At this location on August 4, 1835, nineteen-year-old John Arthur Bowen awoke his owner while holding an axe. Although the young slave did not actually attack his owner, whose home stood near 13th and F Street, reports of her shock spread panic throughout a city that feared a general slave revolt. Because Bowen had recently returned from a meeting of fellow slaves slaves who were learning to read and pushing for the abolition of slavery, many white residents of the city equated his action with the growing agitation against slavery and recent slave rebellions in Virginia.
Although Bowen did not actually assault his owner, Anna Maria Thornton, rumors spread wildly throughout the city that a slave had assaulted a white woman in her bedroom. News that local authorities had arrested Bowen did little to spell the panic and a lynch mob gathered near the jail. After being denied the opportunity to enact vigilante justice against Bowen, members of the mob attacked other black residents of the city. The mob set fire to black schools, homes and churches.
The incident is remembered as the Snow Riot because the mob also destroyed the Epicurean Eating House-a black-owned restaurant near 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue that had been the property of former slave Beverly Snow. The mob targeted Snow after rumors spread that he had made several disparaging remarks towards his white neighbors. He may have been lynched, but was able to escape the city and fled to Canada. In the aftermath of the riot, city officials passed new laws restricting the freedoms of black residents. Even after Bowen's owner dispelled rumors and tried to assure her white neighbors that she had not actually been attacked, city officials pledged to be more vigilant against the threat of violence--not against black residents who had been attacked and lost their property--but of possible plots by the city's slave population.