[Cincinnati Daily Gazette, September 6, 1841]

Riot and Mobs, Confusion and Blood Shed

This city has been in a most alarming condition for several days—and from about 8 o’clock on Friday evening until about 3 o’clock yesterday morning, almost entirely at the mercy of a lawless mob ranging in number, from two to fifteen hundred. Amidst the confusion of such a state of things, it is almost impossible to collect a full or accurate state of facts. But with deep regret, and acknowledged humiliation, we detail what has happened as well as we can.

On Tuesday evening last, as we are informed, a quarrel took place near the corner of Sixth street and Broadway, between a party of Irishmen, and some negroes in which blows were exchanged, and other weapons, if not fire arms, used. Some two or three of each party were wounded. On Wednesday night the quarrel was renewed in some way, and sometime after midnight, a party of excited men armed with clubs attacked a house occupied as a negro boarding house on MacAlister street, demanding the surrender of a negro, whom they said had fled into the house, and was there secreted, and uttering the most violent threats against the house, and the negroes in general. Several of the adjoining houses were occupied by negro families, including a number of women and children. The violence increased and was resisted by those in or about the houses—an engagement took place several were wounded on each side—and some say guns or pistols were discharged from the house. The interference of some gentlemen in the neighborhood succeeded in restoring quiet after about three fourths of an hour, when a watchman appeared. But it is singular, that this violent street disturbance elicited no report to the police nor arrest—indeed that the Mayor remained ignorant of the affair, until late in the day, when he casually heard of it.

On Thursday night another recontre took place in the neighborhood of the Lower Market, between some young men and boys, and some negroes, in which one or two of the boys were badly wounded, as was supposed, with knives—how the negroes fared, we did not learn.

On Friday during the day, there was considerable excitement. Threats of violence and lawless outbreak were indicated in various ways, and came to the ear of the police and of the negroes. Attacks were expected upon the negro residences in MacAlaster, Sixth and New streets. The negroes armed themselves and the knowledge of this increased the excitement. But we do not know that it produced any known measure of precaution on the part of the police, to preserve the peace of the city.

Before eight o’clock in the evening, a mob, the principal organization of which, we understand was arranged in Kentucky, openly assembled in Fifth Street Market, unmolested by the police or citizens. The number of this mob, as they deliberately marched from their rendezvous towards Broadway and Sixth streets, is variously estimated, but the number increased as they progressed. They were armed with clubs and stones.

Reaching the scene of operations with shouts and blasphemous imprecations, they attacked a negro confectionary house on Broadway, next to Sycamore, and demolished the doors and windows. This attracted an immense crowd. Savage yells were uttered to encourage the mob onward to the general attack upon the negroes. About this time, before 8 o’clock, J.W. Piatt, in a way, highly creditable to himself addressed the mob exhorting them to peace, obedience to law, and to retire without further violence. His voice was drowned by the violent shouts of the mob, and the throwing of stones…The Mayor came up and addressed the people, in a very proper way. The savage yell was instantly raised—“down with him!”—“run him off”—were shouted and intermixed with horrid imprecations and exhortations to the mob to move onward. We took some pains to ascertain who these leading disturbers of the peace were, and think a large portion of the leaders, and the most violent, came from the other parts were strangers—some were said to be connected with river navigation and were strongly backed by boat hands of the lowest and most violent order. They advanced to the attack with stones and were repeatedly fired upon by the negroes. The mob scattered, but immediately rallied again, and again were in like manner repulsed. Men were wounded on both sides, and carried off—and many reported dead. The negroes rallied several times, advanced upon the crowd, and most unjustifiably fired down the street into it, causing a great rush down the street. These things were repeated until past 1 o’clock, when a party procured an iron six pounder from near the river, loaded with boiler punchings, and hauled it to the ground, against the exhortations of the Mayor and others. It was posted on Broadway and pointed down Sixth street. The yells continued, but there was a partial cessation of the firing. Many of the negroes had fled to the hills. The attack upon houses was recommenced, with the firing of guns, on both sides, which continued during most of the night—and exaggerated rumors of the killed and wounded filled the streets. The cannon was discharged several times.

About two o’clock, a portion of the military upon the call of the Mayor proceeded to the scene of disorder and succeeded in keeping the mob at bay…

A meeting of citizens was held at the Court House on Saturday morning, at which the Mayor presided. This meeting was addressed by the Mayor, Judge Read, Mr. Piatt, Sheriff Avery, and Mr. Hart. They resolved to observe the law, to discountenance mobs, invoked the aid of the civil authorities to stay the violence, and pledged themselves to exertion in aid of the civil authority to arrest and place within reach of the law, the negroes who wounded the two white boys on Columbia street…

The City Council also held a special session, and passed resolutions invoking the united exertions of orderly citizens to the aid of the authorities—to put down the violent commotion existing in the city, to preserve order and vindicate the law against the violence of an excited and lawless mob—requesting all officers, watchmen, and firemen to unite for the arrest of all rioters and violators of law, and the Marshal to increase his deputies to any number required, not exceeding five hundred, to preserve life and protect property—requiring the Mayor and Marshal to call in the aid of the county militia to preserve order, and the Captain of the Watch to increase his force…

The negroes held a meeting in a church and respectfully assured the Mayor and the citizens that they would use every effort to conduct as orderly, industrious, and peaceable people, and to suppress any imprudent conduct among their population and to ferret out all violation of order and law—deprecated the practice of carrying about their person any dangerous weapon, pledged themselves not to carry or keep any about their persons or houses and expressed their readiness to surrender all such…

Some then supposed we should have a quiet night—but others more observing, discovered that the lawless mob had determined on further violence, to be enacted immediately after nightfall. Citizens disposed to aid the authorities were invited to assemble, enroll themselves, and organize for action. The Military were ordered out, firemen were out clothed with authority as a police band. About 80 citizens enrolled themselves as assistants of the Marshal, and acted during the night under his directions, in connection with Judge Torrence, who was selected by themselves. A portion of this force was mounted. A troop of horse, and several companies of volunteer infantry continued on duty until near midnight…

As was anticipated, the mob efficiently organized early, commenced operations, dividing their force and making attacks at different points, thus distracting the attention of the police. The first successful onset was made upon the printing establishment of the Philanthropist. They succeeded in entering the establishment breaking up the Press, and running with it, amidst savage yells, down through Main street to the river, into which it was thrown. The military appeared in the alley near the office, interrupting the mob for a short time. They escaped through the by ways and, when the military retired, returned to their work of destruction in the office, which they completed. Several houses were broken open in different parts of the city, occupied by negroes, and the windows, doors and furniture totally destroyed.

Among such is the Confectionary establishment, of Burnet near the upper market—a shop on Columbia near Sycamore—the negro church on 6th street, and four or five houses near it—a small frame house near the synagogue on Broadway, and several houses on Western Row near the river. One of their last efforts was to fire or otherwise destroy the Book establishment of Messrs. Truman and Smith, on Main. From this they were driven by the police, and soon after, before daylight, dispersed from mere exhaustion, whether to remain quiet or to recruit their strength for renewed assault we may know before this paper is circulated.

Mortifying as is the declaration, truth requires us to acknowledge, that our good city has been in complete anarchy, controlled mostly by a lawless and violent mob for twenty-four hours, trampling all law and authority underfoot. We feel this degradation deeply—but so it is. It is impossible to learn the precise number killed and wounded, either of whites or among the negroes, probably several were killed on both sides, and some twenty or thirty variously wounded, though but few dangerously. Several of the citizen police were hurt with stones and brick bats, which were thrown into the crowd by the mob. The authorities succeeded in arresting and securing about forty of the mob, who are now in prison—others were arrested, but were rescued or made their escape otherwise. We have attempted a plain general narrative of these disgraceful proceedings—have endeavored to be accurate in our facts, and to narrate them in the order of occurrence without coloring or distortion. Such a narrative, at this time, we thought necessary to check the exaggerated rumors which have doubtless spread in all directions. Many of these transactions occurred under our own observation, during Friday night, and the evening and night of Saturday.

We see in these outrages much to deplore, and we see much which merits unqualified condemnation, which has been done, and omitted, during the violence of these lawless excesses. But it behooves us all now to be calm, and firm, to prevent another outbreak—to unite and draw out for the preservation of the public peace, all good citizens. Many have hitherto done little to stop destructive violence, who should unite, and we still trust nearly all will yet unite, to restore the quiet of the city, and the efficacy of the law….