2. Christmas Riot of 1806

Old St Peters Roman Catholic ChurchOld St. Peter’s Church at today’s 22 Barclay Street, built 1785-1786. Source: Wikimedia

A riot broke out on Christmas Eve in the city in 1806 after 50 members of the Highbinders, a nativist gang of apprentices and propertyless journeyman butchers, taunted worshippers leaving midnight mass at St. Peter’s Church. Famous congregants at the church included Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American to be declared a saint. St. Peter’s, after its 1785 construction, was the subject of anti-Catholic sentiment, and this surfaced in 1806 after Highbinders harassed churchgoers on both Christmas Eve and Christmas, although churchgoers were ready to retaliate during the latter.

According to Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, parishioners and Irish immigrants “armed themselves with cudgels, stones and brickbats,” and a watchman named Christian Luswanger was killed. The only people who were arrested were Irish, yet the Christmas Riots occurred less than a year following the election of the first Irish Catholic to the assembly.