June 11, 1837 Broad Street Riot

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.

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”.

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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.

June 10, 1944 Oradour-sur-Glane

The women and children were locked in a village church while the German soldiers looted the town. The men were taken to a nearby barn, where the machine guns had already been set up.

Oradour-sur-Glane-StreetsIt was D+4 in the invasion of Normandy, and the 2nd SS Panzer Division (“Das Reich”) had been ordered to stop the Allied advance. They were passing through the Limousin region in west central France, when SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann received word that Waffen-SS officer Helmut Kämpfe was being held by French Resistance forces in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres.

Diekmann’s battalion sealed off the nearby village of Oradour-sur-Glane, unaware that they had confused it with the other village. Everyone in the town was ordered to assemble in the village square to have their identity papers examined. The entire population of the village was there, plus another 6 unfortunates who were riding their bicycles in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

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The women and children were locked in a village church while German soldiers looted the town. The men were taken to a nearby barn, where machine guns had already been set up.

The Germans aimed for the legs when they opened fire, intending to inflict as much pain as possible. Five escaped in the confusion before the SS lit the barn on fire. 190 men were burned alive.

Nazi soldiers then lit an incendiary device in the church, and gunned down 247 women and 205 children as they tried to get out.

642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane, age one week to 90 years, were murdered in a few hours, the village razed to the ground. After the war, French President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village remain as is; a memorial to the cruelty of collective punishment, and the savagery committed by the Waffen-SS in countless places: the French towns of Tulle, Ascq, Maillé, Robert-Espagne, and Clermont-en-Argonne; the Polish villages Michniów, Wanaty and Krasowo-Częstki, Warsaw; the Soviet village of Kortelisy; the Lithuanian village of Pirčiupiai; the Czechoslovakian villages of Ležáky and Lidice; the Greek towns of Kalavryta and Distomo; the Dutch town of Putten; the Yugoslavian towns of Kragujevac and Kraljevo, and the village of Dražgoše, in what is now Slovenia; the Norwegian village of Telavåg; the Italian villages of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto. And on, and on, and on.

French President Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum in 1999, the “Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour”. The village stands today as the Nazis left it, 73 years ago today. It may be the most forlorn place on earth.

The story was featured in the 1974 British television series “The World at War”, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. The first and final episodes of the program began with these words: “Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead. This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road . . . and they were driven. . . into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then. . . they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle. They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War”.

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June 9, 1772 The Gaspée Affair

The customs schooner H.M.S. Gaspée sailed into Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island in early 1772, to aid with customs enforcement and collections. She was chasing the packet boat Hannah through shallow water on the 9th of June, when she ran aground in shallow water, near the town of Warwick at what is now Gaspée Point.

The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) was in many ways a world war, experienced in the American colonies as the French and Indian War.  The cost to the British crown was staggering, and Parliament wanted their colonies in America to pay for their share of it. The war had been fought for their benefit, after all, had it not?

intolerable-actsSeveral measures were taken in the 1760’s to collect these revenues. In one 12-month period, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act, and the Declaratory Act, and deputized the Royal Navy’s Sea Officers to help enforce customs laws in colonial ports.

American colonists hated these measures.  They had been left to run their own affairs for decades.  Many of them bristled at the heavy handed measures being taken by revenue and customs agents. Rhode Islanders attacked HMS St. John in 1764.  In 1769 they burned the customs ship H.M.S. Liberty in Newport harbor.  In a few short months, the “Boston Massacre” would unfold only a few miles to the north.

The customs schooner H.M.S. Gaspée sailed into Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island in early 1772, to aid with customs enforcement and collections. She was chasing the packet boat Hannah through shallow water on the 9th of June, when she ran aground in shallow water, near the town of Warwick at what is now Gaspée Point.GaspeePtaerial

A number of local Sons of Liberty met that afternoon at Sabin Tavern, opposite Fenner’s Wharf, from which the daily packet ship sailed to Newport Harbor. There they formed a plan to burn the Gaspée, and spent their evening hours casting bullets in the tavern.

They rowed out to the ship at dawn the next morning. There was a brief scuffle when they boarded, in which Lieutenant William Dudingston was shot and wounded. The vessel was then looted, and burned to the waterline.

Earlier attacks on British shipping had been dealt with lightly, but the Crown was not going to ignore the destruction of one of its military vessels on station. Treason charges were prepared, planning to try the perpetrators in England, but the crown was never able to make the case.  Unsurprisingly, it seems that nobody saw anything.

Lexington ReenactorsA few days later, a visiting minister in Boston, John Allen, used the Gaspée incident in a 2nd Baptist Church sermon. His sermon was printed seven times in four colonial cities, one of the most widely read pamphlets in Colonial British America.

The King’s “Tea Act” would lead to the Boston Tea Party the following year.  The blizzard of regulations that came down in 1774, the “Intolerable Acts”, would pave the way to the Battles of Lexington & Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill later in 1775.

The fuse to Revolution had been lit.  It was not going to be put out, easily.