Thank you, Salty Aire! Another excellent guest blog entry, about some of New York’s shocking surges of violence and protest in the 19th century.

Occupy History

by Jerry Mikorenda

Outrageous acts of defiance have always pitted the Empire City’s granite landscape. Past infractions make the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement look like a picnic in the park.

Manhattan was a cauldron for riots as diverse in severity and cause as the city’s population. The first was the Doctors’ Mob Riot. It took place April 13-15, 1788 prompted by a group known as the “resurrectionists.” They were grave robbers stealing corpses for medical studies. Street mobs attacked Columbia College and New York Hospital.

Five years later, “boys, apprentices and sailors” were among those who believed a rape victim was forced to become a streetwalker. For two nights, the Brothel Riots raged. July 9-12, 1834, the Anti-Abolitionist Riots seethed as pro-slavery mobs attacked churches, businesses and homes of noted blacks and white abolitionists. Lizzie Jennings family was among those targeted by the ransacking. That same year, NYU purchased stone work from prisoners at Sing Sing causing the Stonecutter’s Riot. The 27th Regiment occupied Washington Square to quell the looters.

“Bread, Meat, Rent, Fuel!” was the cry as 5,000 starving women, children and men took to the streets on February 10, 1837 for the Flour or Bread Riot. The poor plundered homes of the rich protesting the monopoly on flour as the country’s banking system and economy collapsed. During the South Ferry Riot of 1846, Irish strikers battled the German laborers looking to replace them. The strikers refused to work a 13 hour day for .65 cents.

Bread Riots

Three years later, 200 troops were used to protect an English actor from a mob of 10,000 angry Irishmen in the Astor Place Riots.

Astor Place Riot

In 1857, the Great Police Riot put rival city police departments against each other. The Orange Riots of 1870 and 1871 were vicious confrontations between Irish Protestants (Orangemen) and Irish Catholics. In January 1874, the Tompkins Square Riot set 7,000 unemployed workers clashing with 1,600 police.

Orange Riots, 1871

To this day, the Draft Riots of 1863 remain the bloodiest civil resistance in American history. In all, 119 people, mostly African Americans, were killed.

Draft Riots

Lizzie Jennings‘ infant son died from riot-related complications. Ironically, 98 percent of those drafted in New York never served. The city used $5 million of public funds for draft exemptions. There were no special appeals for mistreated blacks. However, local businesses donated $40,000 toward their restitution.

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