Rereading the Riot Acts: Race, Labor, and the Washington, D.C. Snow Riot of 1835

By Patrick Hoehne


The voice of the sentry rang out in the darkness. From his station on the wall of the Washington D.C. Navy Yard, the man had spied the approaching danger. His report reached the commandant, and the drums of the Navy Yard began to beat a panicked tattoo. “Evry man,” recalled Michael Shiner, who was at that time an enslaved Ordinary Seaman at the Yard, “were at his post from the Roll of the drum.”[1] All hands prepared to mount a defense of the Yard, and the snarling mouths of two twelve-pound canons loaded with grape and canister protruded from the gate. Outside of the walls, in the city’s Sixth Ward, a large and hostile mob roared. It was Wednesday night, the twelfth of August, 1835.

Two weeks had passed since white workers at the Navy Yard had gone on strike, protesting hard hours and poor treatment. Tensions burned in the August heat, and the strike soon morphed into a violent riot. Although they continued to threaten the officers of the Navy Yard, abolitionists, and the legal infrastructure of Washington, rioters directed the majority of their violence against the city’s African American population. The mob’s targeting of one man, former slave and restaurant-owner Beverly Snow, led to the whole of the unrest being remembered as the Snow Riot. As Michael Shiner listened to the bellows of the angry crowd gathered beyond the walls of the Navy Yard, he was undoubtedly aware of the personal danger he faced. Still, he manned his post, and if he felt any fear, he did not record it.

The rioter attack on the Navy Yard never did materialize. Shiner hypothesized that “those fellows Jest done it for to tantilise comanodore hull they hadent no notion of comint to the yard.”[2] For the rioters, Shiner reckoned, a show of force had been sufficient. “Thank god,” he concluded, “every thing wher settled peaceblelly.”[3] There was no need for Shiner to mention that the African Americans who watched their homes, churches, businesses, and schools engulfed in flames were not so lucky. The ashes were testament enough. Still, no corpses littered the streets of the capital, and, at the orders of President Andrew Jackson, U.S. marines restored order to the city.

It is perhaps the absence of this blood-and-thunder that has contributed to the diminished significance of the Snow Riot in the historiography of American rioting. As a race riot, the Snow Riot is overshadowed by the contemporaneous unrest in Cincinnati, New York City, and Philadelphia. Other than having the distinction of occurring in the nation’s capital, the prevailing scholarship generally paints the Snow Riot as just one of the hundreds of occurrences of extralegal group violence that erupted in the turbulent 1830s.[4] When the Snow Riot is remembered, analyses tend to be shallow and riddled with errors. While one historian mistook the entire affair for an episode of interracial working-class solidarity, most scholarship is content to present the Snow Riot as either identical to anti-abolitionist unrest in the urban North, or as an example of non-elite, non-slaveholding Southerners eagerly employing violence for the benefit of the institution of slavery.[5]

These interpretations are wrong. The Snow Riot possesses a significance largely unexplored by historians, and its mischaracterization has consequently distorted the prevailing theories regarding American popular extralegal violence. Unlike the race riots in Philadelphia or New York City, the Washington riot occurred in a slave city. The specter of slavery permeated the legal, social, and economic structures of the urban environment. It engendered a system where hierarchy, status, and categorization were both more important and more precarious than in Northern free cities. It cultivated an unstable ideology of violence defined by hierarchy and masculine control of others. Perhaps most importantly, slavery’s inescapable presence shaped daily life for every last one of the city’s residents.

In the Washington Navy Yard, slavery was unavoidable by design. Capitalism intertwined with slavery to create a wage labor market especially vulnerable to exploitation and control.[6] Officers deliberately deployed unfree labor and exacerbated racial divisions in order to control free workers and undercut demands for better pay or conditions. For white workers, this labor competition collided with the racial and social hierarchies of the slaveholding South, and economic insecurity mingled with status insecurity to create a volatile mix.

The white workers of the Washington Navy Yard hated black people and abolitionists. From the violence of the Snow Riot, this much is immediately clear. What is less apparent is the fact that those white workers were also opponents of slavery. For men who rioted in the August of 1835, these stances were not contradictory. The Snow Riot of 1835, rather than being conducted in defense of slaveholding Southern society, was the complex expression of the frustrations and objectives of white Navy Yard workers. Violence, in a city defined by Southern slaveholding, presented workers with the only means to simultaneously counter exploitation, assert their status, reorient the legal system in their favor, and crush their economic competition. The spark for this violence did not come from any abolitionist, rebellious slave, or restaurant owner, but rather stemmed directly from the marriage of urban slavery and wage labor capitalism. 

In order to read the Snow Riot, the violence itself must be analyzed. Many riots, rather than acts of mindless destruction, are a form of violent communication. Unless extremely narrow in scope or veering into the realm of outright rebellion, most acts of extralegal group violence lack the power to completely achieve their objectives through the application of blunt force alone. Instead, most riots rely on a public and highly-symbolic language of occupation, destruction, and violence in order to communicate their demands. Ritualistically defaced property or mutilated bodies are more than the unfortunate receptacles of a crowd’s rage, they serve as the canvas upon which the mob can inscribe threats, grievances, and demands. The subsequent response of authorities and targets to this violent communication is often what dictates the overall success of a riot.

Understanding the animus of a mob is, in part, understanding the individual’s perceived relationship to violence and the law. This relationship is shaped by power, conditions, and socio-economic realities, but is also directly informed by a cultural understanding of the individual’s position relative to society and government. Constantly changing external and internal forces ensure that this cultural understanding evolves over time. The “mob mentality” that animates a riot does not lurch around with bestial indirection, but is rather a historical and cultural calculus shaped to address whatever forces or pressures supposedly necessitated the application of violence and circumvention of the law.

Deciphering this calculus means, in part, analyzing the Snow Riot in the context of broader trends occurring across the United States. The white mechanics’ deployment of extralegal violence as a tool of coercion and communication bore similarities to strategies employed by workers throughout the republic when confronted with exploitation or labor competition. Still, national trends do not fully explain the seething tension that possessed Washington in the summer of 1835. The local realities of Washington were unlike those in Boston, Philadelphia, or New York City, and not simply because of the city’s status as the national capital. Washington D.C. was a city of hierarchy, and deliberately cultivated an environment of spatial, racial, and social inequality that culminated, explosively, with the Snow Riot.

In 1835, Washington was still younger than some of its residents, having been founded in 1790. The man at that time occupying the White House, by comparison, had been born twenty-three years before Congress even designated the site as the future national capital. Still, Washington expanded rapidly, and by 1830 almost 19,000 residents called the city home.[7] The residential patterns of Washington were not random, but reflected some of the structures baked into the city as a constructed space.[8]  Most of the city’s residents lived along an artery of power that stretched from the White House to the Capitol. This section of the Pennsylvania Avenue constituted the heart of the city, and, consequently, the heart of the nation. Pennsylvania Avenue became an important stage for the symbolic representation of national power, authority, and prosperity.[9] The federal government began to play a direct role in developing the national capital as the symbolic seat of American power and prestige. Impressive government offices, churches, banks, and hotels lined Pennsylvania Avenue, and elite Washingtonians settled nearby, both for convenience as well as public visibility.

Other institutions too were imbued with a symbolic visibility in the young capital. Alongside all those elegant buildings stood a string of taverns, markets, and slave pens where human lives were bought and sold alongside livestock. These pens were not hidden from the public view as embarrassing to the image of the emerging capital, but operated along Pennsylvania Avenue at some of the city’s busiest intersections, in plain view of the White House.[10] Those slave pens were not simply positioned for the sake of convenience, but were a symbolic representation of the political objectives of the slaveholding elite, both of the city and the nation. As historian Adam Costanzo writes, “defenders of the slave system also saw the capital as a proxy for the nation. During a long rebuttal to [William] Slade, Virginia Jacksonian James Garland encouraged Congress to protect the liberty and property of slaveholders in the District.”[11] The visible presence of slavery in the national capital was an important symbolic justification to counter abolitionist attacks on the expansion of slavery in the territories. For Washington’s own elite slaveholders, the arrangement of Pennsylvania Avenue affirmed their status at the top of the city’s racial and social hierarchies, and allowed ample opportunities for the cultivation of wealth, prestige, and control.

Washington’s space was intentionally used to affirm and enforce inequalities and hierarchies, both at a national and local level, but Pennsylvania Avenue still offered opportunities for non-elite Washingtonians. Proximity to the main artery of the capital could grant even marginal free residents the ability to find a measure of success. Smaller merchants, proprietors, and skilled and unskilled laborers lived and operated in the neighborhoods surrounding Pennsylvania Avenue, hitching their own prospects to traffic and expansion of the capital. Although lacking in substantial wealth or political power, some of these Washingtonians managed to quietly challenge the racial and social hierarchies that were supposed to define the city’s society. On the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, Beverly Snow, a mixed-race man, opened and operated a successful restaurant, the Epicurean Eating House. This symbol of black independence and entrepreneurial success stood just minutes from both the Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue’s slave pens.

Still, not all of the city’s residents lived and worked in the area surrounding Pennsylvania Avenue, and a significant, largely working-class population inhabited the city’s peripheries. The corridor between the White House and the Capitol ran through four of Washington’s six wards, leaving two, the fifth and sixth wards, largely disconnected from the main channels of investment, power, and opportunity. As far back as 1804, Thomas Law wrote that “the public buildings, being placed at a distance from each other, created a division among the inhabitants; and the question has always been agitated, which end of the city would preponderate?”[12] In an attempt to remedy this issue, the city constructed the Washington Canal, which was intended to serve as an additional avenue of commerce and transportation. The canal flowed from Eastern Branch up through the Fifth and Sixth wards, proceeding north near Pennsylvania Avenue and ending in the Potomac River just south of the White House. This path, Law argued, would help alleviate the spatial imbalances of the growing city. “Unless this canal is formed,” he argued, “Pennsylvania avenue and other central streets will only promote the extremities of the city by having all their supplies from thence; but as soon as it is effect, the boarding houses, the houses of the public officers, the houses of ambassadors, the stores…and all will combine to create business and population.”[13]

Law’s reasoning was well-founded, but the canal itself was an utter failure. Waste, debris, and sewage clogged the waterway, making navigation difficult. Dredging this filth was expensive, and not done with enough regularity. The city did attempt to install a mud machine, possibly modeled after the one used in Baltimore harbor, but keeping the machine repaired and operational also proved difficult.[14] The canal, which was supposed to serve as a conduit of growth and prosperity, became a repugnant eyesore and public nuisance, with drunks and children needing to be occasionally rescued from its filthy waters.[15] Needless to say, the homes of ambassadors, officials, and elite Washingtonians remained firmly planted on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Despite the failure of the Washington Canal, the southeastern wards were neither uninhabited or lifeless. In the Sixth ward, the presence of the Washington Navy Yard, the city’s largest employer, facilitated the growth of its own residential neighborhood. Disconnected from the main artery of public life, the neighborhood was distinct in several ways. The Sixth ward was, by far, the whitest ward in Washington, and black residents constituted only 14% of the ward’s population in 1830. Every other ward in the city was at least a quarter black at that time, and, in the Fourth ward, 39% of the population was African American. The Sixth ward was also unique insofar that it had the second lowest estimated total property value in the entire city. Per capita, it had the lowest.[16] Instead of banks, government departments, and hotels, the Sixth ward was home to a handful of taverns, poorer churches, and military buildings.[17] A unique social scene also developed, and, in addition to the church congregations, workers at the Navy Yard organized their own temperance organization and Masonic hall, independent the Masons located near Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Washington Navy Yard, founded in 1799 and originally oriented towards building and maintaining ships for the U.S. Navy, had by 1827 transitioned into a manufacturing center.[18] A formidable wall encircled the Yard, and entrance could only be admitted with the permission of the Commandant. Inside the fortifications, a series of large brick buildings served as shops, with the Yard being home to upwards of twenty forges, five furnaces, and a steam engine.[19] The furnaces belched out soot and radiated heat, blackening the skin of the workers and creating dangerously high temperatures, especially in the summer months when the Yard was most busy. The risk of fire was ever present in such conditions, and the roofs of the buildings were covered in copper to help mitigate the danger of conflagration. A constant cacophony of hammers, saws, axes, engines, and bellows pounded the eardrums, while the smells of sweat, burning coal, and industrial substances hung in the nose.[20] Outside of the shops, other men worked on ships: carpentering, painting, caulking, and hauling heavy material needed for construction and maintenance. Hundreds of cannons dotted the Yard, and a carefully-secured armory contained an additional collection of weaponry. This was dangerous work, and inexperience or distraction could be a death sentence. Michael Shiner recorded that, in 1833, a German immigrant “green hand” named Slake made the mistake of using his head to shove some driving piles. “His head wher caught in between the plains and pile,” Shiner wrote, “and his head wher takein right oft his shoulders.”[21]

This tense and hazardous environment was accompanied by a strict command structure. The highest authority in the Navy Yard was the Commandant, a career naval officer. Below the Commandant were the officers and civilian clerks, who assisted in the daily operation of the Yard. These men enjoyed the stability of salaried pay, and were often charged with handling budget, contracting, and administration.[22] For most workers, the most present form of the Yard’s organizational hierarchy came in the form of the master mechanics, who John Sharp characterized as personifying “authority, trade knowledge, and tradition.” Master mechanics were seasoned workers recognized as experts in their craft, and “provided the day-to-day leadership for their workers.”[23] Under the master mechanics was a further pyramid of supervisors, journeymen, apprentices, and unskilled laborers.

In 1835, the Commandant was Isaac Hull, a national hero following the War of 1812. Hull had commanded the fabled USS Constitution, and had won fame for his leadership in the sinking of the frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. As Commandant of the Navy Yard, however, Hull found himself deeply unpopular among the workers. Hull treated the mechanics and other civilian workers with suspicion, believing them lazy, untrustworthy, and inclined to steal both time and government property. In 1833, the Commandant complained that “all the driving and encouragement is thrown away on the mechanics of this place, for if they are at work by the day on a building that there is the least chance of keeping through the whole season they will be sure to do so though it might be completed by mid-summer.”[24] Hull also moved to challenge the Yard’s master mechanics, removing both Master Mechanic Benjamin King and Master Machinist John Judge. These leadership methods did little to endear Hull to some of the remaining master mechanics, and Yard leaders like Naval Constructor William Doughty developed an acrimonious relationship with the Commandant.[25] Hull’s authoritarian demeanor was compounded by the stringent and unequally-enforced rules of the Yard. Smoking, for example, was forbidden in the fire-vulnerable Yard, but exceptions were made for the quarters of Commissioned Officers.[26]

Hull was also disliked by many low-ranking white mechanics for his continued defense of enslaved and free black labor in the Navy Yard. Despite the largely working-class white environment of the Sixth ward, the African American presence at the Navy Yard was unavoidable, especially in the blacksmith shop, where eight black men – two free, six enslaved – worked as strikers. Others, like Michael Shiner, labored as ordinary seamen, and George Carnes worked on the steam engine.[27] In 1830, only three of the sixteen black workers listed on the payroll by Isaac Hull were counted as free. The rest of the African American workers were enslaved, mostly by none other the officers and high-ranking civilians of the Yard itself. The Master Plumber of the Yard, the Store Keeper, the Master Smith, the First Lieutenant, the Clerk, the Purser, and the Inspector of Timber were all listed as holding Yard workers in bondage in Hull’s 1830 report.[28] In a flagrant conflict of interest, these men used their positions in the Yard to profit not only from their own salaries, but from the per diem wage “paid” to their bondsmen. Official Navy policy forbade such arrangements, issuing an 1817 circular directing that “no Slaves or Negroes, except under extraordinary Circumstances, shall be employed in any navy yard in the United States.”[29] Although the total number of African Americans in the Yard did decline, the officer and civilian slaveholders of the Washington Navy Yard lobbied furiously to shield their deployment of enslaved labor. Hull continued this defense, and when pressed on the continued employment of black workers, replied that “I consider them the hardest working men in the yard and as they understand their work they can do much more work in a day than new hands could and I could suppose it would require many weeks if not months to get a gang of hands for the Anchor shop to do the work that is now done.”[30]

The Navy Yard’s black workers were not passive participants in this system. Even as Hull defended their continued presence, black workers, both free and enslaved, transformed the slaveholding, exploitative Yard into a hotspot of resistance. Partially, this was made possible through the human networks facilitated by working in the Yard. Black workers interacted and forged potentially valuable relationships with each other, as well as with white officers, clerks, and foremen.[31] Between black workers, networks enabled the potential transmission of legal knowledge and strategies for effectively challenging slavery. Formerly enslaved, the long-serving blacksmith Joe Thompson had filed a freedom suit and ended his bondage in 1817. In 1833, Phillis Shiner, the wife of the Navy Yard’s Michael Shiner, filed a similar freedom suit in order to prevent her and her children from being subject to a rapid sale south. Shiner quickly secured the legal counsel of Francis Scott Key, who had served as one of the attorneys for Joe Thompson in his freedom suit. These legal maneuvers gave Michael Shiner time to marshal allies and secure the release of Phillis and the children.[32] In 1835, shortly after the Snow Riot, slavers assaulted and seized Daniel Bell in the Navy Yard itself. Bell, who worked as a blacksmith alongside Thompson, also filed a freedom suit to block an expedited sale.[33] The successful use of similar strategies by enslaved Navy Yard workers indicates that the Yard provided a unique space in which approaches to resistance could be cultivated, shared, and refined.

Even as relationships between African American workers facilitated the flow of information, relationships between blacks and whites in the Yard allowed for the cultivation of valuable alliances and personal connections. When Michael Shiner scrambled to rescue his wife and children from sale in 1833, he utilized his most influential Navy Yard connections. The charismatic Shiner found supporters among the clerks, high-ranking officers, and even Commandant Hull himself.[34] These men intervened on Shiner’s behalf, and helped secure freedom for Phillis and the children. “All those above name gentleman,” wrote Shiner in his diary, “all of them wher wiling to help me out my my disstresses in a honest up right way”[35] In a hierarchical slave city like Washington, the involvement of such influential white men was invaluable, and the forging of this powerful network of allies was only possible through Shiner’s work in the Navy Yard. While legally and economically limited on account of their enslavement, Navy Yard workers like Shiner were able to deploy these relationships to disrupt the machinery of slavery at critical moments, buying time, securing freedom, and mounting stunningly effective resistance.

Though they had earned Shiner’s gratitude, the intentions of the Navy Yard’s leadership were not entirely benevolent. Listed among the men who helped Shiner was Store Keeper Cary Seldon, himself a slaveholder. An 1830 report notes that Moses Dyson, held in slavery by Seldon, worked in the blacksmith shop.[36] For the leadership of the Navy Yard, black labor provided more than just personal financial benefit. As Seth Rockman argues, urban slavery was not incompatible with the free-labor economy, but was incorporated in such a way as to give employers a distinct advantage in managing their workforces. “The simultaneous sale of laborers’ time and laborers’ bodies,” Rockman writes, “brought employers the power to choose whom to buy, hire, rent, or recapture in order to find exactly the worker they sought at any given moment.”[37] The assimilation of enslaved labor into a wage-labor system helped contribute to a large, disposable, and diverse labor pool, which helped counter the effectiveness of worker resistance and organization. Washington employers understood this reality. In a 1793 letter to Thomas Jefferson concerning labor in Washington, a group of commissioners noted that “we are under a necessity, of doing otherwise as to the labourers, a part of whom we can easily make up of Negroes and find it proper to do so. Those we have employed this Sumer have proved a very useful check & kept our Affairs Cool.”[38] The strategy of keeping worker demands “cool” through the use of slave labor resulted in wages that differed dramatically from those in non-slaveholding yards. In the free Charlestown Navy Yard, historian Linda Maloney notes that workers earned an average of $1.00 per diem. In slaveholding Washington, white and black workers earned an average of just $0.72.[39] “Generally,” remarked Anne Newport Royall after an 1826 visit to the Washington navy Yard, “wages are very low for all manner of work.”[40] Low wages were compounded by a yearly labor cycle that saw many men laid off for the unproductive winter months.[41]

The presence of enslaved and free black labor threatened not only the economic position of white workers, but their social position as well. Washingtonian society, like the rest of the slaveholding South, was predicated on the concept of white racial supremacy. In many parts of the republic, this supremacy was justified daily through racial divisions in labor. As Rockman correctly notes, “hierarchies of labor and hierarchies of race were mutually reinforcing: what made African Americans inferior was that they performed the worst jobs, and what made those jobs the worst  was that African Americans performed them.”[42] Working alongside African-American workers for the same amount of pay exposed the parity of white and black Navy Yard workers, and consequently sullied the position of the mechanics in Washington’s social hierarchy. Condemning the use of slave labor on Washington’s Navy Yard and other public works, one resident wrote that “the employ of slaves prevents white men from accepting work amongst them as the whites feel it to be a degradation…many came to the city of Washington with their wives, sons, and daughters, but they returned disgusted, as they would not associate with negro slaves.”[43] This proximity threatened white Yard workers with social dismissal to a status equivalent to “white trash,” a term that first appeared in print in 1821.[44] One 1833 essay from Lynchburg, Virginia, lumped together “free negroes and worthless, dissipated whites, who have no visible means of support, and who are rarely seen at work.”[45] Working in the shops of the Navy Yard even compromised the most immediate visible marker of whiteness, the skin, with Royall commenting that “the workmen are as black as negroes.”[46]

            Many of the Navy Yard’s white workers responded to these tensions by adopting an anti-slavery attitude. In 1828, more than 80 white workers signed a citywide petition to abolish slavery in Washington, including a number of the Yard’s smaller slaveholders.[47] It is possible that some men may have signed the petition out of genuine abolitionist feeling, or even affection for their black workmates.[48] Others, especially the slaveholders, may have signed to win the goodwill of non-slaveholding workers, or as a way to distance themselves from the moral culpability of trading in human beings. However, most of the Navy Yard workers who affixed their names to the petition did so to counter the power of the city’s slaveholding elites and challenge what they saw as the deleterious marriage of slavery and wage labor. The language of the petition explicitly reflected the anxieties of the Navy Yard’s mechanics regarding the “cooling” effect produced by the marriage of slavery and wage labor. Slavery, the petition stated, “prevents a useful and industrious class of people from settling among us, by rendering the means of subsistence more precarious to the laboring class of whites. It diminishes the resources of the community, by throwing the earnings of the poor into the coffers of the rich.”[49]

For white Navy Yard workers, signing the petition was unequivocally not the rejection of racism, violence, or white supremacy. James Bury, the foreman blacksmith who signed the 1828 petition, also signed an 1812 petition protesting disciplinary action taken against a blacksmith for assaulting a black worker. Bury and his fellow blacksmiths wrote to the Secretary of the Navy that they were “subjected to the insolence of the negroes employed in the Navy Yard.” Not receiving the same deferential treatment afforded to the slaveholders must have stung white workers conscious of their socially precarious status, but Yard discipline, especially regarding human property, was the domain of the slaveholding class. Working-class white violence against black workers served to not only assert the supremacy of white workers, but also challenged the authority of slaveholders and asserted classless white equality. This defiance of hierarchy received a swift answer, and the offending white blacksmith was “threatened with being discharged for having struck a negro.”  Bury and the blacksmiths concluded their petition by stating “some provision ought to be made for the purpose of restraining the misconduct of blacks & of only employing such as are orderly & absolutely necessary.”[50]

To Americans like Bury and his fellow white blacksmiths, insecure about the demographic, political, or economic developments in the republic, extralegal violence provided a path to, at least symbolically, reordering society in a way they found equitable. As was the case with Bury’s 1812 incident, historian Paul Gilje notes that racial violence before 1830 “was relatively small scale and involved the destruction of some property and the rough handling of a few individuals.”[51] This began to change with the turbulence the early 1830s. Intensified race riots emerged alongside the broader social and labor tensions of the period, especially as anxieties grew regarding access to jobs and wages. The rise of the abolitionist movement, which threatened to unleash even greater economic competition, also encouraged an increasingly brutal strain of racial violence. In 1834 New York City, an attempt to break up an anti-slavery meeting exploded into a several-day-long race riot, in which white New Yorkers torched property associated with African Americans. Similar attacks on urban black neighborhoods erupted in 1829 Cincinnati, 1831 Providence, 1834 Philadelphia, and 1836 Cincinnati. Mobs favored symbolic acts of violence in order to communicate an easily discernable message, and churches and black-owned businesses proved popular targets for destruction.[52] In the rural South, fears over insurrection, elevated by Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, resulted in extralegal killings in Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.[53]  

This racial terror combined with labor violence, ethno-religious rivalries, political unrest, and financial turmoil to ensure that the early 1830s saw some of the most intensive rioting in American history. Across the entirety of the United States, a series of violent and destructive riots challenged the stability of the republic, with at least twenty-four major riots in 1834, and an equal if not far greater number the following year.[54] In fact, historian David Grimsted claimed that no less than 147 riots burned across the country in 1835.[55]

The area surrounding Washington D.C. was no exception to this trend. In January of 1834, just over seventy miles outside of the capital, desperate labor competition drove approximately one thousand Irish canal workers to separate into two gangs and engage in a bloody pitched battle. The ensuing melee left several dead, and, on the orders of President Jackson, two companies of federal troops departed from Fort McHenry on January 30th and made their way to the canal to enforce the peace. The arrival of the soldiers marked the first instance of direct intervention by federal forces in a labor dispute, but even military intervention could not stop the outbreak of violence in the region.[56] In that same year, Irish laborers on the Baltimore and Washington Railroad rioted in both June and November, with the second outbreak resulting in the deaths of a railroad contractor and a supervisor. The contractor’s firing of a number of Irish workers precipitated the killing.[57] Labor disputes were not unique to Irish workers, and in March of 1835, German workers on the same railroad organized a strike for higher wages, and shot several workers who did not join them.[58] Turbulent labor disputes were not relegated to unskilled laborers at isolated worksites, and in Washington itself, Duff Green’s attempts to slash labor costs at the United States’ Telegraph resulted in four strikes in less than a year. In March 1835, striking printers, calling themselves “terriers,” compiled a “rat list” of strikebreakers, and spent several nights attacking the “rats” in the capital’s streets.[59]

As labor tensions rose in Washington and the surrounding region, reports arrived with news of massive strikes in some of the nation’s largest cities. In the spring and early summer of 1835, workers in Boston and Philadelphia organized large strikes calling for better wages and a ten-hour workday. While modern audiences might understand a strike as safer and more acceptable than a riot, striking carried considerable risks in the early 1830s. Withholding labor meant the cessation of wages, and many large, working-class families lacked savings substantial enough for a protracted labor dispute.[60] Additional danger came from the tactics employers used to counter strikes, and laborers considered disposable could easily find themselves replaced by strikebreakers. Common law categorized strikes as illegal conspiracies, and strikers could be subjugated to criminal prosecution or even militia intimidation.[61] The contingency of striking and the subsequent employer response also heightened the risk of collective action, and there was never any sure guarantee of success or even post-strike employment. Still, some of these strikes could prove successful, as was the case in Philadelphia, where the nation’s first general strike succeeding in enforcing worker demands.[62]

In the summer of 1835, the Navy Yard’s white mechanics were hateful, but they were not ignorant. The men knew about the riots exploding across the country, and had just a few months prior witnessed the Duff Green riot in their own city. They knew, thanks to widely disseminated circulars, about the fight for the ten-hour workday in Boston and Philadelphia. They knew about the expansion of slavery, the rise of abolitionism, and the increasingly prominent debates concerning freedom, race, and the role of law. They knew about the use of slavery in the Yard and the potential threat of free black labor competition. They knew that slaveholders manipulated the wage labor system to their own benefit, and they knew that they occupied a vulnerable social and economic position in relation to those men. These external and internal tensions mixed the with oppressive seasonal heat and the flames of forge and furnace, boiling blood and straining patience.

Strange men moved throughout the Yard that summer, having been brought in to assist in the rebuilding of the frigate Columbia. Their company included a group of free black caulkers from Baltimore. Then, on July 28th,  a white blacksmith, Anthony Sumner, was caught using his lunch basket to sneak compression pins and other government property out of the Yard. Sumner had a large family to support, and the sale of the stolen items was intended to supplement his low wage.[63] Hull saw Sumner’s arrest as a validation of his longstanding suspicions regarding the Yard’s mechanics, and issued an order that he thought would prevent similar abuses. “The Mechanics & laborers,” the order stated, “are forbidden to bring their meals into the Yard, either in baskets, bags, or otherwise, and none will be permitted to eat their meals within the Yard, unless specially permitted by the Commandant.”[64]

Outraged white mechanics, insulted by what they saw as a petty and punitive order, called for a cessation of work on July 31st. Shiner noted that the white workers brought in to work on the Columbia and “here from different parts of the country” joined the strike.[65]  It cannot be said with confidence if these men had been involved in labor resistance or extralegal violence elsewhere before their employment in the capital, but their brief experience in the Washington Navy Yard was enough to galvanize them into action. One of first actions that the striking mechanics took was to target the free black caulkers, with Shiner recording that they “made all of them knock oft.”[66] Making matters worse, Hull’s contemptuous relationship with the master mechanics led to traditional Yard leaders like Naval Constructor William Doughty refusing to support the Commandant. Doughty disagreed with the new regulations, and fanned the flames by telling the men that the Commandant “must think them all rogues or thieves.”[67] From July 31st through August 11th, the strike proceeded relatively peaceably, but Hull stubbornly refused to offer the mechanics any concessions. By the 11th, the duration of the strike had begun to compel some of the men to return to work, and the entire affair seemed consigned to failure.[68] That day, however, a development occurred that gave striking diehards a new avenue through which they could enforce their demands.

On August 11th, two police officers arrested a white abolitionist by the name of Rueben Crandall in Georgetown. Francis Scott Key, the District Attorney, prepared to prosecute Crandall on the charge of promulgating “incendiary” literature throughout the capital.[69] A young enslaved man, Arthur Bowen, had been arrested two days prior for drunkenly entering into his mistresses’ room with an axe, and authorities blamed the incident on Northern anti-slavery agitators. City leaders like Key were eager to make an example out of anyone with abolitionist leanings. William Doughty, who himself signed the 1828 abolition petition, encouraged the remaining strikers to tie their effort more directly to issues of race. “Doughty,” writes Maloney, “had told the carpenters that [bringing in free black caulkers] violated the city ordinance forbidding blacks to come to Washington to reside – which was untrue, as the men were brought in only for temporary work.”[70] By tying the strike to issues of race, freedom, and abolition, the white mechanics gave themselves license to begin deploying extralegal violence in the pursuit of their demands. While the men would have been executed if they had initially tried to use coercive violence on a war hero like Isaac Hull, free blacks, outlaw slaves, and abolitionists were, in slaveholding Southern society, “acceptable” targets for extralegal mob action. Because free blacks, outlaw slaves, and abolitionists existed on the margins of society, the mechanics could resort to violent tactics without seeming like a radical threat against the traditional societal order. Behind this veneer of conservativism, however, was an implicit, deliberately threatening show of force directed at Isaac Hull and the city’s authorities. The use of “acceptable” targets to communicate a message was a traditional strategy in the history of American extralegal violence. In the 1747 Knowles Riot, for example, rioters burned a ship to protest the impressment of sailors. That ship was owned by none other than one of the riot ringleaders, providing, in Gilje’s words, “a safe and effective means of expressing anti-impressment sentiment.”[71]

The strikers, now rioters, gathered outside of the city’s jail and demanded that authorities hand over Arthur Bowen and Rueben Crandall, so that they might enact their own form of justice. It is not difficult to see how the mechanics would hate abolitionism, even if they supported the end of slavery in Washington itself. Nationwide, many working-class whites feared that abolition would unleash a flood of labor competition as masses of emancipated blacks migrated to urban centers. One newspaper maintained that “In Columbia the white working men came to a resolution not to deal with any man who employed a black man. The reason of all these attacks on blacks is, that they enter into competition for work at a lower rate. They are able to work at a lower rate.”[72] However, it is absurd to think that the mechanics forgot all about their animosity towards the city’s elites and Isaac Hull simply because they heard that an abolitionist had been arrested. The words of the rioters themselves demonstrated that their violence was still directed towards challenging Hull and what they saw as an unfair hierarchy. Yard foremen William Ellis and John Cassidy reported that the mechanics at the jail said that they “would hang the man committed that day, commit violence upon Francis S. Key, and that then Commd. Hull might look out.”[73] The rioters threatened Key, the city’s pro-slavery attorney, out of anger towards the city’s hierarchies that consolidated legal power in the hands of the elite. When they demanded Bowen and Crandall for themselves, the mechanics were asserting that, as white male citizens, they should be the source of legal power. Because they wrapped their threats in the guise of anti-abolitionist action, the rioters were able to mass and intimidate their white targets without fear of harsh and immediate reprisal.

When it became apparent that Crandall and Bowen would not be released, the mechanics shifted their tactics once again. “They were a rumor flying around,” wrote Shiner, “about a colered man by the name of Snow about a expression he had made about the Mechanics wifes god kowes wether he said those things or not.”[74] It did not matter whether Beverly Snow said anything or not. The rioters needed a new avenue to direct their violence and continue their campaign of intimidation, and the rumors gave them the opportunity to justify this fresh violence using the language of Southern patriarchal honor. What man could stop the honest, white working men of Washington from defending the honor of their wives and daughters, against a black man no less?

 Snow himself represented everything many of the rioters hated. A free man, Snow ran a successful restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue where he serviced the “good society” of Washington, and even his light skin, described as “mulatto,” seemed to embody the blurring of social and racial categories that the mechanics so feared. Snow himself managed escape, but, as Shiner recounts, “all the Mechanics of classes gathered into snows Restaurant and broke him up Root and Branch.”[75] With this act of destruction, rioter not only erased a symbol of free black advancement and prosperity, they were also able to further communicate their grievances regarding the city’s hierarchies, the role of law, and Hull. Josephine Seaton, daughter of William Winston Seaton of the National Intelligencer, recognized these tensions when she wrote that “all the gentlemen of the city protected Snow so far as they could, not believing him guilt, and even had such been the case they were the friends of law and order, and willing that Snow should be dealt with accordingly, but not by the hands of Judge Lynch.”[76] The strike itself was also not forgotten, and, with the city’s elites serving as a captive audience, the destruction of Snow’s restaurant functioned as the proverbial thumb drawn slowly across the neck. “After they had broke snow up,” recalled Shiner, “they threatened to come to the navy yard after commodore Hull.”[77]

Despite their threats and shows of force, the rioters were not yet prepared to march on the Washington Navy Yard. Attacking a federal instillation was by no means an “acceptable” target, and the men knew they would be liable to be crushed and summarily executed. Instead, the mechanics continued to attack marginal targets while implicitly threatening their less-assailable opponents. The next day, rioters, while hunting for Snow, arrested another free black man, James Hutton, on the pretext of possessing abolitionist newspapers. The mechanics marched Hutton to a magistrate, who eventually managed to get Hutton escorted to jail by some officers.[78] The rioters then turned their attention to Snow’s residence, where they broke furniture and drank Snow’s whiskey in another symbolic erasure of black wealth.[79] From there, the mob gathered at Centre Market, near the intersection of Pennsylvania and Louisiana Avenues. This central and highly visible location gave the rioters another chance to publicly parade their strength and numbers. Around sundown, about fifty member of the militia mustered to try and keep the peace, but they were vastly outnumbered by the rioters, whose numbers had swelled to somewhere between three and four hundred.[80] As this was happening, Hull received orders from the Secretary of the Navy to fortify the Yard against potential assault. It was on this night that Shiner recounted the rioter show of force just outside of the Navy Yard’s gates. Around that time, The Globe reported, the rioters “marched to the west end of the City.”[81] The fact that the rioters marched west is critical. The Navy Yard is in the southeastern part of the city. The men who worked at the Yard lived in the surrounding neighborhoods, and if the riot had been solely about targeting black labor competition, rioters would have marched east and attacked the blacks who lived in the Fifth and Sixth wards. The rioters were attacking African Americans who lived around Pennsylvania Avenue for a reason. Not only did these attacks give rioters a chance to assert their racial supremacy and counter black advancement, they gave the mechanics a means through which to publicly and visibly demonstrate force while implicitly threatening and pressuring the city’s elites in their own backyards. There, “they burnt a negro hut, and broke the windows of a negro church, and dispersed in squads of ten and twenties.”[82] Other reports suggested the mechanics also destroyed a black schoolhouse and a house of ill-fame.[83] This devastation and violence forced many free blacks, including the formerly-enslaved educator John Francis Cook, to flee the city.[84] After the rioters had finished their destruction for the evening, the militia impotently “marched towards where the house was burnt, and then marched back again.”[85]

Authorities understood the violent messaging, and began to appease rioter demands. Hull, when fortifying the Navy Yard, sent a message to Naval Secretary Dickerson inquiring as to what he should do with the free black caulkers he had brought in from Baltimore. Dickerson advised that the men should not be allowed into the well-defended Yard at night.[86] The city government also moved to appease the rioting mechanics, and issued an ordinance targeting nighttime assemblies. This resolution was not aimed at the rioting white mechanics, but rather at “negroes and mulattoes, whether bond or free.” The same resolution went on to promise that the city was also inquiring into preventing black residents from obtaining a liquor license.[87] The concessions were meant to reinforce racial divisions between poor blacks and whites, and were undoubtedly designed to sooth mechanic anxieties. While Commandant Hull was himself too stubborn to walk back the order that sparked the strike, he agreed to soften the language of the order so as not to offend the sensibilities of the workers.[88] A combination of appeasement and a detachment of marines helped ensure that large-scale riot violence effectively ceased. It appeared that the unrest was at an end. “In a couple weeks they had the City of washington as quite as a Church” reported Shiner, “and the laws wher all respected and evrything went on quietely.”[89] Two or three men were arrested for their role in the violence, but the rest of the mechanics returned to work in the Navy Yard.[90] Within a month, Hull would resign his post. Even Anthony Sumner, the man who first stole the compression pins and sparked the whole affair, received a presidential pardon.[91] Although the strike and subsequent violence did not restore lunch privileges, end black labor in the Yard, or usher in the ten-hour workday, the rioting mechanics had successfully used a show of force to, at least symbolically, counter black advancement and assert their status as white men. The pivot away from peaceful striking and towards racial violence and intimidation had been key to this success.  

            The Snow Riot had exposed the racial, social, and economic fissures of the capital. Washington’s elites, embarrassed by the affair and uncomfortable with its implications, immediately set to working spinning the entire unrest as solely the fault of abolitionists and free blacks. The Daily National Intelligencer did originally connect the riot to concurrent unrest in Baltimore, and, perhaps sensing the deeper nationwide tensions of the early 1830s, reported that unrest was the result of “inflammation which communicates to other communities.”[92] This understanding of the riot was immediately challenged by the United States’ Telegraph, who wrote “The National Intelligencer is very much mistaken…There was not the slightest connection. The excitement here was produced by the distribution of the incendiary pamphlets, connected with the gross insult offered to the wives and daughters of the mechanics of this city.”[93] The next day, the Intelligencer published an article blaming the riot on “a demoniacal design, on the part of a fanatical individual to stir up our negro population to insurrection and murder.”[94] A revisionist fiction of events soon promulgated, in which the good and honest mechanics were only driven to violence on account of the abolitionist agitators. “We have too good an opinion of the intelligence and sense of the mechanics in Washington,” wrote the Telegraph, “to believe that they can, under any circumstances, be excited to act over in Washington the scenes of some of our Northern cities – to lay waste and destroy the property of their fellow citizens.” That those mechanics had already destroyed the property of the free black community seemed to bother the paper little, who only called on authorities to “prevent the circulation in the District, of those abominable incendiary publications that the Northern Abolitionists have been sending among us.”[95] Josephine Seaton too, immediately following her account of the riot, wrote of her father’s “high esteem for the mechanics of Washington, believing that no community possessed a more order-loving, intelligent, self-respecting body of citizens.”[96] This seemingly absurd post-riot flattery of the mechanics was a strategy of elite Washingtonians to place the blame for internal tensions on external forces, while simultaneously reestablishing the traditional relationship of elite patronage and plebeian loyalty. The assessment of the Snow Riot as a simple anti-abolitionist riot conducted by loyal pro-slavery peons – an assessment promulgated by slaveholding elites – has persisted in accounts of the unrest ever since.[97]

            For most of Washington, the Snow Riot ended on the 14th and 15th of August, when the white mechanics ceased large-scale rioting, ended the strike, and returned to the Navy Yard. For Beverly Snow, the man who gave the unrest its name, the effects of the violence did not end with the cessation of the violence. “Sirs,” Snow wrote in an August 23rd letter to the editors of the Daily National Intelligencer, “your paper of the 16th and 17th contains a supposed charge against me, which has struck death blow to all that I held dear to me in this world, my character and my liberty: for what is life without character? It is nothing: it’s a burden to me.”[98] Snow, once a symbol of free black success, now sat in a Fredericksburg jail for his own safety. In his letter to the Daily National Intelligencer, Snow defended his innocence, and pleaded that Washington might learn the truth about the violence. They never did. When Beverly Snow attempted to return to Washington a year later, a group of young men attacked him, and he found himself, once again, in a jail cell. “He was examined before the mayor,” reported one New York paper, “and no offense being laid to his charge, or matter of suspicion appearing against him, he was discharged, and left the city, promising never to return.”[99]

“If within your own knowledge you can say anything for me in justice,” concluded Snow in his own letter to the editors, “you would oblige your humble servant.”[100] It is too late to help Beverly Snow, but it is not too late to answer this plea. Riots, no matter how seemingly mindless, are not random. Instead, extralegal violence like the Snow Riot is a form of communication. The communicative properties of the Snow Riot, when taken seriously, constitute an unspoken, kinetic manifesto of rioter grievances, demands, and logic. Southern extralegal violence remains only partially understood, but adjusting the way in which we interpret violence could open new potential avenues for analysis. Antebellum riots occurred in New Orleans, Baltimore, Columbia, Charleston, and elsewhere throughout the South. As the country lurched towards civil war over the years which followed, these events, like the Snow Riot, may provide a window into the often-overlooked urban realities of pre-war Southern society. When we examine extralegal violence, we must not look solely at the superficial properties of riots, but instead “read the riot acts,” and attempt to analyze more seriously the symbology, language, and context of violence.



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[1] Michael Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2009), 64, https://www.history.navy.mil.

[2] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 64.

[3] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 64.

[4] David Grimsted maintains that no less than 147 riots broke out in 1835 alone. See David Grimsted, American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 4.

[5] For the misrepresentation of the riot as an act of racial solidarity, as noted by John Sharp, see Phillip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States from Colonial Times to the Founding of the American Federation of Labor (New York: International Publishers, 1979). Paul Gilje does not directly reference the Snow Riot, but mentions anti-abolition riots turned into “virulent onslaughts against the black community as in New York City in July 1834, in Cincinnati in 1836, in Philadelphia in 1838, and elsewhere”. The Snow Riot is part of that anonymous “elsewhere.” See Paul Gilje, Rioting in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 82. David Grimsted argues that “The South developed its own style of social violence, semisanctioned and rarely opposed, against any questioning of slavery.” See Grimsted, American Mobbing, x.

[6] Historians have long argued over the relationship between slavery and capitalism. While an older tradition of scholarship argues that slavery existed in opposition to capitalism, a group of historians have explored the ways in which slavery existed as a facet of American capitalism. See Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York City: Basic Books, 2014), Seth Rockman, Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009) and Joshua D. Rothman, Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2012).

[7] Population of States and Counties of the United States: 1790 to 1990, ed. Richard L. Forstall (Washington: Bureau of the Census, 1996), 29. These numbers do not include Georgetown and Alexandria.

[8] See Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).

[9] Adam Costanzo, George Washington’s Washington: Visions for the National Capital in the Early American Republic (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2018), 151.

[10] Kenneth J. Winkle, Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War In Washington, DC (New York City: W.W. Norton, 2013), 16-17.

[11] Costanzo, George Washington’s Washington, 160.

[12] Thomas Law, “ Observations on the Intended Canal in Washington City,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society (Washington: Columbia Historical Society, 1905), 8:160.

[13] Law, “Observations,” 162-163.

[14] Laws of the Corporation of the City of Washington (Washington, D.C.: Jacob Gideon Jr., 1835), 4: 293.

[15] Cornelius W. Heine, “The Washington City Canal,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 42 (1953, 1956): 15.

[16] Data from Jonathon Elliot, Historical Sketches of the Ten Miles Square Forming the District of Columbia: With a Picture of Washington, Describing Objects of General Interest or Curiosity at the Metropolis of the Union. (Washington: J. Elliot, Jr, 1830), 198 and Data from Population schedules of the fifth census of the United States, 1830, District of Columbia (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969).

[17] William Green, A Full Directory, for Washington City, Georgetown, and Alexandria (Washington: E.A. Cohen and Company, 1834).

[18] John G. M. Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835,” at USGenWeb Archives, Accessed November 14, 2019, usgwarchives.net.

[19] Anne Newport Royall, Sketches of History, Life, and Manners, in the United States By a Traveler (New Haven: Anne Newport Royall, 1826), 140.

[20] Royall, Sketches, 140.

[21] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 52.

[22] Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[23] Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[24] Isaac Hull to John Rogers, Apr. 5, 1831, as quoted by Linda Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut: The Life and Naval Times of Isaac Hull (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986), 422.

[25] Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[26] “General Orders for the Regulation of the Navy Yard Washington, DC,” Naval History and Heritage Command, 2014, https://www.history.navy.mil.

[27] John G. Sharp, African Americans in Slavery and Freedom on the Washington Navy Yard, 1799-1865 (Concord, CA: Hannah Morgan Press, 2011), 92.

[28] Sharp, African Americans in Slavery and Freedom on the Washington Navy Yard, 92.

[29] Circular, Board of Naval Commissioners, Mar. 17, 1817 as quoted by Sharp, African Americans in Slavery and Freedom on the Washington Navy Yard, 32.

[30] Isaac Hull to the Board of Naval Commissioners, Apr. 8, 1830 as quoted by Sharp, African Americans in Slavery and Freedom on the Washington Navy Yard, 91.

[31] Thomas, “Mob Law,” 7.

[32] Thomas, “Mob Law,” 12.

[33] Thomas, “Mob Law,” 17-18.

[34] Thomas, “Mob Law,” 13 and Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 53-54.

[35] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 54.

[36] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 54 and Isaac Hull, “A List of Colored men free & Slaves now Employ’d in the Blacksmiths & Engine department & in Ordinary at the Navy Yard Washington,” April 8, 1830.

[37] Rockman, Scaping By, 8.

[38] Thomas Johnson, David Stuart, and Daniel Carroll to Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 5, 1793. For more, see Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[39] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 421.

[40] Royall, Sketches, 140.

[41] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 421.

[42] Rockman, Scraping By, 56.

[43] “On the City Slave Tax,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia) Mar. 26, 1816.

[44] Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America (New York City: Penguin Books, 2016), 135.

[45] “Prize Essay,” Lynchburg Virginian (Lynchburg, Virginia), Jul. 4, 1833.

[46] Royall, Sketches, 141.

[47] Thomas, “Mob Law,” 13.

[48] Shiner notes having a warm relationship with at least one white worker, ship carpenter Jesse Morison, in 1828.  Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 34.

[49] “Memorial of the Inhabitants of the District of Columbia, praying for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia,”  The National Era (Washington, District of Columbia) Mar. 29, 1849.

[50] WNY Blacksmiths Petition to Hamilton, Oct., 1812, as quoted in Sharp, African Americans in Slavery and Freedom on the Washington Navy Yard, 30-31.

[51] Gilje, Rioting in America, 89.

[52] Gilje, Rioting in America, 90.

[53] Gilje, Rioting in America, 90.

[54] Carl E. Prince, “The Great ‘Riot Year:’ Jacksonian Democracy and Patterns of Violence in 1834,” Journal of the Early Republic 5, no. 1 (1985): 8.

[55] Grimsted, American Mobbing, 4.

[56] “Riots on the Line of the Canal” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia), Jan. 29, 1834 and Peter Way, Common Labour: Workers & the Digging of North American Canals 1780 - 1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 201.

[57] Prince, “The Great ‘Riot Year,’” 16.

[58] “Prince, “The Great ‘Riot Year,’” 19, and  William G. Thomas III, “Mob Law,” Unpublished Manuscript, 2 and “The Washington Mirror of Saturday gives the following particulars of the riot which took place last Friday on the Baltimore and Washington Rail Road,” The Daily Atlas (Boston, Massachusetts), Mar. 13, 1835.

[59] William S. Pretzler, “‘The British, Duff Green, the Rats, and the Devil:’ Custom, Capitalism, and Conflict in the Washington Printing Trade, 1834-36,” Labor History 27 (Winter 1985-86): 19.

[60] Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[61] David Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transforming of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 549 and Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[62] Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 548.

[63] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 59 and Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[64] “General Orders.”

[65] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 59-60.

[66] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 60.

[67] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 437.

[68] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 438.

[69] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 439.

[70] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 439.

[71] Gilje, Rioting in America, 31.

[72] “The Negroes at the North” United States’ Telegraph (Washington, District of Columbia), Aug. 29, 1835. 

[73] William Ellis and John Cassidy to Isaac Hull, Aug. 12, 1835, as quoted in Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 439.

[74] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 60.

[75] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 60.

[76] Josephine Seaton, William Winston Seaton of the “National Intelligencer:” A Biographical Sketch (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1871), 218.

[77] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 60.

[78] “It is with Extreme Regret,” The Globe (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 14, 1835.

[79] “It is with Extreme Regret,” Aug. 14, 1835.

[80] “It is with Extreme Regret,” Aug. 14, 1835.

[81] “It is with Extreme Regret,” Aug. 14, 1835.

[82] “It is with Extreme Regret,” Aug. 14, 1835.

[83] William Bradley, “Our City Yesterday was in a State of Great Excitement,” United States’ Telegraph (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 13, 1835 and “The State of the City,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 14, 1835.

[84] Willard B. Gatewood Jr., “John Francis Cook, Antebellum Black Presbyterian,” American Presbyterians 67, no. 3 (1989): 222.

[85] “It is with Extreme Regret,” Aug. 14, 1835.

[86] Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut, 439.

[87] “The State of the City,” Aug. 14, 1835.

[88] George Lyndall, John A. Miskell and Samuel S. Briggs, “To the Public,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia), Aug. 14, 1835.

[89] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 63.

[90] Sharp, “The Washington Navy Yard Strike and ‘Snow Riot’ of 1835.”

[91] Shiner, The Diary of Michael Shiner, 65.

[92] “Amongst the evils which the late riots in Baltimore have inflicted on that city,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 13, 1835.

[93] “The National Intelligencer is very much mistaken,” United States’ Telegraph (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 14, 1835.

[94] “But little has occurred,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 15, 1835.

[95] “We hope,” United States’ Telegraph (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 14, 1835.

[96] Seaton, William Winston Seaton of the “National Intelligencer,” 219.

[97] See, for example, Grimsted, American Mobbing, in which the Snow Riot is listed as an anti-abolitionist riot.

[98] Beverly Snow, “To the editors,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District of Columbia) Aug. 27, 1835.

[99] “A Scene at Washington,” New-York Spectator (New York, New York) Aug. 22, 1836.

[100] Snow, “To the editors,” Aug. 27, 1835.