Here now, a riotous architectural walking tour, mobacity included. In the 1840s, Nantucket was a prosperous whaling community as well as a hotbed of the abolitionist movement. No, really. Obviously, not everyone on the island was down for the cause and when abolitionists held a major convention on the island in 1842, things got ugly. We decided to take a stroll around town, checking out the architectural sites from this historic moment.
The Brotherhood of Thieves Riot of 1842 took place in mid-August during a six-day anti-slavery convention at the Nantucket's Atheneum Hall. Attendees included both nationally known abolitionists - Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Lenox Redmond, and Rev. Stephen S. Foster - and locals - Thomas Macy, Nathaniel and Eliza Barney, Absalom Boston, Edward J. Pompey, David Joy, and Anna Gardner. The previous convention in 1841 had gone off without a hitch, but then again, Rev. Foster had not made a speech anything like the one he was about to give.
According to Frederick Douglas, Rev. Foster never failed to "to stir up mobocratic wrath" and he did not disappoint that weekend at the Atheneum. His address, which would be subsequently turned into a pamphlet, was presented following the convention's passage of an anti-clerical resolution. Rev. Foster, not one to mince words, was deliberately inflammatory and insisted that slavery was aided and abetted by the church, proclaiming it the "Bulwark of Slavery," the clergy "a designing priesthood," and its membership a "Brotherhood of Thieves" (and much more). Word quickly spread across the island, in a pre-Twitter sort of way, that somehow Rev. Foster was calling the people of Nantucket all types of unsavory names. Cue the angry mob, "hooting, screeching, [and] throwing brick-bats and other missiles." The Atheneum
was worried about their insurance premiums asked the convention to find new digs, or to pay for the inevitable damage. Thus, over the following days, the abolitionists would head to Franklin Hall, Town Hall (only to get booted out) and the "Big Shop," all the while being chased by the venomous rabble with their rotten eggs, sticks, and stones. By Monday evening, "fearing . . . from developments apparent, that the meeting would again be assailed by the mob, stimulated by their passions to deeds of lawless violence," it was "deemed expedient" to "give up the meeting."
The Great Fire of 1846 would destroy nearly half of downtown Nantucket, so some of the architecture is altered from the original, but the walk is very much the same, minus the mobocratic wrath. Best of all, our tour concludes at the riot's eponymous restaurant, The Brotherhood of Thieves, for a toast to the abolitionists.Read More