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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.