Black Gotham Stories


After the riots, black leaders demanded reparations for destroyed property. The New York Police Department and the federal government dragged their feet. A case in point was the fate of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. In the late 1850s, the Church had moved from Centre Street farther uptown to Mulberry Street where it stood directly across the street from the New York Police Headquarters.

Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Philip's on Mulberry Street

St. Philip's Church, Centre Street

Its location prevented it from being attacked by the mob, yet it too was subject to heavy damage. Occupied as a barracks by the soldiers sent to quell the riots, it was left in a sore state of disrepair. It took years of protracted negotiations before the federal government offered St. Philip’s partial compensation for the restoration of the church.

Metropolitan Police Headquarters, Mulberry Street near Bleecker

Metropolitan Police Headquarters, Mulberry Street

The response of the city’s leading merchants, however, was swift, in large part due to their shame over their earlier pro-southern pronouncements. They set up a Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People Suffering from the Late Riots in the City of New York. Within weeks, they published a report detailing how they had gone about raising funds to compensate victims. Albro Lyons was one who received compensation.

The merchants motives were not purely altruistic. Their primary goal was to reassert the authority they had lost during the riots. They also needed to rehabilitate their reputation and that of their city, to assure the world that New York was once again a safe, welcoming place for businessmen and tourists alike. More than anything else, the merchants wanted long lasting social and economic stability that would keep the lower classes—both black and white—in their place. So their charity to the victims of the riots was not a freely-given gift, but was accompanied by assumptions, expectations, humiliations. Claimants were assumed to be imposters until proven “worthy objects of charity.” Only then were they provided a small stipend and menial jobs that emphasized their dependence and servile status.

The merchants also understood that they needed the endorsement of black leaders to accomplish their goals, just as black leaders—in particular Henry Highland Garnet, Charles Ray, and John Peterson—knew that they needed to support the merchants’ efforts if victims were to receive any kind of reparations.  


Report of the Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People Suffering From the Late Riots in the City of New York. New York: George A. Whitehorne, 1863.

"Schedule of Property Destroyed or Stolen by a Riotous Mob, July 12, 1863"

Albro Lyons's schedule of property destroyed during the riots