Broad Street Riot

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Broad Street Riot
Part of Mass racial violence in the United States
Date June 11, 1837
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Causes Firefighters and marchers brawl
Result Arrests of involved
Parties to the civil conflict

Anglo-American rioters

  • Firefighters
  • Anglo-American locals

Irish American rioters

  • Funeral marchers
  • Irish locals

Law enforcement

Death(s) 0

The Broad Street Riot occurred in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on June 11, 1837 between Irish immigrants and American citizens.


Boston was a main place for immigrants to arrive in the United States due to its large seaport. Tension between Irish and English Americans was high, and led to the Broad Street Riot.


The riot began on June 11, 1837 when a company of American firefighters met with an Irish funeral procession on Broad Street. Fire Engine Company 20 was returning from a fire in Roxbury. Many of the firefighters went to a saloon nearby. Afterwards, while traveling back to the fire station, George Fay either insulted or shoved members of a passing Irish funeral procession. The Irish and firemen began to fight, but under the orders of W.W. Miller, the firemen ran to the station. Miller sounded the emergency alarm, calling all of the fire engines in Boston.

Although many of the Irish had left the scene, the fire companies continued to come as called. As the fight continued, local Americans and Irishmen joined the row. Eventually an estimated 15,000 people were included in the melee, although no one was killed.[1] Several houses were broken into and vandalized, and the rioters launched rocks and other missiles at each other. The fight was broken up when Mayor Samuel A. Eliot commanded 10 companies from the military to patrol the neighborhoods surrounding Broad Street.[citation needed]


On June 15, 17 people were forced to pay reparations of three hundred dollars, and to attend the nearest term at the Municipal Court. Mark Adams was held to bail, as witnesses reported him for breaking into homes. Fourteen Irish and four Protestant men that had participated in the riot were put on trial. Only three of the Irish men, John Whaley, John Welsh, and Barney Fanning were assigned hard labor in the House of Correction. John Whaley was sentenced four months, while John Welsh and Barney Fanning were sentenced two months. All four of the Protestants were found innocent.

The following Monday, June 18, military forces were located outside of the armories. When engines returned from duty, hissing and hooting was heard. Many people attempted to start brawls throughout the day, however none were successful.[citation needed]

References in popular culture[edit]

The riot was used as the basis of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones song "Riot on Broad Street". The narrative from the song differs from the facts as presented on the Celebrate Boston website. According to the website, the riot commenced between an engine company returning from a fire, and an Irish funeral procession. In the song, however, the firefighters are described as being on the way to stopping an ongoing fire at a brownstone. The song further describes the frustration of the firefighters halted by a funeral procession moving "way too slow". The song concludes with a lyric that the "brownstone lay in ashes", implying that the riot prevented the company from putting out the blaze. Regardless of the specifics of the particular element that sparked the riots, the basic underlying tensions between the Catholic Irish mourners and the Protestant Yankee firefighters was represented the same by both accounts.[2]

In November 2014, a restaurant named Broad Street Riot opened on Broad Street in Boston.[3]



  1. ^ Lane, Roger (1967). Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885. Anthem. p. 33. 
  2. ^ The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, "Riot on Broad Street", Pay Attention (2000), Track 11
  3. ^ McCarthy, Dan (November 11, 2014). "Broad Street Riot Soft-Opens in Former Blue Inc. Space Downtown". DigBoston.