6. Staten Island Quarantine Hospital Riot of 1857

attack on the staten island quarantine hospitalImage from New York Public Library.

In 1858, before Staten Island consolidated with the rest of New York City, the New York Marine Hospital housed around 1,500 persons suffering from infectious diseases. Opened in 1799, the hospital which became known solely as the “Quarantine,” was located in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island.

The Quarantine was accessible primarily by steamboat, and was fortified by six-foot-tall brick walls on all sides. On September 1, 1858 the site was burned down in a mob protest that stemmed from community outrage about the hazards of housing a quarantine hospital of this scale in their area.

The perception among Staten Islanders at the time was that if not for the Quarantine, there would be virtually no disease on the Island at all. Staten Islanders were convinced that illness came to their towns in two ways. One theory was that diseases were blown by the wind from infected vessels anchored offshore… Locals were also convinced that infectious diseases were carried into the community by Quarantine staff [who] reside in the village. [via Public Health Chronicles]

Thirty men approached and ransacked the establishment, which had relatively low occupancy for the night (some assume that administrators were aware of the impending attack). The hospital staff, at first scrambling to release the animals and rescue patients, were confused to find that they had all been moved. As the mob made its way around the Quarantine grounds, setting new fires, it had swelled to several hundred people. The mob resolved to return the next day to “celebrate” the burning of the Quarantine Hospital, which resulted in the burning of any remaining buildings.

Astoundingly, only two people died in the whole ordeal. One man was killed by a Quarantine worker who took the opportunity to settle an old score. Another died of yellow fever. You can read more about what happened in this riot here.