Monthly Archives: November 2016

Toledo Race Riot of 1862

Transcribing the 1860 Census made me wonder if any of the people that were on that spreadsheet was affected by the race riot that occurred in Toledo in the summer of 1862.

Current events over the past few years have made riots become more heavily featured on news media. Naturally people have intense emotions and reactions to these occurrences. I, many times react in the same way to historical events of the same nature and this one that occurred in Toledo is one that personally effected me, especially after doing research on early black and “colored” citizens of the area.

The Toledo Race Riot of 1862 occurred in the month of July. It started due to a group of dock workers going on strike over wanting an increase in wages. Per the Toledo Blade’s article titled “Lawless Proceedings” published on July 8, 1862, the group of white men worked as “Stevedores” at the “Wabash Freight” company. They wanted an increase in their wages from 12 cents an hour to 15 cents per hour or they were threatening to strike. The supervisors on duty refused to pay the increased wage and the company hired other workers, both black and white to come and work on the docks at 12 cents per hour due to the striking Stevedores. When the striking workers saw this, they made threats to the agents of the company. The supervisors of the company contacted city officials and law enforcement due to the threats and threatening actions of the striking workers.

The mayor and law enforcement came and attempted to get the crowd to leave. The crowd began to have more mob like behavior with more threats and violence. The mob threw sticks, rocks, and bricks at dock worker and especially at the black workers who were employed. The Blade article stated that the mob used the above as “missiles” and that they surrounded the black workers and began physically attacking them. Many of the black men at the docks were beaten and attempted to flee. Most were able to get inside of the warehouse at the docks for protection where the company closed the door. During the melee, three black men were reported to have been injured at the docks, two had their arms broken, and one was stated to have his “head split open.” One of the black workers who was surrounded and being heavily beaten, took out a knife that was in his possession and stabbed one of the white attackers. He slashed two other white men with the knife then ran down the street to try to flee the mob. The white man who was stabbed was injured on his right side just below the lower rib. The injured man was reported to be named FITZGERALD.

Due to the anger over the white men being injured, the mob pursued the black man who stabbed the white men. Along their way they attacked all the black people they saw on the street and “pummeled” them according to the Blade accounts published on July 9th. The mob also attacked the homes of black residents.

As was stated in the post A Brief History of Toledo Public Schools, the City of Toledo was not segregated in earlier eras like it became in the 20th century. Black citizens lived among white citizens and there were no concentrated “negro” areas.

Someone in the mob was aware of a home where an “industrious black woman” lived. She was not named but it was stated that she lived in a house at the “edge of the city” near the canal. She was a widow and took in clothes and linen to wash as a business. The mob went to this woman’s house, and destroyed her house. The article in the Blade stated that they “demolished” her home and pulled apart placards and “threw them in the canal.” They then sought to kill her and her children. The woman was not at home as she had been working at the home of a white female citizen. The mob learned that the black woman’s children were being watched by her “German neighbors” and they attempted to get the children from the German neighbors. Word got to the neighbors in time where they were able to “steal the children away” with “one under each arm.” The mob attacked the home of the German family and destroyed much of their home and furnishings.

The mob continued to ransack the homes of all of the other known black citizens in the city at this time. They came to the home of William H. MERRITT (mentioned in the article Early Black Toledoans – William H. Merritt). Mr. MERRITT was the wealthiest black man in Toledo and lived at the corner of Jefferson and Erie Streets. One of his neighbors notified city and law enforcement officials who were trying to calm the mobs and they dispatched Reverend F.M BOFF a Catholic minister to the scene. He persuaded the mob not to destroy the home of Mr. MERRITT, the mob instead went across the street, on Erie Street and broke all of the windows out of the home of Benjamin TALBOT who was a negro blacksmith listed on the 1860 Census. The mob then entered Mr. TALBOT’s home and ransacked the inside of his home and destroyed all of his furnishings.

The mob continued their journey up through the Uptown district of Toledo. They attacked all the black people they saw on the street, including a black man who was walking down Monroe Street who was “severely beaten.” The mob also chased a black man who sought refuge at the home of a white attorney by the name of BASSETT who also called for city authorities and Reverend BOFF to come and talk down the crowd. The black man was safely able to escape the mob due to Mr. BASSETT’s assistance. Another black man was “pummeled” at 11th Street and Lafayette.

The city authorities finally were able to arrest over 20 individuals for rioting and assault. Articles regarding the court proceedings stated that the mob rioters were primarily Irishmen. One, by the name of Francis GAVIN was stated to have been the “ring leader” of the mob. The Blade published that Mr. GAVIN was new to the Toledo area and had solidified himself a “negative introduction” to the city. Other men named as perpetuators of mob violence were Patrick EARLY also described as a ring leader, James SHANNON, John HOOPER, James SMYLEY, Thomas TIERNAN, and James ROSS.

The city punished these men and others with what was considered a “severe” sentence of 30 days hard labor and a fine of $50 each.

Other newspaper accounts published accounts of the race riot that occurred in Toledo that day and stated that the rioters attacked black workers because companies were hiring negros over whites in Toledo.  Also that they felt they should not be paid the same wages as negros.  In a response to one of these publications, the Toledo Blade refuted those accounts of events.  The Blade published that whites and “colored” citizens had always worked side by side at the stocks and in various industries.  Also that due to the ongoing war, many white men had left Toledo to join the Army.  This resulted in a lack of available white men to be employed by area industries and so any man and especially any white man who was available to work would be able to easily find employment at a decent wage.


Early Toledo Black Citizens – William H. Merritt

William H. Merrit was first found in the Toledo area as being enumerated on the 1850 census at a local Inn in Lucas County, in the townshp of Waynesfield, Ohio in a business run by William Kingsbury. He was listed as a Barber and was 31 years old. On the 1860 census he owned property in Sylvania valued at $3,500, which was the most valuable property owned by a black man in the Toledo area in 1860. In his personal estate he held $500. William, in 1860, lived with his wife Elizabeth Merritt who was born in Ohio.
A review of early Lucas County marriage records showed that William H. Merritt Jr. was listed as marrying Elizabeth J. Ockray on July 24, 1851 and the marriage was performed by I. A. Newton in Lucas County.

Though it is difficult to piece together Mr. Merritt’s life from the small amount of resources available, perusing these records and various publications has shown that Mr. Merritt was an esteemed colored citizen of Lucas County and the City of Toledo. Mr. Merritt’s occupation was listed throughout the years (from 1850-1870) as a Barber, Hairdresser, and Wig Maker and during those decades he also housed other black/colored citizens of Toledo and Lucas County at his home and business address. Some businesses that were housed in his commercial location of 59 Summit Street, include the early photography studio of George Fields, Toledo’s first professional black photographer. Mr. Merritt also housed many young men and women who would go on to open their own businesses including various Barbers and Seamstresses/Dress Makers.

Due to a lack of available information, I could not solidly find anything regarding Mr. Merritt’s life prior to him moving to Northwest Ohio. A review of earlier census records was performed in order to check to see if any free black man named William Merritt may have been listed in Virginia. Since Mr. Merritt, per the marriage record on file in early Lucas County records stated he was WH Merritt Jr., it can be assumed that his father was William H Merritt Sr. On the 1840 Census there was a free man of color named Wm Merritt who lived in Brunswick County, Virginia with a family of 11 other free colored persons. There was also a white male on the 1840 Census in Brunswick County named Wm HE Merritt. He had enumerated in his household one free black male in the age range of Mr. Merritt of Toledo. He also had white family members and 6 slaves enumerated on the 1840 Census. Wm HE Merritt was also on the 1830 Census in the same county but had no free black household members and 9 slaves.

The most interesting hit in my research of the name “William Merritt” was that there was a reference to a William Merritt living in the Great Dismal Swamp of NC and VA in a book called “Swampers, Free Blacks, and the Great Dismal Swamp” compiled and abstracted by Harriette Thorn Kent. This was a very interesting tidbit of information since I have recently been reading about the black American “Maroon” communities of America. It is suspected that the largest settlement of black American Maroons (blacks who escaped slavery or indentured servitude and formed their own communities in hostile, hard to reach land areas) was in the Great Dismal Swamp. Archaeologists have found evidence that tens of thousands of black Americans lived alongside Native Americans in the swamp between the 17th century and the end of the Civil War.

Information regarding Mr. Merritt’s life in the Toledo area was found from a local publication regarding the Underground Rail Road history of Northwest Ohio and the Lathrop House of Sylvania. It showed that Mr. Merritt was involved as one of the 47 identified black/colored citizens of NW Ohio who participated and conducted activities of the Underground Railroad. It can be assumed that some of the individuals who lived with him in the 1850s and 1860s were participants in the Underground Railroad or conductors/assistants themselves. Mr. George Tucker identified as another black Toledoan involved in the Underground Railroad was also a Barber in the city.

An article published in the Daily Toledo Blade on December 30, 1858 stated as follows:

We are advised by the receipt of the proceedings of a meeting of colored people held at their school-house in this city, recently but which are too lengthy for our space, that a resolution was passed to send a delegate to the Under Ground R.R. Convention, to be held at Columbus on the 5th and 6th of January. Agreeable to previous arrangements a mass meeting was then held on Tuesday evening last, for the election of a delegate, resulting in the choice of G.W. Tucker. The officers of the meeting were W.H. Merritt, President, and M.H. Hawkins, Secretary

The information I did find on Mr. Merritt mostly involved his activities while living in the Toledo area. As stated he was a Barber and he owned valuable land in both the City of Toledo and in Sylvania. Mr. Merritt was a target of the 1862 Toledo Race Riot (I am currently working on a post regarding this riot based on local newspaper accounts during that era). Luckily the mob was persuaded to not ransack and destroy his residence on that day in 1862. It was stated that he lived on Erie St.

The Toledo City directory from 1867 through 1878 listed Mr. Merritt as “William H Merritt” and he had some advertisements shown in the directory. He was described as a “hair dresser and wig maker” with a business location at 59 1/2 Summit St and a residence at Jefferson and Erie Street in 1867. In 1874 his residence was at 88 Superior St. Both of these locations were in the heart of what is now Downtown Toledo and commercial buildings stand today where they once stood.

Per the 1860 Census entry, the Lucas County death register showed that Mr. Merritt died on December 9, 1879.