, they soon began to drip, till at last the body of Hughson burst asunder, filling the air with such an intolerable stench that the fishermen shunned the locality.

As simple hanging was soon thought not sufficient punishment, and they were left to swing, and slowly rot in chains, so this last was at length thought to be too lenient, and the convicts were condemned to be burned at the stake. Two negroes, named Quack and Cuffee, were the first doomed to this horrible death. The announcement of this sentence created the greatest excitement. It was a new thing to the colonists, this mode of torture being appropriated by the savages for prisoners taken in war. Curious crowds gathered to see the stake erected, or stare at the loads of wood as they passed along the street, and were unloaded at its base. It was a strange spectacle to behold—the workmen carefully piling up the fagots under the spring sun; the spectators looking on, some horrified, and others fierce as savages; and over all the blue sky bending, while the gentle wind stole up from the bay and whispered in the tree-tops overhead. On the day of execution an immense crowd assembled. The two negroes were brought forward, pale and terrified, and bound to the stake. As the men approached with the fire to kindle the pile, they shrieked out in terror, confessed the conspiracy, and promised, if released, to tell all about it. They were at once taken down. This was the signal for an outbreak, and shouts of "burn 'em, burn 'em" burst from the multitude. Mr. Moore then asked the sheriff to delay execution till he could see the Governor and get a reprieve. He hurried off, and soon returned with a conditional one. But, as he met the sheriff on the common, the latter told him that it would be impossible to take the criminals through the crowd without a strong guard, and before that could arrive, they would be murdered by the exasperated populace. They were then tied up again, and the torch applied. The flames arose around the unhappy victims. The curling smoke soon hid their dusky forms from view, while their shrieks and cries for mercy grew fainter and fainter, as the fierce fire shrivelled up their forms, till at last nothing but the crackling of the flames was heard, and the shouting, savage crowd grew still. As the fire subsided, the two wretched creatures, crisped to a cinder, remained to tell, for the hundredth time, to what barbarous deeds terror and passion may lead men.

Some of the negroes went laughing to the place of execution, indulging in all sorts of buffoonery to the last, and mocking the crowd which surrounded them.

All protested their innocence to the last, and if they had confessed previously, retracted before death their statements and accusations. But this contradiction of themselves, to-morrow denying what to-day they had solemnly sworn on the Bible to be true, instead of causing the authorities to hesitate, and consider how much terror and the hope of pardon had to do with it, convinced them still more of the strength and dangerous nature of the conspiracy, and they went to work with a determination and recklessness which made that summer the bloodiest and most terrific in the annals of New York. No lawyer was found bold enough to step forward and defend these poor wretches, but all volunteered their services to aid the Government in bringing them to punishment. The weeks now, as they rolled on, were freighted with terror and death, and stamped with scenes that made the blood run cold. This little town, on the southern part of Manhattan Island was wholly given to panic, and a nameless dread of some mysterious, awful fate, extended even to the scattered farm-houses near Canal Street. Between this and the last of August, a hundred and fifty- four negroes, exclusive of whites, were thrown into prison, till every cell was crowded and packed to suffocation with them. For three months, sentence of condemnation was on an average of one a day. The last execution was that of a Catholic priest, or rather of a schoolmaster of the city, who was charged with being one. Mary Burton, after an interval of three months, pretended to remember that he was present with the other conspirators she had first named as being in Hughson's tavern.

His trial was long, and apparently without excitement. He conducted his own case with great ability, and brought many witnesses to prove his good character and orderly conduct; but he, of course, could not disprove the assertion of Mary, that she had some time or other seen him with the conspirators at Hughson's tavern—for the latter, with his wife and Peggy, and the negroes she had before named, had all been executed. Mary Burton alone was left, and her evidence being credited, no amount of testimony could avail him.

Although the proceedings were all dignified and solemn, as became an English court, yet the course the trial took showed how utterly unbalanced and one-sided it had become. To add weight to Mary's evidence, many witnesses were examined to prove that Ury, though a schoolmaster, had performed the duties of a Catholic priest, as though this were an important point to establish. The attorney-general, in opening the case, drew a horrible picture of former persecutions by the Papists, and their cruelties to the Protestants, until it was apparent that all that the jury needed to indorse a verdict of guilty was evidence that he was a Catholic priest. Still it would be unfair to attribute this feeling wholly to religious intolerance or the spirit of persecution. England was at this time at war with Spain, and a report was circulated that the Spanish priests in Florida had formed a conspiracy to murder the English colonists. A letter from Ogilthorpe, in Georgia, confirmed this. Ury, who was an educated Englishman, but had led an adventurous life in different countries, could not disprove this, and he was convicted and sentenced to be hung. He met his fate with great composure and dignity, asserting his innocence to the last. He made the eighteenth victim hung, while thirteen had been burned at the stake, and seventy-one transported to various countries.

At the average rate of two every week, one hanged and one burned alive, they were hurried into eternity amid prayers, and imprecations, and shrieks of agony. The hauling of wood to the stake, and the preparation of the gallows, kept the inhabitants in a state bordering on insanity. Business was suspended, and every face wore a terrified look. The voice of pity as well as justice was hushed, and one desire, that of swift vengeance, filled every heart. Had the press of to-day, with its system of interviewing, and minuteness of detail and description, existed then, there would have been handed down to us a chapter in human history that could be paralleled only in the dark ages.

A swift massacre, a terrible slaughter, comes and goes like an earthquake or a tornado, and stuns rather than debases; but this long, steady succession of horrible executions and frightful scenes changed the very nature of the inhabitants, and they became a prey to a spirit demoniacal rather than human. The prayers and tears of those led forth to the stake, their heartrending cries as they were bound to it, and their shrieks of agony that were wafted out over the still waters of the bay, fell on hard and pitiless hearts. The ashes of the wood that consumed one victim would hardly grow cold before a new fire was kindled upon them, and the charred and blackened posts stood month after month, hideous monuments of what man may become when judgment and reason are surrendered to fear and passion. The spectacle was made still more revolting by the gallows standing near the stake, on which many were hung in chains, and their bodies left to swing, blacken, and rot in the summer air, a ghastly, horrible sight.

Where this madness, that had swept away court, bar, and people together, would have ended, it is impossible to say, had not a new terror seized the inhabitants. Mary Burton, on whose accusation the first victims had been arrested and executed, finding herself a heroine, sought new fields in which to win notoriety. She ceased to implicate the blacks, and turned her attention to the whites, and twenty-four were arrested and thrown into prison. Elated with her success, she began to ascend in the social scale, and criminated some persons of the highest social standing in the city, whose characters were above suspicion. This was turning the tables on them in a manner the upper class did not expect, and they began to reflect what the end might be. The testimony that was sufficient to condemn the slaves was equally conclusive against them. The stake and the gallows which the court had erected for the black man, it could not pull down because a white gentleman stood under their shadow.

Robespierre and his friends cut off the upper-crust of society without hesitation or remorse; but unfortunately the crust next below this became in turn the upper-crust, which also had to be removed, until at last they themselves were reached, when they paused. They had advanced up to their necks in the bloody tide of revolution, and finding that to proceed farther would take them overhead, they attempted to wade back to shore. So here, so long as the accusations were confined to the lowest class, it was all well enough, but when they were being reached, it was high time to stop. The proceedings were summarily brought to a close, further examinations were deemed unnecessary, and confessions became flat and unprofitable; and this strange episode in American history ended.

That there had been cause for alarm, there can be no doubt. That threats should be uttered by the slaves, is natural; for this would be in keeping with their whole history in this country. Nor is it at all improbable that a conspiracy was formed; for this, too, would only be in harmony with the conduct of slaves from time immemorial. The utter folly and hopelessness of such a one as the blacks testified to, has been urged against its existence altogether. If the argument is good for anything, it proves that the conspiracy thirty years before never existed, and that the Southampton massacre was a delusion, and John Brown never hatched his utterly insane conspiracy in Harper's Ferry. There have been a good many servile insurrections plotted in this country, not one of which was a whit more sensible or easier of execution than this, which was said to look to the complete overthrow of the little city. That the fires which first started the panic were the work of negro incendiaries, there is but little doubt; but how far they were a part of a wide-laid plan, it is impossible to determine.

Unquestionably, success at the outset would have made the movement general, so that nothing but military force could have arrested it.

There is one thing, however, about which there is no doubt—that a panic seized the people and the courts, and made them as unreliable as in the days of the Salem witchcraft. But these striking exhibitions of the weakness of human nature under certain circumstances have been witnessed since the world was made, and probably will continue to the end of time, or until the race enters on a new phase of existence. Panics, even among the most veteran soldiers, sometimes occur, and hence we cannot wonder they take place amid a mixed population. Popular excitements are never characterized by reason and common-sense, and never will be. In this case, there was more reason for a panic than at first sight seems to be.

In the first place, the proportion of slaves to the whites was large. In the second place, they were a turbulent set, and had shown such a dangerous spirit, that the authorities became afraid to let them assemble together in meetings. This restriction they felt sorely, and it made them more restive. All were aware of this hostile state of feeling, and were constantly anticipating some outbreak or act of violence. Besides, it was but a few years since the thing they now feared did actually take place. And then, too, the point first aimed at was significant, and showed a boldness founded on conscious strength. Right inside the fort itself, and to the Governor's house, the torch was applied. It certainly looked ominous. Besides, the very wholesale manner in which the authorities thought it best to go to work increased the panic. In a very short time over a hundred persons were thrown into prison. The same proportion to the population to-day would be over ten thousand. Such a wholesale arrest would, of itself, throw New York into the wildest excitement, and conjure up all sorts of horrible shapes. Add to this, an average of two hundred burned at the stake, and two hundred hung every week, or more than fifty a day, and nearly three times that number sentenced to transportation, and one can faintly imagine what a frightful state of things would exist in the city. The very atmosphere grew stifling from the smoke of burning men and women, while the gallows groaned under its weight of humanity. Had this been the wild work of a mob it would have been terrible enough, but when it was the result of a deliberate judicial tribunal, which was supposed to do nothing except on the most conclusive evidence, the sense of danger was increased tenfold. The conclusion was inevitable, that the conspiracy embraced every black man in the city, and was thoroughly organized. In short, the whole place was, beyond doubt, resting over a concealed volcano, and the instinct of self-preservation demanded the most summary work. Let the inhabitants of any city become thoroughly possessed of such an idea, and they will act with no more prudence or reason than the people of New York at that time did. An undoubted belief in such a state of things will confuse the perceptions and unbalance the judgment of a community anywhere and everywhere on the globe.

Still, consistent as it is with human history, one can hardly believe it possible, as he stands in New York to-day, that men have there been burned at the stake under the sanction of English law, or left to swing and rot in the winds of heaven, by order of the Supreme Court of the city.



Thorough Understanding of the Principles of Liberty by the People.—The Stamp Act.—How viewed by the Colonists.—Colden strengthens Fort George in Alarm.—Arrival of the Stamps.—How the News was received by the Sons of Liberty.—A Bold Placard.—Stamp Distributor frightened.—Patriotic Action of the Merchants.—Public Demonstration against the Stamp Act.— Colden takes Refuge in the Fort.—Dare not fire on the People.—The People at the Gate demand the Stamps.—Colden and Lord Bute hung in Effigy.— Colden's Coach-house broken open.—The Images placed in the Coach, and dragged with Shouts through the Streets.—Hung again in Sight of the Fort.—A Bonfire made of the Fence around Bowling Green, and the Governor's Carriages, while the Garrison look silently on.—Prejudice against Coaches.—Major James' House sacked.—Great Joy and Demonstration at the Repeal of the Stamp Act.—Celebration of the King's Birthday.— Loyalty of the People.—Mutiny Act.—A Riot becomes a Great Rebellion.

At the present day, when personal ambition takes the place of patriotism, and love of principle gives way to love of party; when the success of the latter is placed above constitutional obligations and popular rights, one seems, as he turns back to our early history, to be transported to another age of the world, and another race of beings.

Nothing shows how thoroughly understood by the common people were the principles of liberty, and with what keen penetration they saw through all shams and specious reasoning, than the decided, nay, fierce, stand they took against the stamp act. This was nothing more than our present law requiring a governmental stamp on all public and business paper to make it valid. The only difference is, the former was levying a tax without representation—in other words, without the consent of the governed. The colonies assembled in Congress condemned it; hence the open, violent opposition to it by the people rises above the level of a common riot, and partakes more of the nature of a righteous revolution. Still, it was a riot, and exhibited the lawless features of one.

The news of the determination of the English Government to pass a stamp act, raised a storm of indignation throughout the colonies, from Massachusetts to South Carolina, and it was denounced as an oppressive, unrighteous, tyrannical measure. From the wayside tavern and the pulpit alike, it was attacked with unsparing severity. The Government, however, thought it a mere ebullition of feeling, that would not dare exhibit itself in open opposition. Nor does this confidence seem strong, when we remember the weakness of the colonies on the one side, and the strength of an organized government, with the law and force both, on the other.

Cadwallader Colden, a Scotchman by birth, and a clergyman by profession, was at that time acting Governor of New York; and to guard against any resort to force on the part of the people when the stamps should arrive, had Fort George, on the Battery, reinforced by a regiment from Crown Point, its magazines replenished, the ramparts strengthened, and its guns trained on the town. The people saw all this, and understood its import; but it had the opposite effect from that which was intended, for, instead of overawing the people, it exasperated them.

At length, in October, 1765, a ship with the British colors flying came sailing up the bay, and anchored off Fort George. In a short time the startling tidings was circulated, that she brought a quantity of stamps. It was like sounding an alarm-bell, and the streets became thronged with excited men, while all the provincial vessels in the harbor lowered their colors to half-mast, in token of mourning. In anticipation of this event, an organization of men had been formed, called "Sons of Liberty." They at once assembled, and resolved at all hazards to get hold of those stamps. They had caused the act itself to be hawked about the streets as "the folly of England and the ruin of America," and now they determined to measure their strength with the Governor of the colony. That night, when the town was wrapped in slumber, they quietly affixed on the doors of every public office and on corners of the streets, the following placard:


The first man that either distributes or makes use of stamped paper, let him take care of his house, person, and effects.



To the stamp distributors they said, "Assure yourselves, the spirit of Brutus and Cassius is yet alive. We will not submit to the stamp act upon any account or in any instance."

McEvers, the head stamp distributor, frightened by the bold, determined attitude of the people, refused to receive the stamps, and Golden had them sent for greater safety to Fort George. He had written, to the British Secretary, "I am resolved to have the stamps distributed." But the people were equally resolved they should not be. Still, on the 30th day of October, he and all the royal governors took the oath to carry the stamp act into effect; but they soon discovered that they could find no one bold enough to act as distributor. All along the sea-coast, in every part of the colonies, the people were aroused, and either assembling quietly, or called together by the ringing of bells and firing of cannon, presented such a united, determined front, that not one person remained duly commissioned to distribute stamps. On the last day of October, the merchants of New York came together, and bound themselves to "send no new orders for goods or merchandise, to countermand all former orders, and not even receive goods on commission, unless the stamp act be repealed"—that is, give up commerce at once, with all its wealth and benefits, rather than submit to a tax of a few shillings on paper.

Friday, the 1st of November, was the day fixed upon for a public demonstration of the people throughout the colonies against it, and never dawned a morning more pregnant with the fate not only of a nation, but of the world.

From New Hampshire to South Carolina it was ushered in by the tolling of muffled bells, the firing of minute-guns, and flags hung at half-mast. Eulogies were pronounced on liberty, and everywhere people left their shops and fields, and gathered in excited throngs to discuss the great question of taxation.

"Even the children at their games, though hardly able to speak, caught up the general chorus, and went along the streets, merrily carolling: 'Liberty, Property, and no Stamps.'" [Footnote: Bancroft.]

In New York the uprising was terrific, for the population rushed together as one man—as Gage, the commander of Fort George said, "by thousands."

The sailors flocked in from the vessels, the farmers from the country, and the shouts, and ringing of bells, and firing of cannon made the city fairly tremble. Colden was terrified at the storm that was raised, and took refuge in the fort. An old man, bent and bowed with the weight of eighty years, he tottered nervously to the shelter of its guns, and ordered up a detachment of marines from a ship of war in port, for his protection. In his indignation, he wanted to fire on the people, and the black muzzles of the cannon pointing on the town had an ominous look. Whether he had threatened to do so by a message, we do not know; at any rate, the people either suspected his determination or got wind of it, for during the day an unknown person handed in at the fort-gate a note, telling him if he did, the people would hang him, like Porteus of Edinburgh, on a sign-post. He wisely forebore to give the order, for if he had not, his gray hairs would have streamed from a gibbet.

At length the day of turmoil wore away, and night came on, but with it came no diminution of the excitement. Soon as it was dark, the "Sons of Liberty," numbering thousands, surged tumultuously up around the fort, and demanded that the stamps should be given up that they might be destroyed. Golden bluntly refused, when with loud, defiant shouts they left, and went up Broadway to "the field" (the present Park), where they erected a gibbet, and hanged on it Colden in effigy, and beside him a figure holding a boot; some said to represent the devil, others Lord Bute, of whom the boot, by a pun on his name, showed for whom the effigy was designed.

The demonstration had now become a riot, and the Sons of Liberty degenerated into a mob. The feeling that had been confined to words all day must now have some outlet. A torchlight procession was formed, and the scaffold and images taken down, and borne on men's shoulders along Broadway towards the Battery. The glare of flaring lights on the buildings and faces of the excited crowd, the shouts and hurrahs that made night hideous, called out the entire population, which gazed in amazement on the strange, wild spectacle.

They boldly carried the scaffold and effigies to within a few feet of the gate of the fort, and knocked audaciously for admission. Isaac Sears was the leader of these "Sons of Liberty."

Finding themselves unable to gain admittance, they went to the Governor's carriage-house, and took out his elegant coach, and placing the two effigies in it, dragged it by hand around the streets by the light of torches, amid the jeers and shouts of the multitude. Becoming at last tired of this amusement, they returned towards the fort, and erected a second gallows, on which they hung the effigies the second time.

All this time the cannon, shotted and primed, lay silent on their carriages, while the soldiers from the ramparts looked wonderingly, idly on. General Gage did not dare to fire on the people, fearing they would sweep like an inundation over the ramparts, when he knew a general massacre would follow.

The mob now tore down, the wooden fence that surrounded Bowling Green, and piling pickets and boards together, set them on fire. As the flames crackled and roared in the darkness, they pitched on the Governor's coach, with the scaffold and effigies; then hastening to his carriage-house again, and dragging out a one-horse chaise, two sleighs, and other vehicles, hauled them to the fire, and threw them on, making a conflagration that illumined the waters of the bay and the ships riding at anchor. This was a galling spectacle to the old Governor and the British officers, but they dared not interfere.

What was the particular animosity against those carriages does not appear, though it was the only property of the Governor they destroyed, unless they were a sign of that aristocratic pride which sought to enslave them. There were, at this time, not a half-dozen coaches in the city, and they naturally became the symbols of bloated pride. It is said the feeling was so strong against them, that a wealthy Quaker named Murray, who lived out of town, near where the distributing reservoir now is, kept one to ride down town in, yet dared not call it a coach, but a "leathern convenience."

Although Sears and other leaders of the Sons of Liberty tried to restrain the mob, their blood was now up, and they were bent on destruction. Having witnessed the conflagration of the Governor's carriages, they again marched up Broadway, and some one shouting "James' house," the crowd took up the shout, and passing out of the city streamed through the open country, to where West Broadway now is, and near the corner of Anthony Street. This James was Major in the Royal Artillery, and had made himself obnoxious to the people by taking a conspicuous part in putting the fort into a state of defence. He had a beautiful residence here, which the mob completely gutted, broke up his elegant furniture, destroyed his library and works of art, and laid waste his ornamented grounds. They then dispersed, and the city became quiet.

The excitement was, however, not quelled—the people had not yet got hold of the stamps, which they were determined to have. Colden, having seen enough of the spirit of the "Sons of Liberty," was afraid to risk another night, even in the fort, unless it was in some way appeased; and so the day after the riot, he had a large placard posted up, stating that he should have nothing more to do with the stamps, but would leave them with Sir Henry Moore, the newly appointed Governor, then on his way from England.

This, however, did not satisfy the Sons of Liberty: they wanted the stamps themselves, and through Sears, their leader, insisted on their being given up—telling him very plainly if he did not they would storm the fort, and they were determined to do it.

The Common Council of the city now became alarmed at the ungovernable, desperate spirit of the mob, which seemed bent on blood, and begged the Governor to let them be deposited in the City Hall. To this he finally though reluctantly consented, but the feeling in the city kept at fever heat, and would remain so until the act itself was repealed.

Moore, the new Governor, soon arrived, and assumed the reigns of government. The corporation offered him the freedom of the city in a gold box, but he refused to receive it, unless upon stamped paper. It was evident he was determined to enforce the stamp act. But on consulting with Colden and others, and ascertaining the true state of things, he wisely abandoned his purpose, and soon made it publicly known. To appease the people still more, he dismantled the fort, which was peculiarly obnoxious to them from the threatening attitude it had been made to assume. Still, the infamous act was unrepealed, and the people refused to buy English manufactures, and commerce languished.

At length, Parliament, finding that further insistance in carrying out the obnoxious act only worked mischief, had repealed it. When the news reached New York, the most unbounded joy was manifested. Bells were rung, cannon fired, and placards posted, calling on a meeting of the citizens the next day to take measures for celebrating properly the great event. At the appointed time, the people came together at Howard's Hotel, and forming a procession, marched gayly to "the field," and right where the City Hall now stands, then an open lot, a salute of twenty-one guns was fired. A grand dinner followed, at which the Sons of Liberty feasted and drank loyal toasts to his Majesty, and all went "merry as a marriage-bell." The city was illuminated, and bonfires turned the night into day. In a few weeks, the King's birthday was celebrated with great display. A huge pile of wood was erected in the Park, and an ox roasted whole for the people. Cart after cart dumped its load of beer on the ground, till twenty-five barrels, flanked by a huge hogshead of rum, lay in a row, presided over by men appointed to deal out the contents to the populace. A boisterous demonstration followed that almost drowned the roar of the twenty-one cannon that thundered forth a royal salute. As a fitting wind-up to the bacchanalian scene, at night twenty-five tar-barrels, fastened on poles, blazed over the "common," while brilliant fireworks were exhibited at Bowling Green. The feasting continued late in the night, and so delighted were the "Sons of Liberty," that they erected a mast, inscribed "to his most gracious Majesty, George the Third, Mr. Pitt, and Liberty." A petition was also signed to erect a statue to Pitt, and the people seemed determined by this excess of loyalty to atone for their previous rebellious spirit. The joy, however, was of short duration—the news of the riots caused Parliament to pass a "mutiny act," by which troops were to be quartered in America in sufficient numbers to put down any similar demonstration in future, a part of the expense of their support to be paid by the colonists themselves. This exasperated "the Sons of Liberty", and they met and resolved to resist this new act of oppression to the last. The troops arrived in due time, and of course collisions took place between them and the people. Matters now continued to grow worse and worse, until the "riot of the Sons of Liberty" became a revolution, which dismembered the British Empire, and established this great republic, the influence of which on the destiny of the world no one can predict.



Body-snatching.—Bodies dug up by Medical Students.—Excitement of the People.—Effect of the Discovery of a human Limb from the Hospital.—Mob ransack the Building.—Destruction of Anatomical Specimens.—Arrival of Mayor, and Imprisonment of Students.—Second Day.—Examination of Columbia College and Physicians' Houses.—Appeal of the Mayor and distinguished Citizens to the Mob.—Mob attempt to break into Jail and seize the Students.—The Fight.—The Military called out.—Beaten by the Mob.— Larger Military Force called out.—Attacked by the Mob.—Deadly Firing.— Great Excitement.—Flight of Doctors and Students.

In former times "body-snatching," or digging up bodies for dissections, was much, more heard of than at present. The fear of it was so great, that often, in the neighborhood where medical students were pursuing their studies, persons who lost friends would have a watch kept over their graves for several nights, to prevent them from being dug up. Neither the high social position of parties nor sex was any barrier to this desecration of graves, and the public mind was often shocked by accounts of the young and beautiful being disinterred, to be cut up by medical students. In the city there was, a few years ago—and perhaps there is now—a regular commercial price for bodies.

Although it was conceded that for thorough instruction in medical science, subjects for dissection were necessary, yet no one outside of the medical profession could be found to sanction "bodysnatching." There is a sacredness attached to the grave that the most hardened feel. Whenever the earth is thrown over the body of a man, no matter how abject or sinful he may have been, the involuntary exclamation of every one is "requiescat in pace." When, it comes to be one of our own personal friends, a parent, sister, or child, to this feeling of sacredness is added that of affection, and no wrong is like that of invading the tomb of those we love. Shakespeare left his curse for him who should disturb his bones; and all feel like cursing those who disturb the bones of friends who are linked to them by blood and affection.

In the winter of 1787 and 1788, medical students of New York City dug up bodies more frequently than usual, or were more reckless in their mode of action, for the inhabitants became greatly excited over the stories that were told of their conduct. Some of these, if true, revealed a brutality and indecency, shocking as it was unnecessary. Usually, the students had contented themselves with ripping open the graves of strangers and negroes, about whom there was little feeling; but this winter they dug up respectable people, even young women, of whom they made an indecent exposure.

The stories did not lose anything by repetition, and soon the conduct of physicians and medical students became a town talk. There seemed to be no remedy for this state of things; the graveyards, which were then in the heart of the city, were easily accessible; while plenty of men could be found, who, for a small sum, would dig up any body that was desired. A mere accident caused this state of feeling to culminate and suddenly break out into action. In the spring, some boys were playing in the rear of the hospital, when a young surgeon, from a mere whim, showed an amputated arm to them. One of them, impelled by curiosity, immediately mounted a ladder that stood against the wall, used in making some repairs, when the surgeon told him to look at his mother's arm. The little fellow's mother had recently died, and filled with terror, he immediately hastened to his father, who was a mason, and working at the time in Broadway. The father at once went to his wife's grave, and had it opened. He found the body gone, and returned to his fellow-workmen with the news. They were filled with rage, and, armed with tools, and gathering a crowd as they marched, they surged up around the hospital.

At first many seemed to be impelled only by curiosity, but as the throng increased, the masons became eager for decisive action. Threats and denunciations began to arise on every side, and then appeals for vengeance, till at length they rushed for the door, and pouring into the building, began the work of destruction. For a while there was a terrible rattling of bones, as they tore down, and smashed every anatomical specimen they could lay their hands on. Valuable imported ones shared the common fate. They swarmed through the building, and finally came upon fresh subjects, apparently but just dug up. This kindled their rage tenfold, and the students, who thus far had been unmolested, were in danger of being roughly handled.

The news of the gathering of the crowd and its threatening aspect, had reached the Mayor, who immediately summoned the sheriff, and taking him with several prominent citizens, hastened to the spot. Finding the students in the hands of the infuriated mob, he released them, and to the satisfaction, apparently, of the rioters, sent them to jail for safe- keeping.

There was now nothing left for them to do, and they dispersed, and the matter was thought to be ended.

But, during the evening, knots of men were everywhere discussing the events of the day, and retailing the exciting reports that were now flying thickly around; and next morning, whether from any concert of action, or impelled by mere curiosity, is not known, crowds began to fill the street and yard in front of the city hospital. The discovery of the bodies the day before had deepened the excitement, and now a more thorough examination of the building was proposed, and also an examination of the physicians' houses. Matters were beginning to wear a serious aspect, and the Governor, Mayor, Chancellor, and some of the prominent citizens of the town, came together to consult on a course of action. It was finally resolved to resort in a body to the spot where the mob was assembled, and make a personal appeal to it. They did so, and presented an imposing appearance as they advanced up Broadway. Although representing the State and city, they did not presume on their authority, but attempted persuasion. Mounting the steps, they in turn addressed the throng, which now kept momentarily increasing, and exhorted them as law-abiding citizens to use no violence. Some made most pathetic appeals to their feelings, their pride and self-respect; indeed, begged them, by every consideration of home and justice, to desist, and retire peacefully to their homes. They solemnly promised that a most thorough investigation should be made, and they should have all the satisfaction the laws could afford. More they ought not to ask. These appeals and promises produced a favorable effect on many of the mob, and they left. But the greater part refused to be pacified. Their blood was up, and they insisted on making the examination themselves. They did not propose to commit any violence, but having begun their investigations they were determined to go through with them.

The Mayor and the Governor seemed to have an unaccountable repugnance to the use of force, and let the mob depart for Columbia College without any resistance. The professors and students were amazed at this sudden inundation of the crowd, who swarmed without opposition through every part of the building. Finding nothing to confirm their suspicions, they left without doing any material injury. Still unsatisfied, however, they repaired to the houses of the neighboring physicians, and the leaders, acting as a delegation of the crowd, went through them with the same result. It was a singularly well-behaved mob, and they received the report of the self-constituted committees with apparently perfect satisfaction, and when they had made the round of the houses, gradually broke up into knots and dispersed.

But the lawless spirit of a mob seldom arrests and controls itself. Having once felt its strength and power, it is never satisfied till it measures them against those of the legal authorities, and yields only when it must. Hence, as a rule, the quicker "it feels the strong hand of power" the better for all parties. Promising legal satisfaction, to law-breakers is a very unsatisfactory proceeding. Obedience first and discussion afterwards is the proper order to be observed.

The Mayor had hardly time to congratulate himself on having overcome so easily a serious difficulty, before he found that he had not as yet touched it. In the afternoon, the crowd again began to assemble, and this time around the jail, with the avowed purpose of taking vengeance on the students and physicians locked up there for safe-keeping. Having asserted and exercised, against all law, the right of domiciliary visits, it was but a short and easy step to assert the right to punish also contrary to law. As they gathered in front of the jail, it was seen that a different spirit from that which they had hitherto exhibited ruled them. The tiger was unchained, and loud shouts and yells were heard. "Bring out your doctors! bring out your doctors!" arose on every side. They threatened to tear down the building unless they were given up. The inmates became thoroughly alarmed, and barricaded the doors and windows, and armed themselves the best way they could for self-defence. Attempts were made to parley with the crowd, but they would listen to nothing, and answered every appeal with loud shouts for the doctors. What they intended to do with them by way of punishment was not so clear, though what their fate would have been, if once at their mercy, there was little doubt. The city authorities now became alarmed, murder was imminent, and having no police force sufficient to cope with such a formidable mob, they decided that the city was in a state of insurrection, and called out the military. About three o'clock, the force marched up the street, and passed quietly through the crowd, which opened as they advanced. As they moved past, a shower of dirt and stones followed them, accompanied with taunts, and jeers, and mocking laughter. The whole military movement was evidently intended only for intimidation—to show the rioters what could be done if they resorted to violence; for the soldiers, instead of taking up their quarters, as they should have done, in the building, having exhibited themselves, marched away. But the mob, still retaining its position and threatening attitude, another force, a little later, consisting of only twelve men, was sent up. This was worse than nothing, and as the little handful marched solemnly up, the crowd broke out into derisive laughter, and all sorts of contemptuous epithets were heaped upon them. Instead of waiting for them to come near, they rushed down, the street to meet them, and swarming like bees around them, snatched away their muskets, and broke them to pieces on the pavement. [Footnote: John Jay and Baron Steuben were both wounded in trying to allay the mob.] The soldiers, disarmed, scattered, and hustled about, were glad to escape with whole bodies.

This first act of open resistance excited the rioters still more—they had passed the Rubicon, and were now ready for anything, and "to the jail! to the jail!" arose in wild yells, and the turbulent mass poured like a tumultuous sea around the building. They rushed against the doors, and with united shoulders and bodies endeavored to heave them from their hinges. But being secured with heavy bolts and bars, they resisted all their efforts. They then smashed in the windows with stones, and attempted to force an entrance through them; but the handful of men inside took possession of these, and, with such weapons as they could find, beat them back. Numbers were of no avail here, as only a few at a time could approach a window, while those within, being on the defensive, knocked them back as often as they attempted to climb in. The rioters, baffled in their attempts, would then fall back, and hurl paving-stones and bricks at the windows, when those who defended them would step one side. But the moment the former advanced again, the latter would crowd the windows with clubs and sticks. The enraged assailants tore off pickets, and advancing with these, made desperate efforts to clear the windows. But those within knew it was a matter of life and death with them, and stubbornly held their ground. The fight was thus kept up till dark, amid yells and shouts and a pandemonium of noises, and no efforts apparently were made to put an end to it, and release the inmates of the jail. But steps had been taken to organize and arm a large body of militia under an experienced officer, and now in the dim starlight their bayonets were seen gleaming, as they marched steadily forward on the dark, heaving mass that filled the street far as the eye could see. The rioters, however, instead of being intimidated at the sight, sent up a yell of defiance, and arming themselves with stones and brick-bats, hurled them in a blinding volley on the troops. So fierce was the assault, that before the latter had time to form, many were knocked down, and some badly wounded. The commanding officer, finding the fight thus forced on him, gave the order in a ringing voice, "Ready, aim, fire!" A flash broad as the street followed, lighting up the gloom, and revealing the scowling faces of the mob, the battered front of the jail, and the pale faces of those guarding the windows. They had not expected this close, point-blank volley, for the timid action of the authorities had not prepared them for it, and they stopped in amazement and hesitation. The commanding officer understood his business, and instead of waiting to see if they would disperse, poured in another volley. The rioters were confounded as they saw their comrades fall by their side, but still stood at bay; until at last, seeing the dead and wounded on every side, they could stand it no longer, but broke and fled in every direction. In a few minutes the street was clear of all but the dead and wounded, the groans of the latter loading the night air. The poor wretches were carried away, and the troops remained on the spot all night. The next day the city was in a fever of excitement. The number of killed was greatly exaggerated, and the denunciations of the butchery, as it was called, were fierce and loud. On almost every corner groups of excited men were seen in angry discussion—multitudes gathered in front of the jail, and gazed with horror on the blood-stained pavement.

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