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The Staten Island Riot: The Quarantine War September 3, 1858

ONE OF OUR REPORTERS proceeded to the scene of excitement this morning, and gives the following particulars of the occurrences:

The smoke from the destroyed buildings at Quarantine was plainly visible from the ferry landing at the foot of South street this morning. It hung like a pall over the place, and stretched along the north shore of the Island, almost, as fast as the eye could reach.

On approaching the landing in was discovered that the wash house Dock was on fire. Whether it caught from the buildings, or whether it was set on fire, in order to make a complete finish of the whole concern, we could not ascertain to a certainty. No person appeared willing to take the responsibility of giving definite information, fearing probably that they might criminate themselves.

The snip Ratter lies off the dock, being in course of fumigation and cleansing. A guard of 60 marines are stationed at the Government Dock, and keeping watch of the property. There is no danger, however. The people are rejoiced that the pest houses are destroyed and would do nothing to injure other property.

On approaching the grounds we observed breaches made in the brick walls, by a species of battering ram, through which the mob had entered the night previous. The grounds, we should judge, embraces several acres. The buildings present nothing but blackened walls, and the grass is strewed with the sick and the dead. We gave yesterday, the result of the first burning.

Last evening about 9 o'clock a mob of about 500 banded together at Fresh Pond, about two miles distant. In the meantime, a meeting of citizens took place in the village. While they were passing high sounding resolutions and making buncombe speeches in opposition to the Quarantine, the mob marched down, and commenced the work of destruction. They first fired 6 cottages along the boundary line, which is on the top of the hill. These buildings were occupied by the laborers and other employees. Next they went to Dr. Waller's house and set fire to that. The Doctor did his best to protect his property. He had a musket and proceeded to use it, but it was wrested from him and his house was burned down. The furniture was, however, mostly saved.

The mob next proceeded to Dr. Bissell's house, and set it on fire. thence they proceeded to the large Female Hospital, in which all the patients had been placed since the destruction of the buildings on the night previous. Nothing but the blackened walls of this building remain. One man, the second engineer of the Steamer Philadelphia, who was taken in on account of yellow fever, died just before the flames broke out. His body is still lying in the vicinity.

The Lower (Small Pox) Hospital was then attacked and burned down. The next building destroyed was Dr. Thompson's office at the landing, and the Wash House Dock. The Wash House is Government property, but has been used for government purposes for the past seven years. The fences about the grounds were still burning this morning, and no one seemed interested enough to put it out. The cottages of the employees having been fired, the mob rushed in under pretence of extinguishing the flames, but instead of so doing piled on armfuls of straw, which was saturated with turpentine and pitch, and gave such an impetus to the flames that it would have been impossible to extinguish them if the fire apparatus had been permitted to work.

The engines and hose of the village were brought out under pretence of aiding in extinguishing the flames. As it was not the intention to save the property, the hose were cut, and even if there had been a desire to do duty it would have been impossible. The fire burned without let or hindrance, and the buildings were all consumed. The entire number of buildings consumed is 11. The Hospital called the St. Nicholas was built in 1828, at a cost of $80,000. The Female Hospital was built in 1808, during the time that Mr. De Witt was Health Officer. It was considered one of the best hospitals in the world. It contained all the stores, drugs and culinary apparatus, all of which was destroyed. One house, occupied by Dr. Bissell was built when Dr. Rockwell was Health Officer at a cost of $7,000. We could get no information of the value of the remaining buildings.

Some sixty sick persons were in the hospitals at the time of the fire. Of these 20 were yellow fever patients, and of those 4 are dangerous. Sheriff Lockman, who lives seven miles distant, was notified last night at 10 o'clock of the state of affairs. He arrived this morning, and with his deputy, Reagan, proceeded to engage building in which to place the sick. One of the physicians informed us that a barge would be sent from the city this afternoon upon which all the sick could be placed, and then anchored out in the stream.

It was reported that one woman and two children died last night, and that two men died this morning. This the doctors deny most positively. They state that but one man died, and that was the 2d engineer of the steamer Philadelphia. Mr. Thos. Burns, the proprietor of a hotel in the vicinity, took two sick women and a child, which he found living in the open air, and conveyed them to a building near by, where they were cared for.

There was also a rumor afloat that 30 sick persons perished in the flames, but this can hardly be the case, although it is believed by many about there. Among the many rumors afloat is one that an attempt will be made tonight to burn the infected vessels lying off in the stream; as it was known yesterday that the remaining buildings would be burned, it is likely that the attempt will be made. It is the intention, as per report, to set fire to the rigging and save the hulls; but if the rigging is once on fire it will be a hard matter to save any thing.

Mr. Ray Tompkins, appears to be the most conspicuous anti-quarantine men in the neighborhood. He went to Castleton this morning for the purpose of inducing the Board of Health to make some provision for the sick. This morning word came to Dr. Bissell that the U.S. marines had possession of the Government buildings. He sent all his available men down to protest against it, but told them it would be no use to fight against so overpowering a force. He claims that the Government is obliged to give them proper notice before taking possession.

One of the Yellow Fever patients, lying on the grass, told our reporter that his wounds had not been attended to for two days. One of his hands was sloughed nearly off. The populace appeared determined not to rest until the Quarantine is removed, and express their determination to burn everything that may hereafter be erected. No arrests have been made and no warrants have yet been issued.

List Of Buildings Burned Last Night

A block of one story brick cottages, six in number, situated at the southwest angle of the Quarantine enclosure, fronting on the main street. These were occupied by the Health Officer's boatmen. The furniture was removed from them during the afternoon and evening, before the work of destruction began. Dr. Waller's residence, a two story and attic cottage. Furniture removed. Dr. Bissell's house, a three story brick dwelling, furniture destroyed.

The Woman's Hospital, a large two story brick structure, fronting the bay, with two corridors extending the whole length, supported by round brick columns. Dr. Waller's private residence, near the above hospital. This was a snug, old fashioned cottage, with piazza in front, and embowered in trees. Furniture saved. Dr. Bissell's office, a one story wooden structure, with piazza, and having two rooms.

The U.S. Inspector's Office, but belonging to the Quarantine establishment. It was a small building of two stories, and one of the oldest wooden buildings on the ground. The wash house, a large square building on the extreme end of the second pier. The whole wharf on which it stood, together with the bath house, was destroyed. In the latter place there were seven very large turtles, which were, of course, roasted alive.

The Health Officers Office, a beautiful little wood on building fronting, and near the boat landing. Dr. Thompson's and Dr. Waller's private desks were allowed to burn with it, and all the furniture excepting a pine case containing papers. Some venerable documents piled on top of it were also taken out. The Warden's building, situated on the end of the pier, and having a lantern and illuminating tower for the benefit of the shipping. It was used as a look-out by the watchman, and various articles were stored in it. The whole wooden pier structure on which it stood, including the dock used by the Health officer and the U.S. Barge officers, as a landing, was burned. A privy only was left standing. The Doctor's boatmen had taken the precaution to anchor the boats out of the reach of the incendiaries, or they would also have been destroyed.

The gate-keeper's lodge, a story and a half building, of brick, having a veranda neatly enclosed with blinds. This was the last building to which the Vandals applied their torch. to protect the old barn and sheds which stood near it on the opposite side of the gateway, the whole front portion, which was of wood, was torn down. Pat Tompkins took an active part in demolishing this little edifice. He climbed up the outside by the aid of sundry hooks, and began the work of demolition with his own hands; wrenching the blinds from their fastenings, and pitching them upon the ground. John Nodine, a Harbor Policeman, assisted with an axe, and two or three others broke down the railings, and little columns. 

The wood work being removed, the torch was applied to the inside, and it was soon a mass of ruins. Tompkins then hailed the hook and ladder boys, who promptly passed him up the end of a hook, which, with his own hands, he placed upon the sign over the gateway, and gave the order to "down with it," but it being secured by iron fastenings in the ends of the stone gate-posts, the job was a difficult one; it finally gave way, however, the cap stone toppling over, and nearly precipitating the chief of the mob to the ground. More than one was heard to exclaim, "Damn him. I wish he had broken his neck!" or some similar friendly remark. While this was going on, Engine Company No. 4, Tom Brady, Foreman, played a powerful stream of water upon the aforesaid old barn, to keep it from burning.

The Scene Inside The Walls

Entering through the breach in the west side of the wall, a large party came down to the Women's Hospital, and began to remove the patients. The Scene was horrible. The poor creatures, in every stage of suffering, some delirious from fever, and others in a dying state, were taken out upon their reeking mattresses, and placed one after another upon the green sward in the angle formed by the two walls, and about fifty yards from the building. One who had just died of yellow fever was placed in the covered bier, taken out and set down close by the others. One was pointed out as just breathing his last. The gaunt features and sunken eyes of these poor wretches as they lay scattered over the ground were perfectly visible in the light of the burning dwelling behind them.

Burning cinders fell in showers among them. In fall view before them was the noble edifice in which they had been sheltered and nursed, now wrapped in flame from basement to dome. The roar of the flames, the clouds of dense smoke rolling upward, the furious outcries of the mob, crazy with their infernal work, all formed a scene most horrible and impressive. At one time the mob were intent on carrying the patients out into the street, through the hole in the wall, for fear that they would be suffocated by the smoke and flames. It was only by strong remonstrance's by a portion of the party that this was not done. The covered way leading from the building to the privies was torn down so that the heat from it would not destroy the sick people. These attentions to the helpless creatures were a redeeming feature.

Special Meeting Of The Commissioners Of Health., Gov. King Present

The Commissioners of Health held a special meeting this morning, at which was Gov. King. They decided to send down a large police force to Quarantine and to hold the military in readiness for action in case of further disturbance.

[End of Article]


Article Information:
Article Name:The Staten Island Riot: The Quarantine War September 3, 1858.
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com | Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina
Source:  BIBLIOGRAPHY. The Brooklyn Eagle September 3, 1858
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