Snow Town Riots Historical Marker, 1831
Backstory and Context
History of the Hard Scrabble and Snow Town Race Riots
Providence has one of the oldest African American communities in the United States. Prior to the 18th century, African Americans in Providence represented ten percent of the total population. In 1824, around 1,000 African Americans lived in the Providence neighborhood of Hard Scrabble. As one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city, Hard Scrabble was home to a diverse assortment of poor families and individuals.
A race riot in Hard Scrabble broke out on October 28, 1824, when a group of African American men refused to yield the “inside walk” to a group of white men. Tensions had already been high, and the following evening, a mob of white residents attacked the northern section of the neighborhood, destroying 21 homes. White residents feared retaliation, and few expressed sympathy for the African American victims. Instead, many white residents hoped to completely remove African Americans from the neighborhood.
Joseph Tillinghast, the defense attorney for the white attackers in the subsequent trial, stated that the reason the accused caused such destruction was that they had been pushed to extreme measures to protect “the morals of the community.”
Years later, in 1831, another race riot broke out after an African American man shot a white sailor who was throwing stones at the African American man’s home. The shooting occurred in Snow Town, an integrated, working-class part of town. In retaliation for the shooting, mobs attacked the homes of black residents. The local militia was called to disperse the violent mob. Between the actions of the militia and the attempts by African American men to defend their homes, four white rioters were killed during the Snow Town Riot.
The reaction to Snow Town was much different, and journalists, leading citizens, and politicians asked for stronger protections against rioters to maintain order in Providence.