Draft Riots, July 1863

The New York City Draft Riots took place between July 13 and July 16 of 1863. The violent insurrection was a reaction to conscription into military service during the Civil War. 
African Americans became the target of the rioters' anger and an untold number of them were murdered in the streets of Manhattan. Violence moved to Brooklyn where rioters burned down grain elevators in Red Hook in the Atlantic Basin.

Transcript of Brooklyn Eagle Article: article:

On This Day in History:
July 16 Draft Riots Touch Brooklyn

by Phoebe Neidl (phoebe@brooklyneagle.net), published online 07-16-2009

The New York City Draft Riots took place between July 13 and July 16 of 1863. The violent insurrection was a reaction to conscription into military service during the Civil War. The poorer classes were perceived as taking on an undue burden of the fighting since a payment of $300 could “commute,” or buy one out of, serving in the war.

African Americans became the target of the rioters anger and an untold number of them were murdered in the streets of Manhattan. In Brooklyn, things remained relatively calm, although the week was not without incident. Most notably, some grain elevators were burned down at the Atlantic Basin in Red Hook. Reprinted below are excerpts from the Brooklyn Eagle report of July 16, 1863.

“There have been exhibitions of bad feeling against the colored people in different parts of Brooklyn. They have been hooted at in the streets and stones thrown at them. Many colored persons have sought shelter in the station houses and some have left the city.

“About 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon word came to the station house of the 43rd precinct that a crowd had collected in East Warren Street and were threatening the houses of some colored families in that vicinity. Capt. Rhodes proceeded at once to the place with the reserve force kept at the station house.

“The police found the crowd opposite a house hooting and yelling at a colored man who was inside. Capt. Rhodes and Sergeant Matthews went in and found a negro the sole occupant of the premises. He was armed with a loaded revolver ready to defend himself. He was removed to the station house for safety and the crowd dispersed.

“About 8 o’clock in the evening another crowd assembled in East Warren Street and made an attack on house No. 125, in which some colored people resided. They had broken all the windows and were carrying the furniture into the street and breaking it up. Capt. Rhodes arrived at the head of the reserves and the crowds skedaddled, except a man and a boy who were so busy breaking up chairs that they were caught by the police. They gave their names as Wm. McNally and John Minor. They are held for examination. The colored folks, numbering two women and several children, were removed to the stationhouse.

“The colored community in Weeksville in the Ninth Ward, were thrown into a state of commotion last evening by rumors that some of the Jamaica rioters were coming down to attack them. The white citizens of that portion of the ward have organized and sworn in as special deputy sheriffs to preserve the peace. There have been no demonstrations in this vicinity up to the present time and no indications of any intentions of the inhabitants of this section to disturb the peace, but on the contrary they evince a determination to assist in keeping order.”

The report went on to describe the fire at the Atlantic Basin:

“About 11 o’clock last night an alarm of fire was given, which was found to proceed from the Atlantic Basin, where two elevators, labor saving machines for unloading and storing grain, were on fire. The entire fire department of the Western District, and the reserve police force under inspector Folk, promptly proceeded to the spot. A large crowd was assembled but there was no indication whatever of any disturbance after the police arrived.

“Owing to the height of the machines, and their distance from the dock, the firemen were unable to reach them effectively, but were able to protect the adjacent shipping. The elevators were destroyed. One, the Central Pier Elevator, belonged to Smith Fancher & Co. was erected at a cost of $80,000; the other, a floating elevator, belonged to Mr. William B. Barber, was valued at $25,000…

“The fire was the work of incendiaries, supposed to be grain shovellers who recently had some trouble about a raise on wages, and who have always looked with feelings of animosity on these elevators because they dispensed with a large amount of manual labor…

“The flames soon rose to a great height, and the light illumined the whole southern sky, being visible not only from every point of the city, but from a distance of many miles. It was a fine spectacle...”

The incident leading up to the fire was described as such:

“About 7 o’clock in the evening the foreman and companions noticed a crowd gathering in Imlay Street. They sat on the curbstones. At first there could have been no more than a dozen. By the time it was dark the crowd had greatly augmented, and then for the first time they felt apprehensive of danger and prepared themselves as best they could.

“About 11 o’clock they noticed them making a rush toward the pier, and when they approached to within one hundred yards, they commenced the attack by throwing stones. There were four vessels intervening between the pier and the elevator, over which the mob had to pass. They rushed over like Zouaves charging an enemy’s breastworks, and reached the structure. Several men were noticed carrying a barrel, afterwards ascertained to be filled with pitch, taken from the pier in front of Mr. Hoff’s storehouse. This they placed in a position where it could do the most mischief and then setting some light combustibles around it on fire, the whole was given to flames…”


Jul. 16, 2009


  • Phoebe Neidl,"On This Day in History: July 16
    Draft Riots Touch Brooklyn," Brooklyn Eagle, published online 07-16-2009
    http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=23& id=29547

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