Farren Riots

Anti-abolitionist riots (1834)

The Anti-abolitionist riots of 1834, also known as the Farren Riots, occurred in New York City over a series of four nights, beginning on 7 July 1834. The reported impetus was an anti-American remark made by George P. Farren, the English-born stage manager of the Bowery Theatre and an abolitionist: "Damn the Yankees; they are a damn set of jackasses and fit to be gulled. He had also fired an American actor. Anti-abolitionists posted handbills detailing Farren's actions around New York.

The mob targeted homes, businesses, churches, and other buildings associated with the abolitionists and African Americans. More than seven churches and a dozen houses were damaged, many of them belonging to African Americans. Among the churches targeted was the Chatham Street Chapel, a former theater converted with money from abolitionist industrialist Arthur Tappan for the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney. On the night of 9 July, the Chatham Square home of Arthur's evangelist brother, Lewis Tappan, was also targeted; it was then being used as a church by black New Yorkers. The home and church of African-American Episcopal Reverend Peter Williams was visited as well. One group of protesters reportedly carried a hogshead of black ink with which to dunk white abolitionists.

That same night, four thousand rioters stormed the Bowery Theatre, where a production of Metamora was in progress as part of a benefit for Farren. Manager Thomas S. Hamblin and actor Edwin Forrest tried to calm them, but the rioters demanded Farren's apology and called for the deportation of blacks from the United States. The riot was apparently quelled when Farren had the American flag displayed, and blackface performer George Washington Dixon performed "Yankee Doodle" and the blackface minstrel song "Zip Coon", which makes fun of a Northern black dandy. The mayor then addressed the crowd, followed by Dixon. The crowd then dispersed.

At the time, the riots were interpreted as just deserts for the abolitionist leaders, who had "taken it upon themselves to regulate public opinion upon [the subject of abolition]" and who showed "smutty tastes" and "temerity". The rioters represented "not only the denunciation of an insulted community, but the violence of an infuriated populace. Dale Cockrell in his 1997 book Demons of Disorder partially agrees, stating that the riots were "about who would control public discourse and community values, with class at base the issue.



  • Cockrell, Dale (1997). Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World. Cambridge University Press.
  • Headley, Joel Tyler. Great Riots of New York 1712 to 1873'... (New York, 1873)
  • Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-509641-X. p.131-134
  • Wilmeth, Don B., and Bigsby, C. W. E. (1998) The Cambridge History of American Theatre: Beginnings to 1870. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Timeline related to the Amistad on the site of Mystic Seaport, accessed 27 August 2005.

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