7. New York City Draft Riots of 1863

Image from Library of Congress

Also known as Draft Weeks, the New York City Draft Riots occurred from July 13-16, 1863, in Lower Manhattan in which predominantly white working-class men tried to avoid being drafting into the Civil War. Most of the rioters were Irish or of Irish descent who could not afford the $300 fee to hire a substitute. Although originally a draft riot, they eventually grew into race riots, as Irish immigrants attacked free blacks throughout the city due to increased competition for jobs. The military was deployed on the second day of the riots, but by then many public buildings, Protestant churches, black homes, and homes of abolitionists were destroyed. The final death toll is estimated to by around 120.

Fighting occurred to sites like The Provost Marshal’s Office, which saw telegraph lines cut and firefighters’ vehicles destroyed, and the Colored Orphans Asylum, the first institution to take black children whose parents had died. At the James McCune Smith Pharmacy, believed to be the first owned by an African American and entertained popular abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and John Brown, was destroyed and at least 11 black men were killed throughout the riots. Another notable site of rioting took place at the New York Times office, in which owner Henry Raymond told staff to man Gatling guns to turn back the mob. Governor Horatio Seymour spoke in front of City Hall on the second day and declared himself a friend of the protesters, proclaiming that the Conscription Act was unconstitutional. On the third day, Colonel James Barnet Fry decided to postpone the draft, and by the last day order began to be restored, despite a confrontation near Gramercy Park that saw 12 people die.