Cold and rainy today.
This city is again the theatre of a dreadful riot in the Southern portion, by which many lives have been lost. It was between the “Killers” & the colored people, & was of a bloody and most desperate character—was at the scene this morning—saw several persons taken away, shot & otherwise wounded—several houses were destroyed by fire—saw no police on the ground.
Went to the Opera again this evening to see “Norma,” as before it was magnificently performed.
The riots took place in the neighborhoods of Sixth and South Streets, neighborhoods with a large African American community. The proximate cause of the riots was revenge but the precise grievance requiring vengeance has been lost to history. The Philadelphia Inquirer supposed that personal feuds were also at issue, a supposition that is likely correct. On the evening of October 9, a gang of “rowdies,” (including white and black men) allegedly lead by George Hosey, a black man, entered the city from Moyamensing, then a separate municipality (South Street was the border). They set fire to the California House, a boarding house for “coloreds,” driving its residents into the street. As they fled, they were assailed with rocks and bricks. When the fire companies came to squelch the fire, the “Killers” (or the “Stingers” as they were also called), discharged their weapons, killing at least one fireman instantly. The Philadelphia police were not armed at that time and were ineffectual. Mayor Swift called out the militia but dispersed them too quickly. The rioters simply went into hiding until the militia left and then continued the uprising in the wee hours of October 10. The Inquirer listed two dead and perhaps twenty wounded, with five of them not expected to live.
In the immediate aftermath, the newspapers cried out for remedies. The Inquirer called for arms for the police while the Public Ledger wanted more communication between the Philadelphia police and the police of the surrounding communities. The paper described how the Killers stood on the Moyamensing side of South Street, apparently persuaded the Philadelphia police would not come after them.
Nathan saw the Seguins and Rosa Jacques in Bellini’s Norma at the Walnut Street Theatre on October 8. On this night, the papers wrote of “immense crowds” at the performance. The critics declaimed Miss Jacques’ “bewitching singing” and anticipated “a brilliant future” for “the star of the greatest magnitude.”
“City Notices: Musical Gossip.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 11, 1849.
“Riots and Remedies.” (Philadelphia) Public Ledger, October 13, 1849.
“The Riots and the Police — A Suggestion.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 13, 1849.
“The Scene of the Riots.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 10, 1849.