From our Partners at Gothamist: Last night’s episode highlighted the tensions between Irish immigrants and African-Americans in New York City‚ and the real-life incident of angry immigrants burning down the Colored Orphan Asylum.
While New York was part of the North and against slavery, many New Yorkers weren’t that progressive towards blacks. In 1860, Mayor Fernando Wood even suggested seceding from the Union, proclaiming his support for the Confederacy, over concerns for the cotton trade (an important part of NYC revenue). But the real flashpoint was when Congress passed a law to draft men to fight in the the Civil War.
Wealthy New Yorkers could pay $300 to hire a substitute to fight for them, but the Irish working class, many of whom were already threatened by blacks vying for similar jobs, were furious over the draft. On July 13, 1863, four days of violent rioting began, starting with an attack at a draft location at Third Avenue and 47th Street. That afternoon, thousands of angry men and women looted the Colored Orphan Asylum (Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets) and burned it to the ground.
By the afternoon, blacks started to become targets‚ the Colored Orphan Asylum (Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets) was looted and burned down. The NY Times reported, ” Hundreds, and perhaps thousands of the rioters, the majority of whom were women and children, entered the premises, and in the most excited and violent manner they ransacked and plundered the building from cellar to garret.” Amazingly, two hundred thirty-three orphans, essentially unharmed, were moved to the 35th Precinct Police Station‚ rioters beat blacks of all ages, humiliating and killing them, in what would be NYC’s deadliest riots in history.
The Colored Orphan Asylum, which had been founded in 1836, attempted to rebuild its institution on the same site, but neighbors asked them to leave (the property was worth so much!), so the asylum was at 51st Street and Fifth Avenue for four years. The Colored Orphan Asylum was eventually moved to 143rd Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam, and, at the beginning of the 20th century, built new facilities in the Riverdale of the Bronx.
The Colored Orphan Asylum still exists today‚ it’s now known as the Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children and Family Services.