May 10, 1867
An incident occurs between firemen and a freedman.The freedman crowded the space the firemen worked on, leading to an altercation that caused a growing crowd of black men to fight.A riot broke out as a result.
Serious Disturbance. COLLISION BETWEEN FIREMEN AND NEGROES. ARREST AND RESCUE. THE MILITARY CALLED OUT TO DISPERSE THE MOB. GEN. SCHOFIELD ON THE GROUND. SEVERAL POLICEMEN BADLY WOUNDED. The Military on Duty all Night. INCIDENTS, &o. Yesterday afternoon, at about 6 o'clock, while the visiting Delaware firemen and the Richmond firemen were trying their steam engines at the foot of Eighth street, a disturbance took place in the large crowd assembled to witness the washing, which, in a very short time, grew to be general, and threatened to be very serious in its consequences. In the intense confusion and excitement, many particulars could not, of course, be gathered; but, after persistent and diligent inquiry, we have succeeded pretty well in getting at the facts concerning the cause and continuance of the disturbance, and we shall endeavor to give a faithful and impartial account. THE CAUSE. From the facts given us by those upon the spot at the time, the disturbance seemed to have commenced somewhat as follows: A freedman who was crowding into the space reserved for the firemen and their engines was gently pressed back by Captain Charters, with the request that he would stand aside. The freedman persisted in holding his position. He was pushed back with more force, and reassuming his position, struck at the Captain, who is not positive whether or not he was struck by him, as several blows came from the crowd who were standing around. A member of a City Company who was standing near the Captain was struck one or two blows, and became engaged with one of the colored men who struck him. This was the inception to the general disturbance. A large crowd gathered around the two who were lighting, and when policemen Snooks and Southall reached the scene they had been separated. Policeman Snooks arrested the colored man, and policeman Southall started in quest of the fireman, who had disappeared in the crowd. When policeman Snooks arrested the colored man, a crowd of freedmen closed in upon him, insistiug that he should not be arrested unless the white man was also arrested. Policeman Snooks assured them that the other man would be arrested, as Mr. Southall had gone after him. In the mean time, the latter being informed that the fireman had been attended to, and seeing the large crowd around Mr. Shooks, went to his assistance. The freedman was then arrested, and immediately upon this, a shout was raised by the blacks, who made a charge upon the party with the intention of rescuing the prisoner. A colored barber, who keeps a small shop at the corner of Eighth and Cary streets, raised a portion of his barber pole over his head, and waving it, exclaimed: "Come on, freedmen! Now's the time to save your nation." The crowd instantaneously caught up the spirit of the barber, and shouted his exclamation loudly, following the policemen and their prisoner in a menacing manner. The policemen had reached the corner of Eighth and Cary with him, when the crowd rushed upon them, and took him away from the policemen. The prisoner, as soon as rescued, ran up Cary street, pursued by policeman Southall, who overtook him at the corner of Seventh and Main streets, and again attempted to arrest him. The crowd commenced to throw bricks at him, several of which struck him and knocked him down, injuring him severely. His left shoulder was badly bruised by one of the brickbats, his right shoulder was bruised, and both of his hands were cut by something -- it is hard to say what -- as they were evidently not cut by a knife. THE MELEE. The melee was by this time well commenced, and from appearances threatened a riot such as Richmond has never seen. I The crowd, of which the large majority were blacks, increased every moment by hundreds, and the greatest excitement existed. Policeman Southall, as soon as knocked down, regained his feet, but had no sooner done so when he was seized by the left arm by one man, while another attempted to wrench his pistol from his right. In the mean time other policemen had arrived, and Sergeant Pleasants, seeing the condition of affairs, rushed to policeman Southall's assistance, and pointing his pistol at the head of the man who was trying to wrench the pistol from Southall's hand, forced him to let go. Captain Jenkins and Sergeant Pleasants then took charge of the prisoner and proceeded up Seventh street towards the second station-house, followed by the crowd, which had swollen to some two or three thousand persons. The blacks were defiant and boisterous, swearing that they intended to release the prisoner or die. When they reached the corner of Seventh and Broad streets, another rush was made upon the police, in which Captain Jenkins received a severe blow on the back of his head, and another on his jaw. Sergeant Pleasants was struck twice on the back. Policeman Reins, who had joined them, was also knocked down, and an attempt made to get his pistol from him. THE RESCUE. This attempt proving a failure, the police proceeded to the station-house, after being reinforced by three or four more policemen. When they reached the door of the stationhouse, the cry of "Freedmen to the rescue ; d -- d it, don't let him be taken in!" was raised, and a shower of paving-stones were poured upon the policemen, three of whom were struck. Then, with a yell, the crowd of freedmen, numbering several thousand, rushed towards the door, and, by main force, carried the prisoner off. The policemen did not fire upon them, as they had orders to use every other means but the extreme one of firing or taking life. The crowd carried the rescued prisoner off amid loud and defiant cheers. His name could not be learned. The mob seemed, after the rescue, entirely at sea, and without a purpose. It moved from corner to corner, and was attracted, in many instances, by a policeman moving rapidly in any direction; and with all their shouts and threats, they were not very dangerous, for one could walk quietly among them without being disturbed. SCENES, ETC. The scenes upon the streets where the disturbance continued were wild and exciting in the extreme. The constantly increasing crowd of whites and blacks, all anxiously inquiring into the cause of the disturbance, and yet aware that something serious was pending; the shouts of the blacks, and the rushing of the multitude, first to one place and then to another, all tended to increase the excitement and confusion. Policemen moved constantly in among the crowd, attempting in vain to disperse it. The freedmen shouted and made loud and defiant threats; the white men, who had very little to do with the row, looked on in amazement and with a calmness that was astonishing, and Young America of all colors seemed in its native element, from the boisterous and earnest manner in which it entered into the general disturbance. On the corner of Seventh and Main steets a crowd of colored men attacked a young white boy of about eight years, charging him with having in his possession a slungshot. The boy -- a son of Mr. Irving, the sexton of St. Paul's church -- became very much alarmed, and took refuge in Miss Bidgood's boardinghouse. A negro attempted to follow him, but was promptly prevented from entering the house by a gentleman -- one of the boarders -- who pushed him from the porch. A largo crowd gathered here, and the condition of affairs seemed very threatening. The freedmen swore that the boy must come out of the house, that the police must arrest him, or else they would take him in hand themselves. At the same time they were so persistent for the arrest of a white boy of eight years of age, who could have done but little in so general a row, they were endangering the peace and safety of the people of Richmond by attempting to rescue from arrest the one who had done so much to create it. The boy at length came out of the house, and the police, to protect him, carried him to the stationhouse. He was followed by a large crowd of colored men, many of whom threatened to destroy him. A largo crowd was assembled on Broad street near the Theatre, and gave vent to all sorts of threats. We were standing near a party of negroes, who were conversing very loudly and excitedly, and beard the remark: " Dem policemen shan't arrest dat man -- No, dey shan't. Shan't 'rest nobody!" One of the party remarked: "Look here, man, don't talk so loud, dare's a reporter standing dare!" " I don't care a d -- d if it is," said the other. " Time done come now for us to talk out, and stand up for our rights!" In several places the remark was heard: "We got Judge Underwood here now; we gwine to do what we please. He'll protect us!" A squad of policemen from the lower ward came oyer to the corner of Seventh and Broad streets, and stretching themselves across Board, ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd would not move, but defied the policemen. They walked close up to them and shook their fists in their faces, making such exclamations as, "I dare you to shoot; I jess dare you to shoot, d -- n you. We dare you!" The police would not fire upon them, as they had orders not do fire, in expectation of the arrival of the military. Mayor Mayo arrived shortly afterwards, and standing in the midst of the crowd, exclaimed: "I command this crowd, in the name of the Commonwealth, to disperse. Go to your homes, every one of you, white and black. I give you my word that it shall be all right in the morning." [A voice in the crowd: "Give us our rights; the colored man's rights."] This happened at the mouth of an alley on Seventh between Broad and Marshall streets. The crowd at first dispersed, but afterwards gathered on Seventh and Broad. DISPERSION OF THE CROWD BY THE MILITARY. General Schofield and General Brown shortly afterwards arrived in an ambulance. General Schofield addressed the crowd thus: "A great many of you don't know I am General Schofield, the commandant of this department. [Loud cheers.] I wish you all to go to your homes and remain there." The crowd did not move. Calls were made for a speech, but the General replied: "I did not come to make a speech; I want you to disperse immediately." The crowd still refusing to disperse, the General ordered the presence of the military. Accordingly, company "H," Twenty-ninth regiment, Lieutenant E. P. Colby commanding, was sent for, and was soon on the ground. The Lieutenant proceeded at once to perform his task; and well did he do it, for in a short time the street was almost as quiet as though there had never been a disturbance. Only one difficulty was necessary in restoring quiet. One of the soldiers had to knock a negro through a window to keep him within bounds. THE POLICE. We really feel proud of our police force and its chief. They behaved themselves, with but one exception, in a most gallant and discreet manner. Major Poe, the chief, was constantly on hand, and did much to prevent violence on the part of the crowd. The forbearance of the policemen, who were taunted, defied, and in three or four instances violently assaulted, deserves special commendation.
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“Serious Disturbance,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed December 2, 2021, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/596.