Lincoln’s Return to New York

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom reflects on the assassination of President Lincoln, and the funeral procession that offered a bitter reminder of the war’s unfinished business.

Corcoran, the Morehouses' and the Freemans mourn the loss of President Lincoln.

Corcoran, the Morehouses’ and the Freemans mourn the loss of President Lincoln.

The final episode opens with the body of President Lincoln lying in state in New York’s City Hall. Major Morehouse has arranged for a private viewing of the slain president before he heads off with Detective Corcoran and Doctor Freeman on a mission to help track down Lincoln’s killer, the well known actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln’s assassination shocked the entire nation. Even in New York, where the president had never been politically popular and indeed was widely reviled, mourning and grief found expression in the streets, shops, and countless private homes. The patriotic fervor and the celebrations of victory accompanying the war’s end were now mixed with deep sorrow and a sense of tragedy.

After his death on April 15, a train with Lincoln’s bier made its way through major Northern cities, en route to the martyred president’s final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. An estimated seven million Americans paid their respects at elaborate ceremonies held in various cities, or by lining the tracks along the funeral journey. Lincoln’s embalmed body arrived in New York on April 24, and the next day the casket was transferred to a hearse drawn by 16 gray horses. Amidst large throngs of spectators, the procession moved along slowly up Broadway, past Astor Place to Union Square, for a memorial ceremony. From there it went to City Hall, where the next day some 100,000 mourners filed past. Among them was a grief stricken Edwin Booth, the actor and loyal Union man, who was stunned to learn of his brother’s deed. Earlier in the year Booth had seen a young man at a railroad in Jersey City being pushed by a crowd between the platform and train. Booth quickly grabbed him by the coat collar and saved him from being crushed to death or suffering horrible injury. The young man recognized Booth and introduced himself—he was Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son.

For black New Yorkers, Lincoln’s funeral offered a bitter reminder of the war’s unfinished business. The Common Council and the Chamber of Commerce had rejected their petitions to be included in the procession, barring blacks from marching. James Pennington, a former slave who had achieved fame as an author and minister, summed up his community’s anger by asking, “Of all other classes, was he not emphatically the President of the colored man? The spirit that would exclude colored men from the President’s funeral is the same that murdered him.” Only a last minute order from the War Department allowed black participation. Some 200 African American mourners, protected by the Metropolitan Police and federal troops, marched at the very rear of the procession. Their banner read: “Abraham Lincoln Our Emancipator, To Millions of Bondsmen He Liberty Gave.”

Rough Justice

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom examines the corrupt political and criminal justice system prevalent in late 19th century New York City.

The charming new Tammany Hall fixer, William “Wild Bill” Eustace (Billy Baldwin).

The charming new Tammany Hall fixer, William “Wild Bill” Eustace (Billy Baldwin).

The shocking death of Tammany bigwig Brendan Donovan presents a stark example of how readily the police could dispense rough justice on their own terms. Along the way they also torture one of Donovan’s goons and strong arm his real estate agent. Police often found themselves frustrated by a criminal justice system that failed to imprison or punish lawbreakers. In a city full of corrupt judges, bribed juries, witnesses too frightened to testify, and, above all, political connections that allowed even the worst criminals to go free—for many cops the only sure justice was that found at the end of a nightstick. But rough justice was not a police monopoly. Bill Eustace, a Tammany “fixer,” quickly steps in to find Donovan’s murderer, setting off a series of violent encounters between the police and “shoulder hitters” employed by “the Organization.”

View of fight between two gangs, the "Dead Rabbits" and the "Bowery Boys" in the Sixth Ward, New York City. (via Library of Congress)

View of fight between two gangs, the “Dead Rabbits” and the “Bowery Boys” in the Sixth Ward, New York City. (via Library of Congress)

Street gangs had been part of city life since the eighteenth century. Most of them were organized around guarding pieces of city turf or invading those of nearby rivals. With the upsurge in immigration, some gangs identified themselves by ethnic group (e.g. the Irish Dead Rabbits) or by aggressive, anti-Catholic nativism (e.g. the Bowery Boys). Gangs offered boys and young working men a sense of camaraderie and the chance to celebrate values they held dear: physical prowess, masculine honor, athletic competition, protecting women. They often attached themselves to volunteer fire companies, where nasty confrontations sometimes took precedence over dousing fires. In the 1840s Tammany Hall and other political organizations began regularly recruiting gangs to do their dirty work. Ward leaders would hire gangs to break up meetings of rivals, intimidate voters at polling places, stuff ballot boxes, or collect tribute from neighborhood saloons and merchants. By the 1850s Mayor Fernando Wood had made the strategic use of gang muscle a regular part of the political scene. Many politicos had begun their careers as gang members, making reputations that caught the attention of higher ups. A fixer like Bill Eustace would be familiar with their world and unafraid to use them against any foe, including cops. General Donovan might be gone, but a political system that relied upon the threat—and reality—of extra-legal violence lived on.

New Chances for Us

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom reflects on the struggle of African Americans to advance the freedom movement, as the legacies of slavery and racism persevered.

Doctor Matthew Freeman confronts his attacker.

Doctor Matthew Freeman confronts his attacker.

Dr. Matthew Freeman is still trying to make sense of his recent dispute with the shop keeper Sedgley Craven and his gang of racist friends. He suffers a beating at their hands and struggles to keep control over all the rage he feels. Several Sixth Precinct detectives take the law into their own hands and rough up Craven, but Freeman resents their interference and questions their motives. Finally, he follows Sara’s advice, confronts Craven, and leaves the grocer a jar of Goldenseal salve to help heal his wounds. Freeman’s encounter with a bigot gives him a better understanding of himself, and with the war over, he reassures Sara, “there will be new chances for us.”

Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York, 1855-57 and 1860-62 (via Library of Congress)

Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York, 1855-57 and 1860-62 (via Library of Congress)

New York’s African Americans drew strength from the opportunities to advance the freedom movement, even as the legacies of slavery and the reality of race hatred surrounded them. They would have read about the speeches made by former Mayor Fernando Wood (now a Congressman), who appealed to white supremacist beliefs in opposing passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery.“The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.” By contrast, African Americans organized in support. On February 14, 1865 Rev. Henry Highland Garnet became the first African American to deliver a sermon in the House of Representatives, commemorating the recent passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and demanding of Congress a program of “Emancipation, Enfranchisement, Education”

The raising of the 20th Colored Infantry, presented with its colors on Union Square in March 1864, had been a source of enormous pride. In mass meetings, petitions, and local conventions, black New Yorkers (and some white Republican allies) supported suffrage rights, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and other government assistance for emancipated slaves. In the city, they pressed for the integration of public schools and the broader public sphere. In June 1864 Mrs. Ellen Anderson demonstrated one of the most spirited examples of the new black activism. Ordered by a conductor to leave the white car of the Eighth Avenue Railroad, Mrs. Anderson decided to resist and had to be dragged off by the police. The case drew wide attention and Mrs. Anderson, whose husband had just recently been killed in battle, sued the railroad company. “I said I had lost my husband in the war,” she later testified, insisting she “had a right to ride anywhere when I paid my fare.” With the help of some influential white attorneys she won her case. By July, all the streetcars in New York City were open to blacks.

Haunted by the Draft Riots

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom explores the memory, fear, and pain of the worst civil insurrection in American history, the 1863 Draft Riots.

Hattie Lemaster learns the truth about the death of her sons.

Hattie Lemaster discovers her sons were killed in New York City’s infamous Draft Riots.

Hattie Lemaster learns the bitter truth about how her two sons died during the tumultuous Draft Riots of July 13-18, 1863. Sara and Matthew Freeman’s determination to keep secret the real story of her sons’ brutal lynching is undone by an offhand comment from Detective Corcoran. Hattie’s sorrow is compounded by the anger she feels over her daughter’s lie. The Freeman-Lemaster family, like the entire city, is haunted by the memory, fear, and pain of the worst civil insurrection in American history. At least 105 people were killed during the riots, including at least 11 African American men lynched on the streets. Many hundreds more were wounded, and property damage ran into the millions.

Class rage and race hatred were the two most powerful forces driving the rioters, the great majority of whom were Irish American immigrant workers. When President Lincoln and Congress instituted the first draft in U.S. history, the law enraged working class men by allowing for the hiring of a “substitute” at a cost of $300, a sum roughly equal to the annual wage of an unskilled laborer. On Monday, July 13, as anti-draft demonstrators marched through different parts of the city, the protests quickly became violent. Mobs attacked well-known symbols of the city’s Republican establishment, including Police Superintendent John Kennedy, Horace Greeley’s NY Tribune, and the homes of many well-to-do New Yorkers.

African Americans, the most visible symbol of the war and the recent Emancipation Proclamation, endured especially vicious treatment. White workers—longshoremen, cartmen, teamsters, artisans—tried to physically remove black people from job sites, neighborhoods, and leisure spaces. Rioters burned the Colored Orphanage Asylum on Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street to the ground, forcing 233 children to flee for their lives. Rioters targeted African American businesses, as well as interracial couples, and many black victims suffered sexual mutilation at the hands of the mob. Small wonder that the riots brought a mass exodus of African Americans out of New York City, to Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey. The city’s black population stood at about 13,000 in 1860. By 1865 it had declined by more than 20% to under 10,000 and it would not grow significantly until the early twentieth century.

Riots at the orphanage (via

An illustration of riots at the Colored Orphanage Asylum.
‘The Riots at New York’, Harpers Weekly 1863.

Only massive firepower provided by Federal troops, rushed from the Gettysburg battlefield, managed to stop the rioting after five bloody days. The aftermath included important steps toward improving housing and public health. But for several decades “the volcano under the city” continued to haunt New York. In his landmark 1890 study How the Other Half Lives, journalist Jacob Riis invoked the specter of the Draft Riots in his plea for housing reform. “The sea of a mighty population, held in galling fetters, heaves uneasily in the tenements. Already our city, to which have come the duties and responsibilities of metropolitan greatness before it was able to fairly measure its task, has felt the swell of its resistless flood. If it rise once more, no human power may avail to check it.”

The Business of Prostitution

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom offers a look at the business of prostitution in New York City’s Five Points, a sex hub since the early 1800s.

Corcoran visits brothel owner Eva in the Tombs.

Corcoran visits brothel owner Eva in the Tombs.

Eva Heissen is arrested and jailed for stabbing an unruly patron who attacked Lola, one of her employees. As Detective Corcoran and General Donovan visit her in “the Tombs” and help plot her defense, the future of Eva’s Paradise looks shaky. Five Points had been a hub for commercial sex ever since the early 1800s. When the Civil War turned the city into a military garrison and recruitment center, prostitution became a growth industry serving the needs of young men streaming into the city. The appearance of “concert saloons” like Eva’s Paradise, featuring “pretty waiter girls” serving drinks, performing on stage, and turning tricks, reflected the soaring demand. City officials estimated that some 6,000 public prostitutes plied their trade in brothels and on the streets. But this figure did not include the many women who engaged in casual prostitution in tenements or “houses of assignation” (hotels for illicit sex), to supplement meager wages or to support themselves.

Success in the business of prostitution required ambition, access to capital, and protection from local police and political figures. Running a brothel was perhaps the best business opportunity available for a female entrepreneur like Eva. The more successful brothel keepers managed to amass small fortunes and to buy real estate. To attract customers, they used tactics similar to those used by more respectable businesses, especially advertising. Many mailed out illustrated fliers or took out ads in the daily papers, touting magnetic treatments, French lessons, manicures, or other euphemisms for their trade. Out-of-towners often relied upon commercially published guidebooks to New York City brothels. Charles DeKock’s Guide to the Harems (1857) typically invoked Victorian morality, justifying prostitution as a way to protect virtuous women: “These ‘houses’ by affording that gratification are the best safeguards to the virtue of maidens, wives and widows, who would otherwise be exposed to violence and outrage.”

Prostitution also meant lucrative profits for landlords. Some of the biggest entrepreneurs of vice who leased houses for the trade came from leading “respectable’ families. In the Five Points these included John Livingston, brother of Robert R. Livingston, one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, and John Delaplaine, a wealthy merchant. Well known political figures, especially those connected to Tammany Hall, also owned or had interests in brothels, providing valuable political and legal protection.

Legalization of prostitution never received much public support. The expansion of the trade in the 1860s, along with widespread fears of venereal disease, brought many police officials and medical experts to support regulating prostitution. They argued for registering all brothel owners and prostitutes, enforced medical visits, and keeping the trade limited to certain districts where it could be kept under police surveillance. But the profits were too large, the business too decentralized, and public opinion too divided for legal regulation.

The Opium Habit

Series historical adviser, Daniel Czitrom, looks at Opium consumption in the 19th century.

Kennedy drinks opium

Robert Cobb Kennedy drinks the brandy that Elizabeth has laced with opium.

Elizabeth’s growing drug use has become apparent to all. And her ever ready bottle of laudanum (an alcoholic tincture of opium) comes in handy when she and her husband Robert confront the escaped Confederate spy Robert Kennedy in their home. The Civil War had caused a spike in the use of opiates (morphine and opium) to treat sick and wounded soldiers. The use of hypodermic injection of morphine was still in its infancy, and only a small minority of army physicians had access to syringes. But both the Union and Confederate armies consumed massive quantities of opium administered orally. Nearly 10 million opium pills and nearly 3 million ounces of other opium powders and tinctures were issued to Union forces alone. Soldiers recuperating from battlefield wounds were routinely dosed with opium. So we were the victims of common camp diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and malaria. Horace B. Day’s pioneering study The Opium Habit described its persistent use among veterans and their families. “Maimed and shattered survivors from a hundred battle-fields,” he wrote in 1868, “diseased and disabled soldiers released from hostile prisons, anguished and hopeless wives and mothers, made so by the slaughter of those who were dearest to them, have found, many of them, temporary relief from their sufferings in opium.”

Opium, the poor child's nurse (via

Opium was also used in the 19th century by poor parents to medicate their children in pain from teething or illness.
Harper’s Weekly, 1859.

Opium’s tranquilizing and analgesic properties made it popular with non-veterans as well, particularly in an era when doctors had few genuinely effective therapeutic techniques at their disposal. In fact, most nineteenth century opiate addicts were women not unlike Elizabeth Morehouse. Usually middle or upper class, female users often became addicted while being treated for such conditions as neuralgia, morning sickness, painful menstruation, or depression. Women might self medicate their daily aches and pains with a regular supply of opiates, either with alcohol or as a substitute for it. By the 1880s opium smoking gained popularity in American cities. In contrast to orally ingesting the drug, smoking involved a lengthy preparation process and required the user to visit an opium den. By the end of the century opium smoking had become popular with an urban bohemian subculture that included writers, journalists, actors, and prostitutes, part of a broader challenge to Victorian social norms.

3 Questions, 2 Biscuits and 1 Cup of Tea with Donal Logue Part II

Settle in, and make a cuppa, it’s 3 Questions, 2 Biscuits and 1 Cup of Tea with Copper star, Donal Logue. Hear from the Tammany Hall-backed ward leader General Donovan about why he’d be happier underwater, and where he’d go if he had a TARDIS. Plus, who is smellier, a California biker… or a Five Points resident?

“Great Centers of Pestilence”: Public Health in Civil War New York

Series historical adviser, Daniel Czitrom, discusses the death and disease that were caused by contaminated water and other health hazards in 19th century New York City.

Dr. Freeman doesn't think that the other doctor's diagnosis of cholera is accurate.

Dr. Freeman with a sick child effected by contaminated water.

Dr. Matthew Freeman struggles to treat victims of a mysterious disease afflicting large numbers of Five Points children, an outbreak he eventually traces to tainted neighborhood well water. Freeman advocates a more scientific approach to public health problems, based on direct observation of actual conditions.  New Yorkers  in this era suffered from unusually high rates of death and disease. In 1863 over 25,000 New Yorkers died out of a population of some 900,000, for an annual mortality rate of 1:35 (one death for every thirty five inhabitants). In the more crowded tenement districts the death rate approached 1:20, and for children under five, death rates of 1:5 or worse were not uncommon. These numbers were far higher than those found in English and French cities, or in Boston or Philadelphia. Baxter and Mulberry Streets, with their large piles of garbage and filth strewn alleys, were especially singled out as “great centers of pestilence.” One Mulberry Street tenement, housing 320 people, had 240 cases of typhus over three years, of whom 60 died. In another, 78 people shared one outdoor privy.

As a response to the Draft Riots, a group of doctors formed the Citizens’ Association of NY to address public health and related social problems. In 1865 it published the Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health, a landmark in the history of the nation’s public health movement. Performed mostly by young physicians, the Report provided an extraordinarily detailed, block-by-block overview of  New York’s sanitary conditions, It emphasized the city’s fearfully high death and disease rates, singling out several causes: overcrowded tenements; filthy streets; overflowing and neglected privies; lack of running water, proper sewerage, and drainage; nuisance industries, such as slaughtering, bone-boiling, and fat-melting, operating right next to tenements and schools; offal dumps and manure yards near populous streets.

Tenement House 1865 (via

An illustration of a funeral at a tenement house in Five Points.
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1865.

The Report helped propel two ground breaking laws through the New York State legislature. In 1866 the state created the Metropolitan Board of Health, with the power to make laws and regulations, and to enforce them through the work of fifteen professional sanitary inspectors and the city police. The act offered the first comprehensive health legislation of its kind in the U.S., and it established, in principle at least, the state’s inherent right to actively protect the public health and to challenge private property rights if necessary. The Tenement House Law of 1867 buttressed the Board’s authority to regulate tenement conditions and, as with the health legislation, it established the principle of the state’s power to curb the property rights of landlords and builders in the interest of the common good.

3 Questions, 2 Biscuits, and 1 Cup of Tea with Tessa Thompson

Settle in, and make a cuppa… it’s 3 questions, 2 biscuits, and 1 cup of tea with Tessa Thompson!

Hear from Sara Freeman about what talents she wishes she had (hint: the combo would be quite a feat!), why her dream pet might also keep her warm in the winter, and the time she almost drank a snake in Japan!

The Meaning of Freedom

Series historical adviser, Daniel Czitrom, discusses the lives of freed slaves in 1865.

Hattie sees Sara and Matthew's home.

Hattie cannot believe what Sara and Matthew have earned in Five Points.

Sara Freeman is reunited with her long lost mother, Hattie Lemaster, a Virginia slave. The circumstances by which Hattie gained her freedom and arrived in New York were not typical: Elizabeth Haverford purchased Hattie’s freedom from her owner after making an arduous trip South. Nor did most freed slaves leave the South for the urban North. Yet as Hattie moves in with Sara and Matthew and tries to make her way in the strange new city, she experiences the mixture of joy and peril, disappointment and hope shared by so many newly freed African Americans in 1865.

African-American soldiers rest on a hill, 1864.  (via

A group of African-American Union Army soldiers.
Aiken’s Landing, Virginia 1864.

The destruction of slavery by the Civil War meant liberation for the nearly four million Southern black people held in bondage. Freedom arrived in various ways in different parts of the South. In many areas slavery had collapsed long before Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, as hundreds of thousands of slaves made their way to Union armies, volunteering their services as cooks, laborers, spies, and eventually soldiers. Regardless of specific local circumstances, the deep desire for independence from white control formed the underlying aspiration of newly freed slaves. Many emancipated slaves tested their freedom first simply by leaving home and moving about. Some returned soon afterward, seeking work in the general vicinity or even on the plantation they left. Others moved away altogether, seeking jobs in nearby towns and cities. Freed people could now engage with the market economy, go shopping, save money, send their children to school, build their own churches, and attend political conventions that debated the key issues of the day: passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, voting rights for former slaves, and the right to own land.

For many former slaves, freedom meant the opportunity to find long lost family members. To track down these relatives, freed people trekked to faraway places, put ads in newspapers, and sought help from Freedmen’s Bureau agents. Searches often proved frustrating, exhausting, or ultimately disappointing. Some “reunions” ended painfully with the discovery that spouses had found new partners and started new families. Many thousands of African American couples who had lived together under slavery streamed to military and civilian authorities and demanded to be legally married. By 1870 the two parent household was the norm for a large majority of African Americans.