Joseph F. Smith and the New York Draft Riots, Part 2: 13 & 14 July 1863

By July 12, 2013

This is the second in a three-part series of posts about Joseph F. Smith?s experiences during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863.  See the first part here.


Image:  CHARGE OF THE POLICE ON THE RIOTERS AT THE “TRIBUNE” OFFICE, Harper?s Weekly, August 1, 1863, p. 484 [1]



Joseph F. Smith arrived in New York City on July 6, 1863, after an unremarkable journey from Liverpool (though he did mention with disappointment on July 4th that ?no demonstrations were mad[e] to commemorate the aneversery of American Independence,?[2] ).  He had been recently released from his missionary duties in the British Isles Mission, and was fulfilling an assignment to see several groups of Mormon emigrants safely into the U.S. and on their way toward Utah.  

After seeing the first group of emigrating Saints on their way toward Florence, Nebraska (the staging point for overland travel to the Salt Lake Valley), and while waiting for the remaining emigrant ships to arrive, Joseph F. spent several days touring New York City with other Mormon elders.[3]  He stayed with John W. Young, one of Brigham?s sons, in a hotel called the Stevens House, [4] located at No. 25, Broadway, close to the steamship docks and Castle Garden (through which the emigrants were processed, on the very southwestern tip of Manhattan Island).

While in Manhattan he did what any traveler would do:  he ate at restaurants, he saw the sights, and enjoyed himself capitally.  One day he toured P.T. Barnum?s American Museum, a popular attraction at Broadway and Ann Street, and came away most impressed with General Tom Thumb and wife and Commodore Nutt (Charles & Lavinia Stratton and George Nutt, three midgets in Barnum?s employ).  In fact, Joseph F. called Lavinia ?the prettiest little thing I ever saw,? and purchased a carte-de-visite of the Strattons and Nutt.[5]  He was also impressed with Ned the ?learned seal,? who played the organ.[6]  Another day Joseph F. Smith and John W. Young ?had a good swing? in the afternoon on Staten Island.[7]

Then the draft riots broke out.  In his diary on 13 July, this is what Joseph F. wrote:

[July 13, 1863; Monday]

Most of the day in the Office alone.  Partly arranged with bro. [Horace S.] Eldredge about going to Nauvoo.  to day is the seacond day[8] of drafting in the City.  When the provost Marshal of the 4th Ward opened the business a mob gathered around and threatened to tear down an[d] demolish his office, the City guard were sent for, and were soon drawn up in front of the premicies, when the momb [sic] closed in upon them from all sides so thick, they could not hold their arms.  One of the guard however discharged his gun & kill?d one of the mob.  the rest discharged their pieces indiscriminately amongst the croud.  they were then engaged in a hand to hand fight.  the mob disarmed the Guard, who broak & run in every direction, mob following as closely as they could hurling stones, bricks, s[t]icks and everything they could wield, shooting when they could.  Some women joined in and helped on the row.  several houses were set on fire and were burned down.  The negrows were as[s]aulted wherever found, and beaten and mauled to death.[9]  the police dared not interfere [except] only where they were in sufficient numbers to ensure safety from the mob.  several policemen were killed, some beaten to a complete jelley.  John [W. Young] and I went over to Williamsburgh[10] in the evening for some clothes?been to wash.  on our return, we saw the Street lighted up and went that way, when we found a Negrow Boarding house had been attacked by the mob and torne down and all that would burn thrown out into the Street and set fire to.[11]  Crowds were assembled in all the publick Streets, excitedly discussing the proceedings of the day?and of Government respecting the draft.  the bone of contention & riot seemed to be, the privelige granted by the government for any person being drafted to purchase his freedome for $300.00, while those who were not able to pay the money had to go to the war.[12]  troops were sent for from several quarters, but not many had arrived up till late in the night.  the Tribune Office was threatened, and several other publick buildings. [13]

Note Joseph F.?s observational tone.  He intersperses errand-running with descriptions of the day?s events, mined from other sources except for what he and John W. Young witnessed on their return from Williamsburg.  He does not pass any judgment on the moral implications of the draft or response to it; there is no emotional reaction to the events other than a general concern for public safety and order.  This was something happening to New York City and its residents, not to him, as he saw it.

The next day, 14 July, Joseph F. recorded the following:

[July 14, 1863; Tuesday]

This morning earley I was awakened by the Command of Officers and the heavy quick March of Soldiers, by the Hotel, Coming in to protect the City.[14]  More riots are expected, the ?long Shore? men have left their work and gathered up into the town.  I wrote out 60 [emigration] tickets for bro. [Horace S.] Eldredge.  the day is very warm.  In the afternoon accompanied John W. Young and others of the brethren, viz. William Wrighton and Moar Gilit from the valley, en rout[e] to England on a mission and Samuel Fenton from Philadelphia, up Broadway some 2 miles.  Great excitement, the streets near the public buildings were thronged to excess with police, armed Citizens, Crowds of fireman, fire bells ringing in all directions, and the greatest excitement prevailing in all Circles.  Public meetings have been called but nothing decided upon.  All the negrows have ?skeedadled,? leaving all the boarding houses & Eating saloons, some of which were closed entirely.  it is with difficulty that we can get even our meals.  Some of the mob threatened to burn down the ?Steaven?s House,? where we are lodging.  25 killed & wounded during the day.

Note again in this entry the formal tone in reporting events, though the experience was becoming something that was happening to Joseph F., chiefly in the form of inconveniences.  Black New Yorkers were dying in the streets, yet Joseph F. wrote about touring the riot scenes as if they were part of Barnum’s museum, and lamented the difficulty of securing restaurant food?the riots had not yet become a personally affective event for him.  He was simply an observer, an outsider.  That would change late on the night of 15 July, which I will showcase next in the final part of this brief series.

[1] Available online at, accessed 7 July 2013.  Son of the South has all the Civil War-Era issues of Harper?s Weekly, and their homepage for that periodical is

[2] JFS Diary, 4 July 1863, JFS Papers, MS 1325, Church History Library.

[3] Elders he spent time with include Horace S. Eldredge, William C. Staines, John W. Young, Joseph Felt, William Wrighton, and Moore Gillet.  None of them wrote accounts of what happened in the riots, as far as I have been able to ascertain, though several kept diaries during the period, including Eldredge and Felt.

[4] According to a New York Times article on Feb. 7, 1915, the building was erected in 1846 to house Delmonicos and the owners began their hotel service the same year.  Delmonicos moved uptown ten years later, but the hotel remained, under the auspices of one G.K. Chase.  ?British Landmarks,? available online at, accessed July 5, 2013.

[5] JFS Diary, 8 July 1863, JFS Papers, Church History Library.

[6] Barnum?s American Museum would burn down two years later, and after another museum attempt burned in 1868 he began his famous circus.

[7] JFS Diary, 12 July 1863, JFS Papers, Church History Library.

[8] The first day had been Saturday, July 11, and there were no reported incidents of violence.

[9] See ?Assaults upon Colored People,? part of the front page coverage in the New York Daily Tribune, 14 July 1863, available online at, accessed 7 July 2013.  The contributing reporter wrote that, ?As if by preconcerted action an attack was made upon colored men and boys in every part of the city during the day, crowds of from 100 to 500 persons hunting them like bloodhounds.  Several inoffensive colored men were dragged off the city cars and badly beaten, while a number were taken from carts and drays which they were driving and terribly maltreated.?

[10] Williamsburg was an old town that had been incorporated into Brooklyn by this point in time, across the East River from Manhattan.  Why they had to go all the way there to get their clothing is unclear, since there were likely dozens of laundries between Broadway and Williamsburg.

[11] JFS may be referring here to the Colored Orphan Asylum, which the mob cleared of inmates and anything of value, then torched to the ground in the late afternoon.  See the Tribune account mentioned above.

[12] According to one section of the Enrollment Act of 1863, draftees could pay $300 to hire a substitute to go in their stead.  Since this was about twice the annual salary of a workingman, only the privileged could exempt themselves from service in this way.

[13] Some of JFS?s account must have been drawn from the Tribune?s newspaper report; the fact that the Tribune office is mentioned specifically aligns with this supposition.

[14] Likely New York State Volunteers, several regiments of which were mobilized to suppress the riot.  The army would arrive later to help restore order.

Article filed under Biography Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives Politics Race


  1. The Stevens House was still the recommended headquarters for itinerant Saints (e.g., outgoing missionaries waiting for steamers to Europe) a generation later — I’ve read a lot of letters lately written on Stevens House stationery. And perhaps the reason for the Willamsburg laundry was because W’burg was where most Mormon immigrants lived while they were trying to earn the money to complete their travel to Utah. The traveling elders may have preferred to take their laundry there not only to give work to some Mormon sister, but also because their laundry would have included garments.

    I really like the way you have analyzed JFS’s observation/inconvenience/personal involvement in the way he writes about the riots, and am eager to read the next installment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2013 @ 7:37 am

  2. Very interesting, Nate. I wonder how much of this was JFS’s racial sentiments and how much was his sentiments towards Americans. Really enjoying this series!

    Comment by J Stuart — July 12, 2013 @ 8:01 am

  3. It’s a bit difficult to follow the course of the rioting from that long account in the Tribune–at least it would take longer than I have this morning–but one explanation for Bro. Smith’s apparent detachment could be that the rioting was not in his neighborhood. The Tribune‘s story describes attacks on persons and property in uptown neighborhoods–in the 30s and 40s–which can seem a long way from the Wall Street area where Bro. Smith was staying. The fact that he was able to travel unmolested to Williamsburg and back suggests that the rioting was still “somewhere else.”

    Comment by Mark B. — July 12, 2013 @ 8:04 am

  4. Joey: Thanks! I think this does betray JFS’ lack of concern for African Americans, with whom he had had very little experience up to this point in his life. Earlier, on his Hawaiian mission, he had encountered Rudolph W. Meyers’ wife of African descent (“a bouncing old collared dame”), and dismissed her criticism of the missionaries partially because of her race, with these words: “we do not make a practice of taking too long about collared folks especially the married portion of that fair sex (?) [sic]. we finde it hard to even finde time to talk [to] white folks of respec[t]ability & good sence.” (JFS Diary, 3 July 1857)

    Mark B.: Right you are. The riots took place all over NYC, and lower Broadway would remain untouched until the night of 14 July. I’ll discuss that more in the last post of the series, and will include a simple map that shows the several locations of the rioting.

    Comment by Nate R. — July 12, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  5. Ardis, thanks for your comments–the Williamsburg connection makes more sense now, especially with the concern for garments (although that still seems a long way to travel to get laundry done–having to walk or take an omnibus through the city and take a ferry across the East River to get there!).

    We’ll look into what’s going on with the spam filter. Not sure why it’s grabbing your comments!

    Comment by Nate R. — July 12, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  6. Knowing the details that JFS recorded in his journals, it is not surprising that he made mention of the riots, even when they were not having much impact on him personally. Good stuff, Nate. Anxiously waiting for part III.

    Comment by kevinf — July 12, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  7. Great Nate. Good work.

    Comment by jjohnson — July 12, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  8. This is fascinating work. This would be an interesting starting point to a project about the travel diaries of Latter-day Saints during the twentieth century. Whenever I am in the archives, I am overwhelmed at the amount of travel diaries.

    I wonder how representative JFS’s racial sentiments were compared to other Latter-day Saints who traveled internationally/ widely versus those who did not?

    Comment by NatalieR — July 12, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

  9. Very interesting. Do we have any more history on Stevens House?

    Comment by Brian Whitney — July 12, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

  10. Fascinating, Nate. I eagerly await part III.

    Comment by Christopher — July 12, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

  11. I should have added my kudos, Nate. Like Christopher, I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

    One personal note: having lived in New York during both 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy last October, I can understand being in a part of the city that is virtually unaffected by events that turn other parts of the city upside down. That helps me to understand what JFS might have been experiencing during the 1863 draft riots.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 12, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

  12. Thanks, Nate.

    Comment by David G. — July 12, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

  13. Thanks, Kevin, Janiece, Christopher, Mark, and David.

    Natalie: Great question. I smell an article topic or two! I have not examined many other travel diaries, so could not speak to the comparability of racial attitudes. Perhaps Max, David, Amanda HK, or one of our readers would like to tackle that question.

    Brian: It took me some time to track down the little info I could on the Stevens House. Ardis Parshall’s comment above includes more than I knew. I was hampered in my search by the fact that several other boarding houses were called the “Stevens House” between the 1840s and the end of the century. One still stands today, gutted and modernized as condos, on Front Street close to the Brooklyn Bridge. There are also a few pen-and-ink sketches of a Stevens House, but that building appears to have been in midtown, at 27th and Broadway.

    Comment by Nate R. — July 12, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  14. Very interesting, Nate. Good job.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 13, 2013 @ 12:11 am

  15. Love your analysis of tone. As mentioned above, this seems a poignant moment to analyze JFS’s developing racial views.

    Comment by Ben P — July 13, 2013 @ 8:24 am

  16. […] This is the third in a three-part series of posts about Joseph F. Smith?s experiences during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863.  See the first two parts here and here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Joseph F. Smith and the New York City Draft Riots, Part 3: 15-18 July 1863 — July 17, 2013 @ 8:56 am


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