Letter from Sergeant John W. Rode to Albro Lyons, July 17, 1863

Click thumbnail to view larger, or here to view full size.
NYPL ID number: 1819711
Harry A. Williamson Papers. Sc Micro R-3984, Reel 1, Box 1, folder 3


July 17, 1863


Sergeant John W. Rode


Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations
During the draft riots, a mob stormed the Lyons's home three times before finally managing to destroy the interior and partially burn it down. The mob's goals were multiple but precise: they wanted to strike at the heart of the black family; destroy black property and what they deemed to be undeserved wealth; undermine black enterprise; prevent black sailors from obtaining “white” work on the docks; and finally eliminate black activism (in the form of Vigilance Committees) dedicated to the abolitionist cause.

After it was all over, a police sergeant wrote this note to Albro Lyons promising help. What caught my eye was the reference to “said drugstore.” I wondered whether it was Philip's drugstore located right around the corner. If so, how could it have been a safe meeting place for a white police officer and a black victim gathering up his few remaining earthly possessions?

I found the answer in a New York Times obituary of Philip. Unlike Lyons, Philip had made himself indispensable to his local neighborhood. He had forged a mutually interdependent relationship between himself and his poor Irish neighbors. Giving away medicines for free, Philip was performing an act of charity but he was also ensuring the stability of the neighborhood in which he lived and worked, and safeguarding his own position within it. Accepting his benevolence over the years, his poor Irish neighbors repaid him during the riots by protecting him and his drugstore, upon which they depended so heavily.



Sergeant John W. Rode, “Letter from Sergeant John W. Rode to Albro Lyons, July 17, 1863,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018, https://archive.blackgothamarchive.org/items/show/11/.