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The anti-abolitionist riots of 1834, (also Farren Riot or Tappan Riot), occurred in New York City over a series of four nights, beginning on July 7, 1834. Their deeper origins[1] lay in the combination of nativism and abolitionism among the Protestants who had controlled the booming city since the American Revolutionary War, and fear and resentment of blacks among the growing underclass of Irish immigrants and their kin. In 1827 Britain repealed legislation controlling and restricting emigration from Ireland, and 20,000 Irish emigrated; by 1835 over 30,000 Irish arrived in New York annually.

Before the riots[]

In May and June 1834, the silk merchants and ardent abolitionists Arthur Tappan and his brother Lewis stepped up their agitation for the abolition of slavery by underwriting the formation in New York of a female anti-slavery society. Arthur Tappan drew particular attention by sitting in his pew (at Samuel Cox's Laight Street Church) with Samuel Cornish, a mixed-race clergyman of his acquaintance. By June, lurid rumors were being circulated by the champion of repatriating "colonization", James Watson Webb, through his newspaper Courier and Enquirer: abolitionists had told their daughters to marry blacks, black dandies in search of white wives were promenading Broadway on horseback, and Arthur Tappan had divorced his wife and married a black woman.[2]

Reports appearing in London in The Times, taken from American newspapers, cite as the triggering cause a disturbance following a misunderstanding at the Chatham Street Chapel, a former theater converted with money from Arthur Tappan for the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney. Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace[3] note that on July 4, an integrated group that had convened at the chapel to celebrate New York's emancipation (in 1827) of its remaining slaves was dispersed by angry spectators. The celebration was rescheduled for July 7. According to The Times, the secretary of the New York Sacred Music Society, which leased the chapel on Monday and Thursday evenings, gave a black congregation leave to use it on July 7 to hold a church service. This service was in progress when members of the society who were unaware of the arrangement arrived and demanded to use the facility. Though one member of the congregation called for the chapel to be vacated, most refused. A 'fracas' ensued "which resulted in the usual number of broken heads and benches". Burrows and Wallace note that constables arrived and arrested six African Americans. Webb's paper described the event as a Negro riot resulting from "Arthur Tappan's mad impertinence", and the Commercial Advertiser reported that gangs of blacks were preparing to set the city ablaze.[4]

Riots erupt[]

On Wednesday evening, July 9, three interconnected riots erupted. Several thousand whites gathered at the Chatham Street Chapel; their object was to break up a planned anti-slavery meeting. When the abolitionists, alerted, did not appear, the crowd broke in and held a counter-meeting, with preaching in mock-Negro style and calling for deportation of blacks to Africa.[5]

Concurrently the Rose Street home of Arthur's evangelist brother Lewis (who had already fled with his family) was targeted; his furniture was thrown from windows and set ablaze in the street. Mayor Lawrence arrived with the watch but was shouted down with three cheers for Webb, and the police were driven from the scene.[4]

Four thousand rioters descended on the Bowery Theatre to avenge an anti-American remark made by George P. Farren, the theatre's English-born stage manager[6] and an abolitionist: "Damn the Yankees; they are a damn set of jackasses and fit to be gulled."[7] He had also fired an American actor.[8] Pro-slavery activists had posted handbills around New York that recounted Farren's actions.[citation needed]

A production of Metamora was in progress as part of a benefit for Farren. Manager Thomas S. Hamblin and actor Edwin Forrest tried to calm the rioters, who demanded Farren's apology and called for the deportation of blacks. The riot was apparently quelled when Farren had the American flag displayed, and blackface performer George Washington Dixon performed "Yankee Doodle" and the minstrel song "Zip Coon", which made fun of a Northern black dandy.[9] The mayor addressed the crowd, followed by Dixon. The mob gradually dispersed.[citation needed]

Violence escalated over the next two days, apparently fueled by provocative handbills. A list of other locations slated for attack by the rioters was compiled by the Mayor's office, among them the home of Reverend Joshua Leavitt at 146 Thompson Street. Leavitt was the editor of The Evangelist and a manager of the American Anti-Slavery Society.[10] Tappan's prominently sited Pearl Street store was defended by its staff, armed with muskets.[citation needed]

The mob targeted homes, businesses, churches, and other buildings associated with the abolitionists and African Americans. More than seven churches and a dozen houses were damaged, many of them belonging to African Americans. The home of Reverend Peter Williams, Jr., an African-American Episcopal priest, was damaged, and the St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan) was utterly demolished.[11] One group of rioters reportedly carried a hogshead of black ink with which to dunk white abolitionists. In addition to other targeted churches, the Charlton Street home of Reverend Samuel Hanson Cox was invaded and vandalized. The rioting was heaviest in the Five Points.[citation needed]

Militia and outcome[]

According to another report, the riots were finally quelled when the New York First Division (swelled by volunteers) was called out by the Mayor on July 11 to support the police. The "military paraded the streets during the day and the night of the 12th.: they were all furnished with ball cartridge, the magistrates having determined to fire upon the mob, had any fresh attempt been made to renew the riots."[12] Also on July 12 the American Anti-Slavery Society issued a disclaimer, signed by Tappan and Rankin, denying any wish on the society's part to promote intermarriage between the races; repudiating and disapproving a handbill previously circulated through the city "the tendency of which is thought to be to incite resistance to the law"; and denying any wish to dissolve the union or to ask Congress to exceed its constitutional powers by imposing abolition on unwilling states.[13]

At the time, the riots were interpreted by some as just deserts for the abolitionist leaders, who had "taken it upon themselves to regulate public opinion upon [the subject of abolition]" and who showed "smutty tastes" and "temerity". By this light the rioters represented "not only the denunciation of an insulted community, but the violence of an infuriated populace."[14] Dale Cockrell[15] partially agrees, stating that the riots were "about who would control public discourse and community values, with class at base the issue." Pro-abolitionist observers saw them as simple explosions of racism.[16]

See also[]

  • List of incidents of civil unrest in New York City
  • List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States


  1. Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace devote a chapter, "White, Green and Black", of Gotham: a history of New York City to 1898, 1999: pp. 542-62 to the riots (pp. 556-59) and their causes.
  2. Burrows and Wallace 1999:556.
  3. Burrows and Wallace 1999:556f.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Burrows and Wallace 1999:557.
  5. "Rationalised deportation" under "humane circumstances" was the purpose of the American Colonization Society.
  6. Cockrell calls him George P. Farren; Lott calls him George Farren. Wilmeth and Bigsby confuse him with William Farren, the noted English actor, who was then appearing in London: The Times, 7 July 1834, pg. 4; Issue 15523; col A (advt for William Farren's appearance in 'Hamlet' at the Theatre-royal, Haymarket).
  7. Quoted in Wilmeth and Bigsby 361.
  8. The Times, Friday, Aug 08, 1834; pg. 2; Issue 15551; col D.
  9. Diary of Philip Hone, July 10, 1864:

    'Our city last evening was the scene of disgraceful riots. The first was at the Bowery Theatre. An actor by the name of Farren, whose benefit it was, had made himself obnoxious by some ill‐natured reflections upon the country, which called down the vengeance of the mob, who seemed determined to deserve the bad name which he had given them. An hour after the performance commenced, the mob broke open the doors, took possession of every part of the house, committed every species of outrage, hissed and pelted poor Hamblin [Thomas S. Hamblin, manager of the Bowery], not regarding the talisman which he relied upon, the American flag, which he waved over his head. This they disregarded, because the hand which held it was that of an Englishman, and they would listen to nobody but “American Forrest.”' Quoted in: Gerald Bordman, ed.,The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, 1984

  10. New York Divided, Riot Map, New-York Historical Society, 2007
  11. Burrows and Wallace 1999:558.
  12. The Times, Friday, Aug 08, 1834; pg. 2; Issue 15551; col D
  13. The Times,Friday, Aug 08, 1834; pg. 2; Issue 15551; col D : ‘AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY: DISCLAIMER. – The undersigned, in behalf of the Executive Committee of the ‘American Anti-Slavery Society’ and of other leading friends of the cause, now absent from the city, beg the attention of their fellow-citizens to the following disclaimer:- 1. We entirely disclaim any desire to promote or encourage intermarriages between white and colored persons. 2. We disclaim and entirely disapprove the language of a handbill recently circulated in this city, the tendency of which is thought to be to excite resistance to the laws. Our principle is, that even hard laws are to be submitted to by all men, until they can by peaceable means be altered. We disclaim, as we have already done, any intention to dissolve the Union, or to violate the constitution and laws of the country, or to ask of Congress any act transcending their constitutional powers, which the abolition of slavery by Congress in any state would plainly do. July 12, 1834 ARTHUR TAPPAN. JOHN RANKIN'
  14. 15 July 1834 Boston Post. Quoted in Cockrell 190 note 41.
  15. Cockrell 1997:101.
  16. The Times, 8 August 1834, pg. 2; Issue 15551; col D:‘The city had from the 7th to the 11th ult. been the scene of disgraceful riots, originating in the hatred of the whites to the blacks. The friends of negro emancipation have, it appears, been holding meetings in New York and other cities of the Union to promote that object. These meetings excited the alarm of the ignorant whites, whose hatred being inflamed, led to the perpetration of acts of riot and of spoliation which deeply disgrace the American name...The friends of the blacks were denounced as fanatics, whose objects were the immediate emancipation of the negroes, and the promiscuous marriage of the two races. Mobs, composed of the very dregs of the whites, attacked the churches, the dwelling-houses, and the stores of the prominent abolitionists...they also attacked the dwellings and the stores of the leading colored people, destroying their furniture and stealing their goods...’


  • Burrows,Edwin G. and Mike Wallace, Gotham: a history of New York City to 1898, (Oxford University Press)1999.
  • Cockrell, Dale (1997). Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World. Cambridge University Press.
  • Headley, Joel Tyler. Great Riots of New York 1712 to 1873'... (New York, 1873)
  • Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-509641-X. p. 131-134
  • Wilmeth, Don B., and Bigsby, C. W. E. (1998) The Cambridge History of American Theatre: Beginnings to 1870. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Timeline related to the Amistad on the site of Mystic Seaport, accessed 27 August 2005.
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