Cincinnati riots of 1829

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The Cincinnati Riots of 1829 were triggered by competition between Irish immigrants and African Americans for jobs in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.[1] As a result of the violence and destruction of their neighborhood, an estimated 1200 African Americans left Cincinnati altogether to found the Wilberforce Colony in Ontario, Canada.[2]

Those who remained in Cincinnati suffered white riots against them again in 1836 and 1841; by the latter date, they had strengthened their position in the city and used the political process to gain improvements.


Cincinnati in southern Ohio was in a northern free state, but it was also settled by many migrants from the Upper South, who traveled along the Ohio River to reach it. In the early decades, most of its residents were from eastern states, particularly Pennsylvania, but it was strongly influenced by the South. It was described as having the economy and policies of the South, while serving as a gateway to and having the aspirations of the "west,' as the developing frontier was known.[3]

During the early 19th century, with the development of the steamboats, shipping and trade along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers expanded dramatically, causing Cincinnati to grow rapidly. Its businesses attracted many new residents, creating a volatile, highly competitive environment. It was distinguished by a high rate of immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany from the 1840s on.

But Irish came as immigrants from the early 19th century on, especially with the need for labor as workers on the canals being constructed in Ohio from the 1820s to 1845, and for the National Road during the 1830s. These projects included the Miami and Erie Canal that was started in Cincinnati. The Irish competed with the growing number of African-American migrants to the city, many of whom came from Kentucky and Virginia.[4]

Between 1820 and 1829, there was a rapid increase in the black population of the city: mostly free blacks but also fugitive slaves from the South. The latter continued to be at risk of capture by slave catchers. The number of blacks in Cincinnati increased from 433 to 2,258 during this decade, while the total city population increased from 9,642 to 24,831 in 1830.[5] New residents crowded into available housing and often lived in poor conditions. Irish and blacks were both crowded into neighborhoods along the river, as most workers walked to work.

On 30 June 1829 the township trustees issued a notice that blacks had to post bonds or face being expelled from the town and from Ohio.[citation needed] Because of work opportunities with the steamboat industry and the river, Cincinnati had the largest black population of any city in the old Northwest through most of the 19th century.[6]

During the month of July 1829, ethnic Irish whites started to attack blacks and destroy their property, wanting to push them out of the city.[1] Some African Americans moved away, but others organized to defend themselves. Violence continued until late August, by which time almost 1,000 blacks had left the city. The town officials did little to defend the blacks until 24 August. On that day the Mayor, Jacob Burnet, dismissed charges against ten blacks who had been arrested; he imposed fines on eight whites.[7]

After the riots, in order to escape continued persecution, more than 1,200 black Americans moved to Canada, namely the Wilberforce Colony.[8] Evidence suggests that of the initial exodus, only five or six families made it to the Ontario colony in the first year.

Social tensions and competition resulted in white-led riots against African Americans again in 1836 and 1841. In 1840, more than 46% of the population of the city was foreign born, and they competed directly with African Americans for work.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Irish Ohioans". Ohio History Central. Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  2. ^ Nikki Marie Taylor (2005). Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati's Black Community, 1802-1868. Ohio University Press. p. 50ff. ISBN 0-8214-1579-4. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  3. ^ Nikki Marie Taylor, Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati's Black Community, 1802-1868, Columbus: Ohio University Press, 2005, pp. 14-16
  4. ^ Taylor (2005), Frontiers of Freedom, p. 21
  5. ^ "Population of the 100 largest cities 1790-1990". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 29, 2007. 
  6. ^ Taylor (2005), Frontiers of Freedom, p. 28
  7. ^ Beverly A. Bunch-Lyons (2002). Contested Terrain: African American Women Migrate from the South to Cincinnati, Ohio, 1900-1950. Routledge. p. 109ff. ISBN 0-415-93226-2. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  8. ^ Stradling, David (Oct 1, 2003). Cincinnati: From River City to Highway Metropolis. Arcadia Publishing. p. 28. Retrieved 2013-05-25. 
  9. ^ Taylor (2005), Frontiers of Freedom, pp. 21-22