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African-American Victims Describe the New York City Draft Riots

On July 20, four days after federal troops put down the 1863 Draft Riot, a group of Wall Street businessmen formed a committee to aid New York's devastated black community. The Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People Suffering from the Late Riots gathered and distributed funds, and collected the following testimony.

Abraham Franklin 

This young man who was murdered by the mob on the corner of Twenty-seventh St., and Seventh avenue, was a quiet, inoffensive man, 23 years of age, of unexceptionable character, and a member of the Zion African Church in this city. Although a cripple, he earned a living for himself and his mother by serving a gentleman in the capacity of a coachman. A short time previous to the assault upon his person he called upon his mother to see if anything could be done by him for her safety. The old lady, who is noted for her piety and her Christian deportment, said she considered herself perfectly safe; but if her time to die had come, she was ready to die. Her son then knelt down by her side, and implored the protection of Heaven in behalf of his mother. The old lady was affected to tears, and said to our informant that it seemed to her that good angels were present in the room. Scarcely had the supplicant risen from his knees, when the mob broke down the door, seized him, beat him over the head and face with fists and clubs, and then hanged him in the presence of his mother. 

Wm. Henry Nichols 

Died July 16th, from injuries received at the hands of the rioters on the 15th of July. Mrs. Statts, his mother, tells this story: At 3 o'clock of that day the mob arrived and immediately commenced an attack with terrific yells, and a shower of stones and bricks, upon the house. In the next room to where I was sitting was a poor woman, who had been confined with a child on Sunday, three days previous. Some of the rioters broke through the front door with pick axes, and came rushing into the room.... Knowing that their rate was chiefly directed against men, I hid my son behind me and ran with him through the back door, down into the basement. In a few minutes streams of water came pouring down into the basement, the mob had cut the Croton [city] water-pipes with their axes. Fearing we should be drowned in the cellar, (there were ten of us, mostly women and children, there) I took my boy and flewout to the rear of the yard, hoping to escape with him through an open lot into 29th street; but here, to our horror and dismay, we met the mob again; I, with my son, had climbed the fence, but the sight of those maddened demons so affected me that I fell back, fainting, into the yard; my son jumped down from the fence to pick me up, and a dozen of the rioters came leaping over the fence after him. As they surrounded us my son exclaimed, "save my mother, gentlemen, if you kill me." "Well, we will kill you," they answered; and with that two ruffians seized him, each taking hold of an arm, while a third, armed with a crow-bar, calling upon them to stand and hold his arms apart, deliberately struck him a heavy blow over the head, felling him, like a bullock, to the ground. (He died in the N.Y. hospital two days after.) I believe if I were to live a hundred years I would never forget that scene, or cease to hear the horrid voices of that demoniacal mob resounding in my ears. I, with several others, then ran to the 29th street Station House, but we were here refused admittance, and told by the Captain that we were frightened without cause. A gentleman who accompanied us told the Captain of the facts, but we were all turned away. I then went down to my husband's, in Broome Street, and there I encountered another mob, who, before I could escape commenced stoning me. They beat me severely. 

Interesting Statement 

I am a whitewasher by trade, and have worked, boy and man, in this city for sixty-three years. On Tuesday afternoon I was standing on the corner of Thirtieth street and Second avenue, when a crowd of young men came running along shouting. Almost before I knew of their intention, I was knocked down, kicked here and there, badgered and battered without mercy, until a cry of "the Peelers [police] are coming" was raised; and I was left almost senseless, with a broken arm and a face covered with blood, on the railroad track. I was helped home on a cart by the officers, who were very kind to me, and gave me some brandy before I got home. I entertain no malice and have no desire for revenge against these people. Why should they hurt me or my colored brethren? We are poor men like them; we work hard and get but little for it. 

White Women 

Some four or five white women, wives of colored men applied for relief. In every instance they had been severly dealt with by the mob. One Irish woman, Mrs. C. was so persecuted and shunned by every one, that when she called for aid, she was nearly insane.

Source | Report of the Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People, Suffering From the Late Riots in the City of New York. (New York, 1863); from History Matters: the U.S. Survey Course on the Web,
Creator | Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People
Item Type | Pamphlet/Petition
Cite This document | Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People, “African-American Victims Describe the New York City Draft Riots,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 26, 2023,

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