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The New York City Draft Riots occurred from July 13-16, 1863. Originally spurred on by the poorer New York citizens and their distaste for the Federal draft during the Civil War, many rioters starting targeting African Americans because they felt that the Civil War was a war about slavery, and many (mostly Irish) immigrants viewed African Americans as the reason that many of their sons and brothers were being forced to fight and die in the war. Many lynchings occurred across the city, with African Americans being dragged through the streets and hung from lampposts and trees, sometimes being set ablaze.

  • Drawing of the lynching of William Jones
  • Another drawing of the Jones lynching
  • Cartoon posted in the newspaper Harper's Weekly after the draft, depicting a mob beating an elderly black man

During the Civil War, tensions were very high between Irish immigrants and African Americans in New York City. When Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation in the beginning of 1863, many poor northerners viewed it as a betrayal. Many felt that Lincoln expected the poor to fight and die to free African Americans still enslaved in the south, and if the Union Army was successful in freeing them, they were worried that the free blacks would move north and take jobs held by white immigrants.

These tensions boiled over on July 13, 1863, when a riot broke out at a draft office on 3rd Avenue and 47th Street, and mobs soon began dispersing across Manhattan. The mobs burned down many structures, including the Colored Orphan Asylum, the Bulls Head Hotel, and numerous police stations. During the riot’s first couple of days, the mobs met little opposition, mostly police officers as the city didn't have any federal militia on hand at the time.

The riots soon took a racial turn as the mobs began targeting African Americans, brutally beating and battering them. Soon, the lynchings began. Many free blacks were dragged through the streets, set alight, and hung from the nearest tall structure such as a lamppost or tree. The mobs killed a black coachman on West 27th Street, and then chased three black men down Varick Street, though those men were able to get away. 

The next man that the same mob found was not so lucky. William Jones was walking down Clarkson Street in West Manhattan when the mob found him. An 1863 police report of the New York City Draft Riots took account of the lynching of William Jones, saying, “They instantly set upon and beat him, and after nearly killing him, hung him to a lamppost. His body was left suspended for several hours. A fire was made underneath him, and he was literally roasted as he hung, the mob reveling in their demonic act.”

The riots finally ended on July 16, when federal militia finally entered the city and drove off the mobs by force. At the end of the riots, over 100 people had been killed; of those, 11 were African Americans. The riots caused many African Americans to leave the city, and the city's black population fell by twenty percent.

"A Lynching on a Greenwich Village Street in 1863." Ephemeral New York. N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 07 May 2017.
On This Day: New York City Draft Riots. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.