Generally speaking, riots tend to happen on hot summer days but the Flour Riot erupted on a cold winter night in February of 1837. The attack on warehouses was sparked by a fear that food was being hoarded by wealthy merchants in lower Manhattan and people in the lower classes might face starvation. In reality, the rumors which inflamed the crowd were greatly exaggerated, lasted about a day and the vandalism which resulted was fairly minor, especially when compared to such later disturbances such as the Astor Place Riot or the colossal Draft Riots. Nonetheless, the Flour Riot was a significant affair because it underscored a growing divide in the city between New York’s prosperous merchant class and a quickly growing lower class of newly arrived Irish immigrants. The riot was also memorable because new method of communication, the “penny press,” had helped to inflame tensions. These cheap newspapers, widely available to the poor, had spread dangerous rumors and provoked a mob to attack a warehouse where flour was stored. Continue reading
A September post on this New York History Blog had some examples of “putting history to work” – showing the value of history for revealing historical precedents, insights or parallels which help shed light on current issues. Demonstrating that value in varied, imaginative ways is an important strategy for building support and securing resources for our history progams.
Here are a few more examples: Continue reading
The origins of this civil disturbance began in early February of 1788 and broke out in mid April of that year. Actually the City’s doctors did not riot as the name implies. However, it had its origins in the illegal procurement of corpses of free blacks and slaves and poor whites by doctors and medical students at an unaccredited surgical training school in lower Manhattan led by Richard Bailey, a Connecticut-born doctor who had studied in London.
Apparently it was expensive and almost impossible for the school to provide corpses for its teaching purposes and the professors and students resorted to stealing them from nearby Trinity Church yard and other local cemeteries including the one for people of color then known the “Negro Burying Ground” Continue reading
This conflict also known as “The New York Conspiracy Riot” was an amazingly intricate and brutal affair that in addition to its local implications had an international twist as well.
In the context of the longstanding European conflicts, English colonists in New York City felt anxious about the French presence in Canada to the north and Spanish colonies in the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River Valley to the South and West. They also felt threatened by a recent influx of Irish immigrants, whose Catholicism might incline them to spy for France and Spain. Continue reading
A standard in the field since its publication in 1992, A History of Housing in New York City traces New York’s housing development from 1850 to the present in text and profuse illustrations.
Richard Plunz explores the housing of all classes, with comparative discussion of the development of types ranging from the single-family house to the high-rise apartment tower. His analysis is placed within the context of the broader political and cultural development of New York City. Continue reading
In 1899, William Osborne Dapping was a Harvard-bound nineteen-year-old when he began writing down exploits from his rough childhood in the immigrant slums of New York City.
Now published for the first time, The Muckers: A Narrative of the Crapshooters Club (Syracuse University Press, 2016) recovers a long-lost fictionalized account of Dapping’s life in a gang of rowdy boys. Simultaneously a polished work of social reform literature and a rejoinder to the era’s alarming exposés of the “dangerous classes,” The Muckers stands as an important reform era primary document. Continue reading
One of the earliest documented riots in New York State that had a racial component or undertone was the so-called Negro Riot of 1712. It began in the area of a section of the New York City that later became be known as “Five Points” due to the convergence of three streets, Anthony, Cross, and Orange.
At that time the northern limits of British New York were present day Canal St. The population was about ten thousand, of which roughly one-fifth were African slaves. Continue reading
Like many states in the nation, New York has a long history of racially and ethnically related civil disturbances, riots, rebellions and uprisings. These unsettling events have had lasting impacts on these communities long after disturbance had passed and relative peace was restored. The following is a descriptive but incomplete list of 18th and 19th century conflicts (principally of those in New York City) in which lives were lost, property was damaged or destroyed and law and order had to be established with the often violent, coercive use of force by police and/or state military units. Most importantly these events occurred in the context of a long-standing history of racial, ethnic and social class conflicts coupled with a triggering incident that set off a more sustained period of communal violence. Continue reading
Daniel Czitrom’s new book New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal that Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford University Press, 2016) offers a narrative history of the Lexow Committee, which the author considers the first major crusade to clean up Gotham.
Czitrom tells this story within the larger contexts of national politics, poverty, patronage, vote fraud and vote suppression, and police violence. The effort to root out corrupt cops and crooked politicians morphed into something much more profound: a public reckoning over what New York had become since the Civil War. Continue reading
New York’s Historic Inns, Restaurants, and Taverns (Globe Pequot Press, 2016) explores the history of over forty institutions throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley that are still in existence today. Travel to the tavern where George Washington hosted a farewell dinner for his officers at the close of the American Revolution. Eat steak at one of the city’s oldest steakhouses. Rest your head in one of the original houses built by Dutch colonists in the Hudson Valley. Part historical record and part travelogue, the book tells tales about the region’s most historical and storied establishments. Continue reading