Racial Injustice in Antebellum New York:
“New York’s early national journeymen, like their employers, were a mixed lot, but considered as a group they formed by 1815 a distinct and growing property-less stratum in the trades.
Virtually all were white, and most had been born in this country or in Protestant Britain; Irish Catholics and blacks, as yet a small fraction of the city’s population, were consigned largely to manual labor and casual work in and around the port.
Although blacks composed 8.8 percent of the city’s free population in 1816….None owned any property. There were signs of a tiny but healthy black artisan community in Jeffersonian New York; among the New York African Society for Mutual Relief were six bootmakers; the Society’s first president was a house carpenter and its secretary a mechanic. Overall, however, blacks remained consigned to lowlier jobs, and played at best a marginal role in the trades.
Popular anti-abolitionism, and in particular the anti-abolitionist mobs, exposed the depths of…cultural fears outside of more sharply defined class conflicts. Most craft workers and white laborers, however, retained a deep distrust of the small, unskilled black community as a class of supposedly abject dependents. Almost invariably, racial tensions mounted along with the inflation of the mid-1830’s, to the point where lurid rumors circulated in the poorer wards, hinting that local blacks with the help of their abolitionist friends, planned to take over white neighborhoods and “mullatoize” them. Periodically, interracial and anti-abolitionist violence broke out, the worst incident, in July 1834, saw crowds storm abolitionist meeting halls, sack Arthur Tappan’s store and Lewis Tappan’s house, and pillage black homes and churches over an eight-day period. The labor press swiftly denounced the rampage as a disgrace; George Henry Evans charged that the riots had been led by Southerners and “the dregs of society.”
A closer look at the 1834 riot, the most destructive disturbance of all in what later generations would call New York’s “year of the riots,” shows…political mobbing blended with racism, dislike for entrepreneurial reformers, and repugnance for foreign “aristocrats,” in a belligerent form of popular republicanism. At the height of the riot on the evening of July 9, the crowds shifted between three carefully selected sites in a steady progression of popular wrath. The violence began at Lewis Tappan’s house, where more than a hundred men smashed through windows and doors, piled art work and fine furniture in the streets, and burned as much as they could. One rioter discovered a portrait of Washington, and at the insistence of his friends—“For God’s sake, don’t burn Washington,” one bellowed—he preserved it.
The Tappan rioters and a segment of the Chatham Street crowd then converged on the Bowery Theatre, where yet another disturbance was under way, to protest the hiring of an Englishman, George Farren. Farren, it seems had little respect for his American audience, and when a story circulated that he had punched a local butcher, insulted the American flag, “cursed the Yankees, and called them jackasses…”, republican tempers flared. Four thousand persons mobbed the Bowery, while between five hundred and a thousand others broke into the theatre and drove the actors from the stage.”
(Chants Democratic, New York City & the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, Sean Wilentz, Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 48 & 263-265)