Orange Riots of 1870 and 1871

In a free country like ours, where toleration of all religions alike is one of the fundamental principles of the Government, one would naturally think that open persecution of any sect or body of religionists was impossible. But the Irish, unfortunately, have brought with them to this country not merely many of their old customs and national fetes, but their old religions feuds.

Nearly two hundred years ago, William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, or William the Third, a Protestant, met the Catholic King, James the Second, of England, In deadly battle, in the vales of Meath, through which the Boyne River flows, and utterly routed him, and compelled him to flee to the Continent for safety. According to old style, this was on the first day of July, as the old ballad says:

“‘Twas bright July’s first morning clear,
Of unforgotten glory,
That made this stream, through ages dear,
Renowned in song and story.”

According to new style, however, this has become the twelfth of the month. The Ulster Protestant Society, known as Orangemen, was founded in 1795. It was a secret political organization, founded, it is said, to counteract the Ribbonmen, or Protectors, as they were called. Its object in this country, it is asserted, is entirely different, and more in harmony with other societies that have their annual celebration in New York City and other places.

It is not necessary to go over the bitter feuds between these and the Catholic Irish in the old country. The hates they engendered were brought here, but kept from any great outward manifestation, because the Orangemen indulged in no public displays. We believe that there had been only one procession previous to this. In this year, however, an imposing display was resolved upon, but no trouble was anticipated, and no precautions taken by the police. It was not proposed to parade the streets, but to form, and march in procession up Eighth Avenue, to Elm Park, corner of Ninetieth Street and Eighth Avenue, and have a picnic, and wind up with a dance. As the procession passed Fourth Street, in full Orange regalia, and about twenty-five hundred strong (men, women, and children), playing “Boyne Water,” “Derry,” and other tunes obnoxious to the Catholics, some two hundred Irishmen followed it with curses and threats.

Violence was, however, not feared, and the procession continued on, and at length reached the new Boulevard road, where a large body of Irishmen were at work. Beyond, however, the interchange of some words, nothing transpired, and it entered the park, and began the festivities of the day.

In the meanwhile, however, the rabble that had followed them came upon the Ribbonmen at work on the Boulevard road, and persuaded them to throw up work and join them, and the whole crowd, numbering probably about five hundred, started for the park. The foreman of the gang of three hundred workmen saw at once the danger, and hurried to the Thirty-first Precinct station, corner of One Hundredth Street and Ninth Avenue, and told Captain Helme of the state of things.

The latter immediately thought of the picnic, and, anticipating trouble, telegraphed to Jourdan for reinforcements. In the meanwhile, the mob, loaded with stones, advanced tumultuously towards the park, within which the unsuspecting Orangemen were giving themselves up to enjoyment. Suddenly a shower of stones fell among them, knocking over women and children, and sending consternation through the crowd. Shouts and curses followed, and the Orangemen, rallying, rushed out and fell furiously on their assailants. Shovels, clubs, and stones were freely used, and a scene of terrific confusion followed. The fight was close and bloody, and continued for nearly half an hour, when Sergeant John Kelly, with a force of sixteen men, arrived, and rushing in between the combatants, separated them, and drove the Orangemen back into the park. The mob then divided into two portions, of between two and three hundred each. One party went by way of Ninth Avenue, and, breaking down the fence on that side, entered the park, and fell with brutal fury on men, women, and children alike. A terrible fight followed, and amid the shouts and oaths of the men and screams of the women and children, occasional pistol shots were heard, showing that murder was being done. The enraged, unarmed Orangemen, wrenched hand rails from the fence, tore up small trees, and seized anything and everything that would serve for a weapon, and maintained the fight for a half an hour, before the police arrived. The second portion went by Eighth Avenue, and intercepted a large body of Orangemen that had retreated from the woods, and a desperate battle followed. There were only two policemen here, and of course could do nothing but stand and look on the murderous conflict. In the meantime, the force telegraphed for by Captain. Helme arrived. It consisted of twenty men, to which Captain Helme added the reserve force, with a sergeant from the Eighth, Ninth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Nineteenth Precincts, making in all some fifty men. These he divided into two portions, one of which he sent over to Eighth Avenue to protect the cars, into which the fugitives were crowding, while the other dashed furiously into the park, and fell on the combatants with their clubs. They soon cleared a lane between them, when turning on the Ribbonmen, they drove them out of the park. They then formed the Orangemen into a procession, and escorted them down the city. A portion, however, had fled for the Eighth Avenue cars; but a party of Ribbonmen were lying in wait here, and another fight followed. Huge stones were thrown through the windows of the cars, the sides broken in, over the wreck of which the mob rushed, knocking down men, women, and children alike, whose shouts, and oaths, and screams could be heard blocks off. The scene was terrific, until the arrival of the police put an end to it, and bore the dead and wounded away.

About seven o’clock, Superintendent Jourdan arrived in the precinct, accompanied by Inspectors Dilks and Walling, and Detectives Farley and Avery. In the basement of the Thirty-first Precinct station, on a low trestle bed, three bloody corpses were stretched, while the neighboring precincts were filled with the wounded. Two more died before morning. The street near each station was crowded with Orangemen inquiring after friends.

Although no more outbreaks occurred, the most intense excitement prevailed among the Irish population of the city, and it was evident that it needed only a suitable occasion to bring on another conflict.

The Riot of 1871

When the next anniversary of the Orangemen came round, it was discovered that a conspiracy had been formed by a large body of the Catholic population to prevent its public celebration. The air was full of rumors, while the city authorities were in possession of the fullest evidence that if the Orangemen paraded, they would be attacked, and probably many lives be lost. They were in great dilemma as to what course to pursue. If they allowed the procession to take place, they would be compelled to protect it, and shoot down the men whose votes helped largely to place them in power. If they forbade it, they feared the public indignation that would be aroused against such a truckling, unjust course. As the day drew near, however, and the extensive preparations of the Irish Catholics became more apparent, they finally determined to risk the latter course, and it was decided that Superintendent Kelso should issue an order forbidding the Orangemen to parade. This ludicrous attempt on the part of the Mayor to shift the responsibility from his own shoulders, awakened only scorn, and the appearance of the order was followed by a storm of indignation that was appalling. The leading papers, without regard to politics, opened on him and his advisers, with such a torrent of denunciations that they quailed before it. Processions of all kinds and nationalities were allowed on the streets, and to forbid only one, and that because it was Protestant , was an insult to every American citizen. Even Wall Street forgot its usual excitement, and leading men were heard violently denouncing this cowardly surrender of Mayor Hall to the threats of a mob. An impromptu meeting was called in the Produce Exchange, and a petition drawn up, asking the president to call a formal meeting, and excited men stood in line two hours, waiting their turn to sign it. The building was thronged, and the vice-president called the meeting to order, and informed it that the rules required twenty-four hours’ notice for such a meeting. The members, however, would listen to no delay, and with an unanimous and thundering vote, declared the rules suspended. The action of the city authorities was denounced in withering terms, and a committee of leading men appointed to wait on them, and remonstrate with the Mayor. One could scarcely have dreamed that this order would stir New York so profoundly. But the people, peculiarly sensitive to any attack on religious freedom, were the more fiercely aroused, that in this case it was a Catholic mob using the city authority to strike down Protestantism. The Mayor and his subordinates were appalled at the tempest they had raised, and calling a council, resolved to revoke the order. In the meantime, Governor Hoffman was telegraphed to from Albany. Hastening to the city, he, after a consultation with Mayor Hall, decided to issue the following proclamation:

“Having been only this day apprised, while at the capital, of the actual condition of things here, with reference to proposed processions tomorrow, and having, in the belief that my presence was needed, repaired hither immediately, I do make this proclamation:

“The order heretofore issued by the police authorities, in reference to said processions, being duly revoked, I hereby give notice that any and all bodies of men desiring to assemble in peaceable procession to-morrow, the 12th inst., will be permitted to do so. They will be protected to the fullest extent possible by the military and police authorities. A police and military escort will be furnished to any body of men desiring it, on application to me at my head-quarters (which will be at police head-quarters in this city) at any time during the day. I warn all persons to abstain from interference with any such assembly or procession, except by authority from me; and I give notice that all the powers of my command, civil and military, will be used to preserve the public peace, and put down at all hazards, every attempt at disturbances; and I call upon all citizens, of every race and religion, to unite with me and the local authorities in this determination, to preserve the peace and honor of the city and State.”

Dated at New York, this eleventh day of July, A. D. 1871. John T. Hoffman.

It was thought by many that this would counteract the effects of the cowardly order of the police superintendent. But whatever its effect might have been, had it been issued earlier, it now came too late to do any good. The preparations of the Roman Catholics were all made. A secret circular had fallen into the hands of the police, showing that the organization of the rioters was complete the watchwords and signals all arranged, and even the points designated where the attacks on the procession were to be made. Arms had been collected and transported to certain localities, and everything betokened a stormy morrow. Consequently, General Shaler issued orders to the commanders of the several regiments of militia, directing them to have their men in readiness at their respective armories at 7 o’clock next morning, prepared to march at a moment’s warning. His head-quarters, like those of General Brown in the draft riots, were at the police head-quarters, so as to have the use of the police telegraph, in conveying orders to different sections of the city. Meanwhile, detachments were placed on guard at the different armories, to frustrate any attempt on the part of the mob to seize arms.

The night, however, wore quietly away, and in the morning the Governor’s proclamation appeared in the morning papers, showing the rioters the nature of the work before them, if they undertook to carry out their infamous plans. It seemed to have no effect, however. Early in the morning sullen groups of Irishmen gathered on the corners of the streets, where the Irish resided in greatest numbers, among which were women, gesticulating and talking violently, apparently wholly unaware that the authorities had any power, or, at least, thought they dared not use it. Other groups traversed the streets, while at the several rendezvous of the Hibernians, many carried muskets or rifles without any attempt at concealment. In the upper part of the city, a body of rioters began to move southward, compelling all the workmen on their way to leave work and join them. One or two armories were attacked, but the rioters were easily repulsed. The demonstrations at length became so threatening, that by ten o’clock the police seized Hibernia Hall.

About the same time, the Orangemen who on the issue of Kelso’s order had determined not to parade but on the appearance of the Governor’s proclamation changed their mind began to assemble at Lamartine Hall, on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street. Their room was in the fourth story, and the delegates from the various lodges brought with them their badges and banners, which they displayed from the windows. This brought a crowd in front of the building, curious to know what was going on in the lodge room. Soon five hundred policemen, ten or fifteen of them on horseback, appeared under the command of Inspectors Walling and Jamieson, and occupied both sides of Twenty-ninth Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Several policemen also stood on Eighth Avenue, while the door of the hall was guarded by others. Inside the hall there were probably some seventy-five or a hundred Orangemen, discussing the parade. Some stated that a great many, concluding there would be none, had gone to their usual work, while others, alarmed at the threats of the Hibernians, would not join it. But after some discussion, it was resolved, that although the number would be small, they would parade at all hazards; and at eleven o’clock the door was thrown open, and the Orangemen, wearing orange colors, were admitted, amid the wildest cheering. An invitation was sent to the lodges of Jersey City to join them, but they declined, preferring to celebrate the day at home.

Two o’clock was the hour fixed upon for the parade to begin, and the authorities at police head-quarters were so advised. In the meantime a banner had been prepared on which was inscribed in large letters,

“Americans! Freemen!! Fall In!!!” in order to get accessions from outsiders, but without success.

The line of march finally resolved upon was down Eighth Avenue to Twenty-third Street, and up it to Fifth Avenue, down Fifth Avenue to Fourteenth Street, along it to Union Square, saluting the Lincoln and Washington statues as they passed, and then down Fourth Avenue to Cooper Institute, where the procession would break up.

About one o’clock, a party of men came rushing down Eighth Avenue, opposite Lamartine Hall, cheering and shouting, led by a man waving a sword cane. As he swung it above his head it parted, disclosing a long dirk. The police immediately advanced and swept the street. Eighth Avenue was cleared from Thirtieth Street to Twenty-eighth Street, and the police formed several deep, leaving only room enough for the cars to pass.

In the meantime, around police head-quarters, in Mott Street, things wore a serious aspect. From six o’clock in the morning, the various detachments of police kept arriving until Bleecker, Houston, Mulberry, and Mott Streets were dark with the massed battalions, ready to move at a moment’s notice. Rations were served out to them standing. Early in the day, Governor Hoffman and staff arrived, and were quartered in the Superintendent’s room, while General Shaler and staff were quartered in the fire marshal’s office. Commissioners Manierre, Smith, and Barr were in their own rooms, receiving reports from the various precincts over the wires. A little after nine a dispatch came, stating that the quarrymen near Central Park had quit work, and were gathering in excited groups, swearing that the Orangemen should not parade. Immediately Inspector Jamieson, with two hundred and fifty policemen, was dispatched in stages to Forty-seventh Street and Eighth Avenue, to watch the course of events. Another dispatch stated that an attack was threatened on Harper’s building, in Franklin Square, and Captain Allaire, of the Seventh Precinct, was hurried off with fifty men to protect it. A little later came the news that the Orangemen had determined to parade at two o’clock, and a police force of five hundred, as we have already stated, were massed in Eighth Avenue, opposite Lamartine Hall. About noon, a body of rioters made an attack on the armory, No. 19 Avenue A, in which were a hundred and thirty-eight stands of arms. Fortunately, the janitor of the building saw them in time to fasten the doors before they reached it, and then ran to the nearest police-station for help, from which a dispatch was sent to head-quarters. Captain Mount, with a hundred policemen, was hurried off to the threatened point. He arrived, before the doors were broken in, and falling on the rioters with clubs, drove them in all directions. During the forenoon, Drill-captain Copeland was given five Companies, and told to seize Hibernia Hall, where arms were being distributed. As he approached, he ordered the mob to disperse, but was answered with taunts and curses, while the women hurled stones at his face. He then gave the order to charge, when the men fell on the crowd with such fury, that they broke and fled in wild confusion. Meanwhile, the detectives had been busy, and secured eighteen of the ring-leaders, whom they marched to police head-quarters.

As the hour for the procession to form drew near, the most intense excitement prevailed at police head-quarters, and the telegraph was watched with anxious solicitude. The terrible punishment inflicted on the rioters in 1863 seemed to have been forgotten by the mob, and it had evidently resolved to try once more its strength with the city authorities. Around the Orange head-quarters a still deeper excitement prevailed. The hum of the vast multitude seemed like the first murmurings of the coming storm, and many a face turned pale as the Orangemen, with their banners and badges, only ninety in all, passed out of the door into the street. John Johnston, their marshal, mounted on a spirited horse, placed himself at their head. In a few minutes, the bayonets of the military force designed to act as an escort could be seen flashing in the sun, as the troops with measured tread moved steadily forward. Crowds followed them on the sidewalks, or hung from windows and house tops, while low curses could be heard on every side, especially when the Twenty-second Regiment deliberately loaded their pieces with ball and cartridge. The little band of Orangemen looked serious but firm, while the military officers showed by their preparations and order that they expected bloody work. The Orangemen formed line in Twenty-ninth Street, close to the Eighth Avenue, and flung their banners to the breeze. A half an hour later, they were ready to march, and at the order wheeled into Eighth Avenue. At that instant a single shot rang out but a few rods distant. Heads were turned anxiously to see who was hit. More was expected as the procession moved on. A strong body of police marched in advance. Next came the Ninth Regiment, followed at a short interval by the Sixth. Then came more police, followed by the little band of Orangemen, flanked on either side, so as fully to protect them, by the Twenty-second and Eighty-fourth Regiments. To these succeeded more police. The imposing column was closed up by the Seventh Regiment, arresting all eyes by its even tread and martial bearing. The sidewalks, doorsteps, windows, and roofs were black with people. The band struck up a martial air, and the procession moved on towards Twenty-eighth Street. Just before they reached it, another shot rang clear and sharp above the music. No one was seen to fall, and the march continued. At the corner of Twenty-seventh Street, a group of desperate looking fellows were assembled on a wooden shed that projected over the sidewalk. Warned to get down and go away, they hesitated, when a company of soldiers levelled their pieces at them. Uttering defiant threats, they hurried down and disappeared. As the next corner was reached, another shot was fired, followed by a shower of stones. A scene of confusion now ensued. The police fell on the bystanders occupying the sidewalks, and clubbed them right and left without distinction, and the order rolled down the line to the inmates of the houses to shut their windows. Terror now took the place of curiosity; heads disappeared, and the quick, fierce slamming of blinds was heard above the uproar blocks away. The procession kept on till it reached Twenty-fourth Street, when a halt was ordered. The next moment a shot was fired from the second-story windows of a house on the north-east corner. It struck the Eighty-fourth Regiment, and in an instant a line of muskets was pointed at the spot, as though the order to fire was expected. One gun went off, when, without orders, a sudden, unexpected volley rolled down the line of the Sixth, Ninth, and Eighty-fourth Regiments. The officers were wholly taken by surprise at this unprecedented conduct; but, recovering themselves, rushed among the ranks and shouted out their orders to cease firing. But the work was done; and as the smoke slowly lifted in the hot atmosphere, a scene of indescribable confusion presented itself. Men, women, and children, screaming in wild terror, were fleeing in every direction; the strong trampling down the weak, while eleven corpses lay stretched on the sidewalk, some piled across each other. A pause of a few minutes now followed, while the troops reloaded their guns. A new attack was momentarily expected, and no one moved from the ranks to succor the wounded or lift up the dead. Here a dead woman lay across a dead man; there a man streaming with blood was creeping painfully up a doorstep, while crouching, bleeding forms appeared in every direction. Women from the windows looked down on the ghastly spectacle, gesticulating wildly. The police now cleared the avenue and side streets, when, the dead and wounded were attended to, and the order to move on was given. General Varian, indignant at the conduct of the Eighty-fourth in firing first without orders, sent it to the rear, and replaced it on the flank of the Orangemen with a portion of the Ninth. The procession, as it now resumed its march and moved through Twenty-fourth Street, was a sad and mournful one. The windows were filled with spectators, and crowds lined the sidewalks, but all were silent and serious. Not till it reached Fifth Avenue Hotel were there any greetings of welcome. Here some three thousand people were assembled, who rent the air with cheers. No more attacks were made, and it reached Cooper Institute and disbanded without any further incident.

In the meantime, the scene at the Bellevue Hospital was a sad and painful one. The ambulances kept discharging their bloody loads at the door, and groans of distress and shrieks of pain filled the air. Long rows of cots, filled with mangled forms, were stretched on every side, while the tables were covered with bodies, held down, as the surgeons dressed their wounds. The dead were carried to the Morgue, around which, as night came on, a clamorous crowd was gathered, seeking admission, to look after their dead friends. A similar crowd gathered at the door of the Mount Sinai Hospital, filling the air with cries and lamentations. As darkness settled over the city, wild, rough looking men from the lowest ranks of society gathered in the street where the slaughter took place, among whom were seen bare-headed women roaming about, making night hideous with their curses.

A pile of dead men’s hats stood on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street untouched, and pale faces stooped over pools of blood on the pavement. The stores were all shut; and everything wore a gloomy aspect. The police stood near, revealed in the lamplight, but made no effort to clear the street. It seemed at one time that a serious outbreak would take place, but the night passed off quietly, and the riot was ended, and the mob once more taught the terrible lesson it is so apt to forget.

Two of the police and military were killed, and twenty-four wounded; while of the rioters thirty-one were killed, and sixty-seven wounded making in all one hundred and twenty-eight victims.

There was much indignation expressed at the troops for firing without orders, and firing so wildly as to shoot some of their own men. It was, of course, deserving the deepest condemnation, yet it may have saved greater bloodshed. The fight evidently did not occur at the expected point, and doubtless the result here, prevented one where the mob was better organized, and would have made a more stubborn resistance.

That innocent persons were killed is true; but if they will mingle in with a mob, they must expect to share its fate, and alone must bear the blame. Troops are called out to fire on the people if they persist in violation of the peace and rights of the community. Of this all are fully aware, and hence take the risk of being shot. Soldiers cannot be expected to discriminate in a mob. If the military are not to fire on a crowd of rioters until no women and children, can be seen in it, they had better stay at home.

To a casual observer, this calling out of seven hundred policemen and several regiments of soldiers, in order to let ninety men take a foolish promenade through a few streets, would seem a very absurd and useless display of the power of the city; and the killing of sixty or seventy men a heavy price to pay for such an amusement. But it was not ninety Orangemen only that those policemen and soldiers enclosed and shielded. They had in their keeping the laws and authority of the city, set at defiance by a mob, and also the principle of religious toleration and of equal rights, which were of more consequence than the lives of ten thousand men. The day when New York City allows itself to be dictated to by a mob, and Protestants not be permitted to march as such quietly through the streets, her prosperity and greatness will come to an end. The taking of life is a serious thing, but it is not to weigh a moment against the preservation of authority and the supremacy of the law.

One thing should not be overlooked the almost universal faithfulness of the Roman Catholic Irish police to their duty. In this, as well as in the draft riots, they have left a record of which, any city might he proud. To defend Protestant Irishmen against Roman Catholic friends and perhaps relatives, is a severe test of fidelity; but the Irish police have stood it nobly, and won the regard of all good citizens.




MLA Source Citation:

Headley, Joel Tyler. The great riots of New York, 1712 to 1873: including a full and complete account of the Four Days' Draft Riot of 1863. New York: E. B. Treat, 1873. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 17 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/new-york/orange-riots-of-1870-and-1871.htm - Last updated on Mar 5th, 2013


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