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Brooklyn and the New York City Draft Riots

Jul 14, 2010 2:52 PM | 0 comments

This month marks the 147th anniversary of the New York City Draft riots. For three days in July of 1863, rioters turned Manhattan upside down in protest against the Civil War Draft. How did Brooklyn residents react to orders to fight for the Union forces in the Civil War?

Guarding the Home, Brooklyn's Guardieans, 1887

In the early months of 1863 the National Conscription Act was passed and enforcement was planned for Brooklyn and New York City in July of 1863. The Conscription Act stated that all single men aged 20-45 and married men up to 35 would be enrolled in the draft lottery. The act also contained language for drafted men to avoid conscription.  They could either pay a $300 fee or find someone to replace them.  In New York of 1863, you can, I'm sure, imagine how well that went over with working class men and their families.  Class struggles were nothing new to New Yorkers.  New immigrants competed with both unskilled black and white workers.  The draft seemed to be the spark that ignited long-held tensions among the lower classes of New York City.

On July 10, 1863, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published an article that described the details of the upcoming draft. (Click on the image to read the full article.) New York City, Brooklyn, Queens, and surrounding counties were preparing the lottery to fulfill their quotas. Names were drawn for New York on July 10. As the names were published in the paper, People devised plans to resist the draft. On the morning of Monday, July 13, as more names were being announced, angry crowds formed and violence erupted. Here you can find a brief, but excellent description of the five days of rioting in July 1863.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports the mayhem in a way that would incite anyone to either join the rioters or to lock up their home and cower in the basement. And in Brooklyn, both happened. In the book The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863, the author writes that "Brooklyn had remained quiet while anarchy reigned in New York. The city across the East River was so scandalously underpoliced that any mob outbreak would have met almost no opposition. Fortunately, many of those most likely to riot went over to New York to fight and pillage there." We must remember that there were no bridges to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan, so taking the ferry across the river required some resolve.

Printing House Square, 1868 Rendering, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

In fact, those traveling across to Manhattan via the Fulton Ferry were some of Brooklyn's police force led by Inspector John S. Folk.  You can read more about Brooklyn's police force in a great post by June.  Folk and his forces left Brooklyn, believing that the city would remain quiet and he was right.  One article in the Eagle on July 15 states that "Affairs in the city (Brooklyn) remain quiet and orderly...those inclined to aid in disreputable scenes proceeded to New York and left us in the enjoyment of peace".  Folk however saw violence at Printing House Square, where the Tribune offices were attacked.  According to the book President Lincoln's Third Largest City: Brooklyn and the Civil War,  Folk's police force quelled the rioters near the square and "marched off to the Brooklyn ferries amidst cheers from their New York compatriots." 

John S. Folk, Brooklyn's Guardians, 1887

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the frenzy as it happened, which probably helped lead to the preparations taking place in Brooklyn. On July 14, 1863, it was announced that the draft had been postponed in New York and Brooklyn (remember, we haven't consolidated yet). The lists and enrollment papers were secured and stowed for safety in the event of an uprising in Brooklyn. Firemen were told to be on duty 24 hours a day. Guns and heavy artillery were removed to safer locations and it was announced that the Navy Yard's equipment would be available in an emergency.

African-Americans were among the main targets of the rioters.  Brooklyn was home to one of the oldest and largest pre-Civil War independent African-American communities. During the draft riots, many African-Americans fled to Brooklyn and to Weeksville.  While documentation is scarce on what happened within Weeksville during the riots, the Eagle and the New York Times both reported attacks on African-Americans, including murders and lynchings and the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street in Manhattan. On July 16, the Eagle briefly mentions that the community of Weeksville had been thrown into a state of commotion by rumors that rioters from Jamaica, Queens were on their way to attack. The white citizens of the area organized to keep the peace swearing in special deputy sheriffs. Many African-Americans found refuge in the tiny community of Crow Hill (now Crown Heights). This article published by the Eagle in 1889, describes the events in Crow Hill of July 1863.

Fire in the Atlantic Basin, 1868, Frank Leslie's Illustrated

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle suggests that while there was some trouble within Brooklyn, such as the destruction of two grain elevators (as in the image above) the violence should not necessarily be ascribed to the draft. As Henry Stiles, the classic 19th century Brooklyn historian states, "the law abiding disposition of the citizens of Brooklyn was shown in the universal observance of the peace throughout the city." In the aftermath, firemen and certain militia men were aided by the common council to gain exemptions in military service.  Brooklyn and Kings County filled the draft quotas in September 1864 and within a year, the war ended.   If you are interested in learning more about the Brooklyn in the Civil War, you are in the right place! Visit our digital collection by clicking on the image below:

Little-Known Brooklyn Residents: Dorothy and Richard Minnich

Jul 12, 2010 11:07 AM | 0 comments

Living in New York, we are accustomed to living in very close proximity with our neighbors, sometimes hearing more than we'd like to from the people living around us. I've been known to complain about my noisy upstairs neighbors, but after discovering Mr. and Mrs. Minnich's pastime, perhaps I have little to complain about.

The Minnich's rescued organ, complete with built in bar

In 1953, Dorothy and Richard Minnich rescued a 1,500 pound pipe organ from a mortuary chapel in Manhattan, and reinstalled it within the living room of their 3 1/2 room apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The organ -- consisting of 341 pipes, a sounding box, an air pump, switch panel and a console -- squeezed into their 11 x 19 foot living room, still allowing room for two davenports, tables, a chair and "a little room for dancing."

Richard Minnich playing happy tunes on the organ

Dorothy Minnich told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that the mortuary "played sad music on it for 12 years, and now Richard will only play happy music on it. Why? Well, Richard likes to think that there will be a movement to pop concerts of organ music. He calls it an entrancing whisper of wind." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle did not report, however, on the response of their immediate neighbors at 25 Oliver Street. Perhaps the happy tunes that resonated from the organ diminished neighbor complaints. 

Brooklyn Dog and Horse Parade

Jul 7, 2010 1:34 PM | 2 comments

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Dog And Horse Parade, June 22, 1935

I recently came across some photographs that were newly uploaded to the Brooklyn Public Library catalog,  and since they are pictures of animals, I had to write about them.  On a lovely day in late June of 1935, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the ASPCA of Brooklyn hosted the Dog and Horse Parade.  But before I go into all the fascinating details about the parade, I must give a brief account of the history of the ASPCA in Brooklyn.

Mr. and Mrs. John Peterson's Prodigal Pom, so named because he ran away from home on East 3rd Street, then returned of his own accord at the end of a year.  NEIG 1744, June 22, 1935

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals began as a small group of concerned citizens in New York City.  In 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was incorporated by the legislature of the State of New York.  The society had many honorary and ex-officio members such as Andrew Johnson (President of the United States) and Reuben Fenton (Governor of New York State).  On April 19, 1866, the ASPCA's founder Henry Bergh delivered the passage of the first law ever erected in this country for the protection of animals:  "Every person who shall, by his act or neglect, maliciously kill, maim, wound, injure, torture, or cruelly beat any horse, mule, cow, cattle, sheep, or other animal belonging to himself or another, shall upon conviction, be adjudged guilty of a misdemeanor." 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Dog And Horse Parade, June 22, 1935

Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online and our morgue clipping files contain countless articles about animal abuse, more than any human would want to read.  In 1867, a number of Brooklyn residents including such notables as Henry Ward Beecher and Henry Pierrepont established a Brooklyn branch of the ASPCA.  The Brooklyn ASPCA went after the swill milk men, as you may remember from a previous post on distilleries by Joy.  The society had authority to go after farmers who abused their animals and cruel dog catchers, and was instrumental in the abolition of the city pound, establishing shelters that would care for "vagrant" dogs and cats or if necesssary end their lives as humanely as possible. 

Seven foot Irish wolfhound meets, and is pretty puzzled by 5 1/4 inch Pekingese.  Both are champions in their classes, having just won blue ribbons in Brooklyn Dog and Horse Parade show.  Standing by and supervising the introduction are William J. Coogan and Alice Bishop, respective owners.  June 22, 1935

Now, to the parade!  Much like the Brooklyn Long Island Cat Club show, the Brooklyn Dog and Horse Parade was not for the "blue bloods" among pets, but was for the celebration of all types of companion animals.  According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in its article in mid-June 1935, the parade would be a "truly cosmopolitan animal parade."

The Eagle stated that Brooklyn had the largest dog population in the United States, and claimed that Brooklyn's dogs were the happiest in the world (not scientifically proven.)  The parade paid homage not only to the animals entered, but also to the quality of care they enjoyed--the ASPCA after all, encourages responsible pet care.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Dog And Horse Parade, June 22, 1935

500 dogs were expected at the parade as well as 252 horses--and, as we can see, at least one goat with a cart.  Categories for prizes included happiest disposition, longest tail, longest ears, largest dog or smallest dog in the parade, to name just a few.  Floats accommodated the oldest dogs and horses and members of the A.S.P.C.A. were on hand to make sure that the animals experienced no suffering or want of water, food, and care. 

Entry form for the Brooklyn Dog and Horse Parade

Companies even got in on the parade, including Sheffield Farms, a dairy (the goat is pulling a tiny Sheffield Farms cart) and Hittleman Goldenrod Brewery of Brooklyn, pictured below.  The fire department had their Dalmations on hand while the Prospect Park Zoo entered a float carrying llamas and monkeys.  The zoo also brought along several of their Siberian Huskies to participate. 

Brooklyn Dog and Horse Parade, June 22, 1935

At the end of the parade, many dogs had received prizes and so did some humans.  Maybe Tara could write about them in her series on "Little Known Brooklyn Residents" if we find any more information about them!  Both winners were milk cart drivers, one named John Malay who was 71 years old and the other John Nolan, 81, affectionately called "Pop" at Sheffield Farms Dairy.  They drove their carts for over 43 and 68 years respectively in Brooklyn.  Pop had delivered milk to homes during the Blizzard of 1888 and again during the Blizzard of  1933-1934.  Each was given honors for his "humaneness to the succession of animals under his care."  A nice note to end on, I think.

And They're Off! - Part 1

Jul 1, 2010 8:30 AM | 2 comments


At this time of year thoroughbred horses and their jockeys race around the storied tracks throughout the country--Hialeah Park, Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Saratoga--names that conjure up the mystique, tradition, and excitement of horse racing.  But there are names that are all but forgotten in racing lore. For during the late 1800's to the early 1900's  the County of Kings was also home to the "Sport of Kings". With racetracks in Brighton Beach, Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn was for a brief time the racing capital of the U.S. The grandest of these racetracks was in Sheepshead Bay.


The much-anticipated opening of the Sheepshead Bay racetrack came on June 19, 1880. With its covered grandstand, two-ringed track and railroad leading up to the gates, Sheepshead Bay was a beautiful site. Created by prominent businessmen Augustus Jerome, August Belmont, and William Vanderbilt, the Coney Island Jockey Club had held their races at the Prospect Park Fairgrounds (confusingly, this was located in Gravesend, not near Prospect Park at all), but needed fancier and more prestigous surroundings.  The new Sheepshead Bay racecourse located on Ocean Avenue between Avenues X and Y was a magnificent structure with two tracks (one dirt and the first grass track in the U.S.), restaurant accommodations, a view of the ocean and the top jockeys and horses in America.   




The premier event was the Suburban Handicap conceived by James G.K. Lawrence who became the track's president. Just four years later he would create the Futurity Stakes which would become the richest race ever run in the United States. This booming business brought hundreds of jobs to the area and contributed to the develoment of this part of Brooklyn as a resort area with grand hotels like the Manhatten Beach, the Orient, and the Brighton Beach.




But the good times and economic boom would not last forever.  Horse race betting was banned by Governor Charles Evans Hughes in 1910 bringing about the demise of much of the racing industry.  Although the ban was lifted for the 1913 racing season, it was too late for the Sheepshead Bay Race Track, which was sold to the Sheepshead Bay Speedway Corporation, and converted to automobile racing.    


There are no markers to show where the racetrack once stood, the location being taken over by residential housing.  It exists in maps and atlases, in the stories told by older generations to their children, and in the form of the Suburban and Futurity events held at Belmont Racetrack in Elmont, Long Island. The legacy of the Sheepshead Bay Racetrack also lives on in the First Baptist Church of Sheepshead Bay, whose history we'll explore in Part II. I leave you with a short film courtesy of the Library of Congress, made by Thomas Edison in 1897, of a race at the Sheepshead Bay Racetrack.