Although many events contributed to rising racial tensions on Staten Island during the Civil War, the most explosive news was that of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the mind of Staten Islanders, the proclamation legitimized an illegitimate war, into which they did not intend to be drafted, and created millions of new competitors who would soon move north. The riots on Staten Island unfolded as follows:
July 14, 1863
Crowds gather separately, in several places on the North Shore of the Island, where loud hideous shouts of “No Draft” were heard. Rumors are circulating that a mob is about to launch an attack on the African American community on the North Shore. African Americans (especially in the McKeon Street vicinity) are worried about the rumors threatening to burn down their houses and church. Many begin to pack up and flee to New Jersey.
Tompkins Lyceum on Van Duzer Street is looted and all of the muskets of the Tompkins cadets were taken from the drill-hall. Simultaneously, another drill-room is robbed of muskets, this time near Stapleton Landing. Nearly 300 guns are estimated as stolen. Vanderbilt Landing is set on fire and the two engine companies that respond are barred from interfering.
July 15, 1863
The mob attacks the residents of McKeon Street, who live in mostly small one-story houses. Window after window is broken out on each house. Doors are torn off the hinges. Furniture and the contents of the homes are thrown into the street and set on fire. The African American community flees into the woods and seeks refuge on private property; some swim across the Kill van Kull to get to New Jersey
The Mob moves from Stapleton to Tompkinsville to New Brighton, past Sailors Snug Harbor to West Brighton and is stopped en route to Port Richmond by residents who hauled a cannon to the front of the town.
In the images below read "An Account of the Negroes Who Prepared to Defend Themselves Shortly After the Draft Riot of 1863." Also read Mr. William Ollife's eyewitness account of the riots below.