New York: July 25, 1863.
Folio manuscript broadside on parchment, 19 x 14½ inches. Thanking the General Who Helped Suppress the New York Draft Riots. Old folds, some rumpling, especially to upper half, a few ink spots, some signatures starting to fade. Very good. Provenance: Erskine Hewitt Item #322463
An impressive broadside presented by the "Merchants, residents and property owners in the City of New York" to General Harvey Brown, for leading the suppression of the draft riots in New York in the summer of 1863. Gen. Brown's name spans the top of the sheet in large stylized letters, with a device featuring a laurel wreath superimposed over a crossed sword and saber, the whole sheet enclosed within a border of laurel leaves. Beneath the text of the tribute are the autograph signatures of forty-one of the merchants, residents, and property owners noted above, including: Peter Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, James W. Beekman, Mayor George Opdyke, F.H. Delano, William T. Blodgett, Denning Duer, William M. Evarts, Edward Minture, Cornelius Baker, E.E. Morgan, Edward Penfold and many other distinguished figures of the period.
The text reads: "Dear Sir; We beg your acceptance of the accompanying testimonial of respect and gratitude. Merchants, residents and property owners in the City of New York, we send this gift, not in recognition of your long faithful military career, [for much of that was spent in distant frontiers with few but your conscience and the enemy to bear witness to its bravery,] but we send it in testimony of that which we know, your prompt and efficient conduct in the suppression of the riot in this City during this month. Immediately on hearing of the outbreak you came yourself, brought all the force within your reach, and you remained until the rioters were punished and subdued; actively and uncompromisingly doing your whole duty as a soldier. Your memory will always remain with us safe from all detraction and beyond all forgetfulness."
The New York City Draft Riots were a series of violent uprisings in lower Manhattan in July 1863. The causes were numerous, although much of the unrest stemmed from the recent passage of Enrollment Act (or Civil War Military Draft Act), which was signed into law on March 3, 1863 and required the enrollment of every male citizen between twenty and forty-five years of age as well as those immigrants who had filed for citizenship, unless exempted by the Act. It set enlistment quotas for each state, and required states to draft men if they did not meet their enlistment quotas through volunteers. It also included the policies of Substitution (furnishing a suitable substitute to take the draftee's place) and Commutation (paying $300 to avoid the draft), which led to substantial resentment among working-class citizens not wealthy enough to pay their way out of service.
Although initially focused on the draft, the protests subsequently devolved into vicious race riots. The rioters were largely white and in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, claimed to fear that freed enslaved men would migrate to the city and take their jobs. Since Blacks were exempted from the draft, the Draft Act only heightened fears of Black migration to the city. The violence against the Black community in New York (as well as against abolitionists) was substantial: the death toll reached upwards of 120, and numerous homes and churches were burned. It permanently changed the demographics of Manhattan, as many Black families relocated to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or New Jersey. Resentment also stemmed from the fact that New York's economy was intimately tied to the South, in particular cotton, which passed through the city on its way to upstate textile mills. In fact, New York had such strong connections to the South that early in the war, then-mayor Fernando Wood, suggested to the New York City Council that New York secede from Albany and Washington, and declare itself a free city in order to continue its profitable cotton trade with the South.
Since most of the New York State Militia was fighting with Union troops at Gettysburg, the New York Police Department was the only force on hand to deal with the rioters initially, and they were badly outnumbered and underequipped. By day four of the riots, five New York Militia units had reached the city along with the 26th Michigan Volunteers and the 27th Indiana Volunteers, and were able to start restoring order. Eventually there were several thousand troops in the city and they brutally put down the remaining rioters.
Gen. Harvey Brown (1795-1874) graduated from West Point in 1818, and rose through the ranks through notable service in the Black Hawk War, Seminole Wars, and the Mexican-American War, ultimately being promoted to general at the start of the Civil War. In 1862, he was appointed commander of New York Harbor, and took over defenses for the entire city in 1863. He remained in New York for over a year and oversaw all military operations against the rioters.
The back of the frame has a note from a previous owner, A.J. Marino, explaining that he bought this item at Anderson Galleries in 1941, during an auction of the Erskine Hewitt Collection; "Erskine Hewitt was the grandson of Abram Hewitt who married Peter Cooper's daughter - Peter Cooper is one of the signers of this document."
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