180 years ago today, fire engine #20, “The Extinguisher” crossed paths with an Irish Catholic funeral procession, returning from a blaze in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
The fire company was entirely comprised of “Yankees”: protestants of old English stock. Ancient animosity were on display that day, and words were exchanged between the groups. A fight broke out and it turned into a brawl. Very quickly, the brawl became a full-scale riot.
There were fifteen hundred combatants at the height the melee. Houses were broken into, furniture smashed and thrown into the street. Mattresses were slashed, their contents thrown to the winds. Bricks, stones and anything else that could be picked up and thrown was used as a weapon, or hurled by one side at the other. It’s a wonder that more weren’t killed, there were scores of injured.
The fighting went on for hours, until Mayor Samuel Atkins Eliot called out the military to restore order.
Several participants were tried in the days that followed, and police courts sentenced several to periods of hard labor at the House of Correction. Police and military forces were stationed at Faneuil Hall, armories and churches around the city to prevent a recurrence, as local homeowners and shopkeepers petitioned the City of Boston for reimbursement of their losses.
There were a number of further confrontations, the latest on the 18th as crowds “hissed and hooted” at fire companies returning from a South Boston blaze. A number of combatants tried to re-ignite the brawl in the days that followed, none of them successfully.
The Baltimore Sun reported on June 12 that “four of the Irishmen were killed; a great number were badly injured and probably mortally”. The article went on to report that “It commenced with a funeral, and closed in sending its victims to a dishonored grave. Hereafter, let Boston hang her head in silence, and avoid the condemning verdict of the world. Let her in future prate no more about her devotion to morality, religion, and law; and last of all, let her not open her mouth, or the jaws of her press, to reproach the city of Baltimore”.
I know not what sort of inter-city rivalry existed between Baltimore and Boston at that time. In light of the “Black Lives Matter” riots of a couple years ago and the performance of that city’s Mayor and District Attorney, perhaps the editors of the Baltimore Sun need not have been quite so smug.
A “New England oyster bar & Atlantic Coast cookery” opened in November 2014, in Boston’s financial district, calling itself “Broad Street Riot”. Too bad they closed a year later, I would have liked to try them. There’s never a bad time for a belly full of cold water oysters.