The Bold Brahmins: New England's War against Slavery, 1831-1863

The Bold Brahmins: New England's War against Slavery, 1831-1863

The Bold Brahmins: New England's War against Slavery, 1831-1863

The Bold Brahmins: New England's War against Slavery, 1831-1863

Excerpt

There was a din of rushing feet through Boston's cobbled streets that afternoon of October 21, 1835. Men came running from Central Wharf and India Wharf where columns of proud masts etched the graying sky. They poured out of insurance offices and barrooms on State Street, from the Exchange Coffee House on Congress Square, from the prosperous, red-brick countinghouses of Merchants Row. Many still carried the handbill that two prominent merchants of Central Wharf had ordered from the editor of the Commercial Gazette that morning -- "something to wake up the populace." The editor had minced no words. "A purse of one hundred dollars has been raised by a number of patriotic citizens to reward the individual who shall first lay violent hands on Thompson," he wrote, "so that he may be brought to the tarkettle before dark."

By one o'clock, most of Boston had read the handbill. The hunt was on. They would "snake out" George Thompson, the visiting, English antislavery leader, as the handbill exhorted. The proprietor of a leading oil-shop in the North End immediately closed his doors and ordered his assistants to procure "a bucket of green tar and be ready to tar and feather a -- Abolitionist." By three o'clock State and Washington Streets held a swirling mob that soon numbered between six and ten thousand men, said the Gazette . More conservative officials counted five thousand or less, still a considerable figure in a city of seventy-eight thousand.

But all agreed on one point. It was a well-dressed mob -- "a broad-cloth mob," the papers called it. Samuel Sewall, an eminent lawyer, wrote later that "the poor and laboring classes had little hand in it." One paper boasted that the mob contained "many of . . .

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