Add to this Story
As we read more about this significant but mostly forgotten event, it would certainly add to the historical body of knowledge of the racial history of the city of Boston if we could draw upon additional sources to get a clearer picture of what actually happened. We have compiled a historical narrative employing the accounts of only two contemporary Boston Newspapers, the Emancipator and Free American and The Boston Semi-Weekly Atlas. It would certainly be beneficial if any visitors to our website could contribute any additional digitized sources to add to our existing body of knowledge concerning the August, 1843 Riot on Ann Street. Below the narrative we’ve asked a few questions. What can you add to the story?
The following is a combination of contemporary Boston newspaper accounts of a racial riot in 1843 from The Emancipator and Free American and the Boston Semi-Weekly Atlas published August 31, 1834. In this combined account we have added links to give the reader a broader perspective of the event. Hopefully as we crowd-source additional primary sources this new information can also be woven into the account of the Riot On Ann Street.
Disgraceful Riot in Ann St.
[circa] August 30, 1843 On Sunday afternoon between the hours of 4:00 and 5:00 a race riot occured on Ann Street in Boston. The riot stemmed from an argument of 2 white sailors, Charles Smith, a boatswain’s mate on the USS Ohio, along with John J. Butcher, a boatswain’s mate on the US Revenue Cutter Hamilton and a group of African-American men who lived at a boardinghouse for black men at 157 Ann Streetowned by Henry Foreman. The scuffle occurred when the two white sailors were walking down the Ann Street sidewalk and came upon a number of black roomers standing outside of their boardinghouse at 157 Ann Street. The sailors were unable to proceed without being forced to walk onto the street. Boatswain Charles Smith clearly did not want to detour onto the street and “he very politely asked the colored men if they intended to block the sidewalk so as to force white men onto the street, and then he made a move forward among them.” A powerful black man reacted to Smith’s aggression by grabbing him. In return, Smith grabbed the black man’s shirt and tore it. Smith was then knocked down and dragged into the boardinghouse. Smith’s companion, John J. Butcher, came to his friend’s rescue but was instantly overpowered and stabbed in the cheek. Butcher got back on his feet and fought with desperation. All of Ann Street was now in motion with many of the residents of other sailor boardinghouses pouring into the street. “Down with Negroes” shouted the infuriated sailors, as they rushed into the house at 157 Ann Street. The owner, Henry Foreman, was returning from church at the time of the riot, and was attacked by some of the mob, but was not injured. Foreman’s boardinghouse, a two story wooden tenement, was mostly destroyed. The windows and sashes on both floors were beaten in, the furniture demolished, and in fact, the whole interior of the house rendered a complete wreck.
|“Disgraceful Riot on Ann. Street” – The Emancipator, Aug. 31, 1843|
One “negro” who was making great exhortations to clear the mob was pointed out to a sailor as the principal offender. The sailor immediately began to chase the “negro” at full speed down to the wharf, the “negro” seeing no escape jumped into the water with the sailor right behind him. As it was low tide, both men were stuck fast up to their arm-pits in mud. They were fished up and appeared to be “perfectly satisfied”. The police although “on hand” were powerless among the mob; therefore the bells were rung for an alarm of fire. The engines were soon on the ground, and the firemen formed a square and took possession of the scene of action. Ropes were then stretched across the street, and strong guards of firemen and police dispersed the mob and brought the riot to a close. A “colored” man was the only person arrested. Butcher, the boatswain of the cutter Hamilton, is the only man who was stabbed. Bloody noses, scratched faces, and torn clothing were the only other injuries sustained by the participants. Although the riot was quelled about 5:00, there were thousands of people in Ann Street and North Square. As late as 8:00, all, however, were peacably inclined, merely drawn there to learn the news. Some of the newspapers have stated that several of the seamen of the revenue cutter Hamilton were engaged in the affray. This was not the case. No person belonging to the cutter took part in the row or was present, excepting the boatswain, who had separated from the boatswain’s mate of the Ohio before the affray commenced, but who returned to his assistance on seeing him attaked by an overwhelming force, and his life in imminent danger.
The following is from the Boston Daily Atlas. December 31, 1843. Vol. 12, Issue 52.
Charles Smith, boatswain’s mate of the Ohio and John J. Buther of the cutter Hamilton were examined on complaint of the City Marshall, for being involved in the recent riot in Ann Street. It was clearly proved that Smith struck the first blow — that a scuffle followed, which ended in Smith’s being put out of Foremen’s home — and that he went back again and renewed the fight. At this stage of the game, Butcher went in the house to rescue Smith, and in the melee received a cut in his cheek. Smith was held on bail for a sumer of $200, in default of which he was committed. Butcher was acquitted. His defense, says The Boston Post, was conducted by Captain Josiah Sturgis, commander of the Hamilton, with distinguished ability, and the witnesses cross-examined with great ingenuity, eliciting incidental circumstances, which clearly proved the innocence of his boatswain.
Tell us your answer(s)!
1. Are there any ship records (USS Ohio and USS Hamilton ) that may shed more light on the incident or the sailors involved: Charles Smith and John J. Butcher?
2. Why was the “negro” arrested? Was he ever identified? Did he ever go to jail?
3. Why were Smith and Butcher not arrested at the scene of the crime, along with the “negro”?
4. Why was the fire department more effective than the police in eventually quelling the riot?
5. Did Commander Josiah Sturgis ever mention the incident in a log, report, or diary?
Additional Primary Sources Reporting the Event
If you are able, send along a digitized source and we will include it here. Boston Newspapers
- The Liberator
- The Boston Post
- The Mercantile Journal
- Other Boston Newspapers of the time period
Or, submit an illustration depicting the event!