"The Colored Orphan Asylum"

The Orphan Asylum (in Fifth Avenue, near Forty-Sixth Street) was fired about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The infuriated mob, eager for any outrage were turned that way by the simple suggestion that the building was full of colored children. They clamored around the house like demons, filling the air with yells. A few policemen, who attempted to make a stand, were instantly overpowered—several being severely or fatally injured. While this was going on, a few of the less evil disposed gave notice to the inmates to quit the building.

The sight of the helpless creatures stayed, for a moment, even the insensate mob; but the orphans were no sooner out than the work of demolition commenced. First, the main building was gutted, and then set on fire. While it was burning, the large wing adjoining—used as a dormitory—was stripped, inside and out. Several hundred iron bedsteads were carried off—such an exodus of this article was never witnessed before perhaps. They radiated in every direction for half a mile.

Carpets were dragged away at length; desks, tools, chairs, tables, books of all kinds—everything moveable—was carried off. Even the cape and bonnets of the poor children were stolen. The writer picked up fragments of vestments for a quarter of a mile down Fifth avenue. While the rioters stripped the building of furniture, their wives and children, and hundreds who were too cowardly to assist the work of demolition, carried them off. The wing, while yet unburning, swarmed with rioters, who seemed endowed with a demoniacal energy to rend to pieces, rob and destroy.

Shutters and doors were torn off and tumbled into the streets. These were seized and torn to pieces almost before they touched the ground, and, with everything else, carried off with surprising celerity. Several persons were injured, and it is supposed some killed, by the falling of shutters and furniture from the windows. Even the gutters were hewn off, and the chimneys tumbled down.

The fire-engines were there in great numbers, but were not permitted to work, except upon the adjacent buildings. What was very marked, as the destruction proceeded, was the absence of excitement. Things were done quietly and coolly by the rioters as if they were saving instead of destroying property. Mingling with the crowd—which amounted, perhaps to 5,000 or 6,000 persons—were many who were evidently not of them; but except in cases of incautious utterance, they were not molested.

One or two persons who attempted a remonstrance were summarily disposed of, being beaten and trampled under foot. There were some who, though they took part in the plunder, seemed to regret the occasion, and one—a drunken Irishman too, with bloated face, a gigantic fellow—whispered in the writer’s ear, with evident good will: “Take yer watch out ‘ yer pocket, honey, or some o’ the b’yes will take care of it for yer.”

“The Colored Orphan Asylum.” New York Tribune, July 14, 1863