On the Morning of St. Patrick’s Day, 1837, Troy’s Irish immigrants woke to an annual indignation – mocking effigies hung around the city. Boys spent the morning parading one along River Street. A lone brave Irishman attempted to pull it down but was turned away by its defenders. He left the scene, returned with members of the Hibernian Society, and together they moved a second time toward the offending stuffed figure.
“Stones were thrown and the wildest disorder prevailed” at the intersection of Ferry and River streets in the heart of the city. The Irish were outnumbered, and during this short melee several men were injured, John Foster seriously. As word of the fight spread, rumors an Irishman had made an unprovoked attack on an American brought hundreds to the corner. “The crowd began to assume a fearful aspect,” one observer reported, “stones were flying in every direction.”
The nativist mob pushed the Irish up Ferry Street, abusing any unlucky enough to be in the way and beating two men severely. They sacked and busted the windows and doors out of Valleau’s store near Third Street. The Mayor, Recorder, and members of the Troy Common Council arrived on the scene and attempted to quell the violence, to no avail. At the end of the next block, at Fourth Street, the mob attacked and ransacked Felton’s store. The Mayor decided to order out the Citizen’s Corps, the city’s first line militia unit. Around noon they were assembled in uniforms at their armory. The men were issued three ball cartridges, loading one into their muskets.
Meanwhile, the mob was continuing to force its way up Ferry Street toward the emerging Irish neighborhood at Fifth Street and along the back of the city among the breweries. Irish from these areas went to the corner of Fifth and Ferry Streets attempting to protect their homes and businesses from being destroyed by the mob. Here a number of people were injured and a few arrests were made. Rev. John Shanahan of St. Peter’s Church “earnestly exhorted the excited Irishmen to retire to their homes,” and many did, leaving the streets crowded with nativists. At 1:30 the Mayor and Recorder arrived at the armory and ordered the Citizens Corps to stand down, but be ready to assemble if they were needed. The signal would be four taps on the bell at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The afternoon went more quietly, as the mob temporarily dispersed, but after about sunset they arrived in the square at the heart of the Irish neighborhood along Fifth Street at Liberty. This was a place known as “The Points” where several intersecting streets came together in a way reminiscent of New York’s Five Points neighborhood. The mob was more organized now and many carried guns and issued threats. Once they had assembled in a sizable enough force to keep the Irish at bay, they went on a rampage. Men fired muskets into the doors and windows along the street, wounding three Irish men and a girl, who was shot in the head.
Another of their targets was William “Billy” Wallace, a porter who was a well-known Democratic ward politician (brave enough in thoroughly Whig Troy). He had been born in Ireland and witnessed the 1798 Rebellion. Wallace was a founding member of Troy’s Hibernian Benevolent Society. He was eating supper with his sister when the mob arrived at their door. Almost certainly aiming to kill him, one of the rioter’s shots hit him in the face. Moving from Irish home to Irish home the nativists broke down the doors and ransacked the interiors, throwing possessions into the street and destroying their furniture. When they reached the far side of The Points neighborhood they were still firing. There they shot Joe Grymes in the groin – he died several days later.
At 7 o’clock St. Paul’s Church tapped out the call to arms and in short order police, watchmen, and constables were on the scene, along with the Mayor, Recorder and Councilmen. The Citizens Corps was reassembled and after some delay at the Court House marched into The Points with their weapons loaded. By then however, the mob had already had its way and had begun to disperse. The Corps were marched through the streets of the neighborhood in a show of force, and then to the jail on Ferry Street. Through the night the night watchmen were doubled and the Corps kept a watch detail at the jail. They were there to guard against any attempt to free those who had been arrested, some by the Mayor’s own hand. The remaining Corps marched back to the Court House where they were dismissed around 9 pm.
Estimates of the dead ranged from 2-4, with many more hurt, perhaps a dozen seriously. About 20 men, Irish and nativist, were arrested. Billy Wallace lay near death for days, but eventually recovered and served many years as President of the Hibernian Society, the wound on his face a reminder of the day the nativists had terrorized Troy’s Irish.
That summer, the Hibernian Society marched in the city’s July 4th parade and “with their banners and badges, their neat and tidy appearance, their good order and prompt attendance, in honor of the Anniversary of the Independence of their adopted country, attracted much attention, and commended them to the favorable notice of the numerous spectators of the procession.”
Illustrations, from above: an 1838 map of Troy (from the collections of the New York Public Library); a NYC advertisement asking Irish immigrants not to patronize Centre Market after they hanged an Irishman in effigy on the Liberty Pole there in 1841; and a twentieth century St. Patrick’s Day greeting card.