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Catonsville Nine

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Catonsville Nine
LeadersPhilip Berrigan
George Mische
Dates of operation1968
Active regionsBaltimore (Catonsville, Maryland)
IdeologyAnti-war Catholic leftism
OpponentsU.S. Selective Service System

The Catonsville Nine were nine Catholic activists who burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War. On May 17, 1968, they took 378 draft files from the draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, and burned them in the parking lot.

List of the Nine[edit]

Catonsville Nine Incident
Part of the Opposition to the Vietnam War
DateMay 17, 1968 (1968-05-17)
39°16′15″N 76°44′21″W / 39.270886°N 76.739219°W / 39.270886; -76.739219
Caused byVietnam War
GoalsDestruction of conscription cards
MethodsArson, theft, protest
StatusEnded, movement still active
Lead figures
Injuries and arrests
Injuries1 (minor)
ChargedPhilip Berrigan & Tom Lewis (3.5 years)1
Daniel Berrigan, Tom Melville, and George Mische (3 years)
Mary Moylan, Marjorie Bradford Melville, David Darst, and John Hogan (2 years)2
1Phil Berrigan & Tom Lewis were sentenced for both the Catonsville incident and the 1967 Custom House raid
2Sentenced to two years only since they were not considered leaders of the group

The Nine were:


George Mische and Father Phil Berrigan were prime organizers of the Catonsville Nine. The organizing process was very democratic, with lengthy meetings and voting by raised hands.[citation needed]

1967 Custom House raid[edit]

On October 17, 1967, Fr. Philip Berrigan and Tom Lewis raided the Baltimore City Custom House and poured blood on draft records as part of "The Baltimore Four" (with David Eberhardt and James Mengel) and were out on bail when they burned the records at Catonsville.[1] (The first documented action against draft files is reputed to have been by Barry Bondhus in Minnesota, who, along with other family members, carried human waste into a draft board and defaced draft records.[2])

1968 Catonsville incident[edit]

On May 17, 1968, the Nine went to the Catonsville office of the Selective Service on Frederick Road. They restrained an employee while gathering records into wire bins,[3] One SSS employee, Mary Murphy, attempted to save the draft records but was restrained by one of the Nine.[4] They then took the bins to the parking lot and set fire to them.[3] They then recited the Lord's Prayer and explained to news crews that they were protesting the Vietnam War. Three hundred and seventy-eight draft records were destroyed.[5]

Baltimore County police officers arrested the nine. While they were in jail, the group sent an apologetic letter and a basket of flowers to the clerk on duty at the office during the event.[6]

The Catonsville Nine were tried in federal court October 5–9, 1968, defended by William Kunstler. They were found guilty of destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.[7] They were also sentenced to a total of 18 years in jail and fined $22,000. Mary Moylan, Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan and George Mische failed to report for the beginning of their sentences. Daniel Berrigan caused considerable embarrassment to FBI by giving sermons at various events while a fugitive.


Tom Lewis had been sentenced to six years for a prior protest one week after Catonsville, and had three and a half years added to be served concurrently.[8] Fr. Daniel Berrigan was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison to begin on April 9, 1970. According to Anke Wessels, director of Cornell's Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy, "On the very day he was scheduled to begin his prison term, he left his office keys on a secretary's desk in Anabel Taylor Hall and disappeared."[9] Cornell marked Berrigan's impending imprisonment by conducting a weekend-long "America Is Hard to Find" event April 17–19, 1970,[10] which included a public appearance by the then-fugitive Berrigan before a crowd of 15,000 in Barton Hall.[11] On August 11, 1970, the FBI found and arrested Berrigan at the home of William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne.[12] He was released from prison in 1972.[citation needed] Lewis was released in 1971.[8]

The "Nine" inspired many other anti-draft and anti-military actions in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Milwaukee 14, D.C. 9, Silver Spring 3, Chicago 8, Harrisburg 7, Camden 28. Participants sometimes remained at the scene to be arrested, sometimes they departed in order to avoid arrest. It is unknown how many persons were not drafted because of these actions.

External videos
video icon Q&A interview with Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk on their documentary Hit & Stay, June 17, 2018, C-SPAN

As of 2009 the movement had morphed into a continuing movement with an emphasis on nuclear weapons. The so-called "Plowshares" actions, along with the Catonsville Nine and earlier actions, have been detailed online by Jonah House.

In popular culture[edit]

  • A book A Chronology of Plowshares Disarmament Actions (1980–2003) was compiled by Arthur Laffin.
  • The Catonsville Nine and Baltimore Four were the subject of the 2013 documentary Hit & Stay by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk.
  • The 1971 play The Trial of The Catonsville Nine—Gordon Davidson, director
  • The 1972 film The Trial of The Catonsville Nine—Gordon Davidson, director; Gregory Peck, producer
  • A documentary film, Holy Outlaw, about Daniel Berrigan—exists only on 16 mm.
  • A documentary about the "Plowshares 8"—In the King of Prussia by Emile d'Antonio
  • A documentary film about the event, Investigation of a Flame, was produced in 2001 by the filmmaker Lynne Sachs.
  • The Chairman Dances' song "Catonsville 9 (Thomas and Marjorie)",[13][14] in which “Thomas and Marjorie are depicted on their drive to Catonsville with homemade napalm on their laps, imagining their marriage in and after prison.”[15]
  • Dar Williams's song, "I Had No Right", from her album The Green World, is about the trial of the Catonsville Nine.
  • Adrienne Rich's poem "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children" makes numerous references to the Catonsville Nine and includes an epigraph from Daniel Berrigan during the trial ("I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence").
  • The song "War No More" describes the draft action of the Catonsville Nine. It was composed by Joe DeFilippo and recorded and performed by the R.J. Phillips Band.[16]
  • The Chip Taylor song "Nine Soldiers In Baltimore", an inspirational account[17]
  • A fictionalized depiction of the 1968 Catonsville incident occurs in the 2023 Showtime miniseries, Fellow Travelers.[18]

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (play)[edit]

Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote a play in free verse, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, about the trial. The version performed is usually an adaptation into regular dialogue by Saul Levitt. The play is based on a partial transcript of the trial.

In 1972 a film version of the play was produced by Gregory Peck. It cost $300,000 and Peck "lost every penny".[19]

In 2009, it was presented on a tour by a company called "the Actors' Gang" of Culver City, California, founded by film star Tim Robbins.[20]

The Trial and Prison (portfolio)[edit]

In 1969, while briefly released on appeal, Tom Lewis published a portfolio of etchings he made while imprisoned at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. It contains ten etchings, in a run of fifty copies, some printed with ink he had to scrounge together from ashes, coffee or cocoa powder. He wrote accompanying text and the cover was printed by fellow Catholic activist Corita Kent. The etchings depict the psychic torment of his fellow prisoners by suicidal thoughts, boredom or isolation, as well as scenes of police brutality.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Catonsville Nine File : Resistance". C9.digitalmaryland.org. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  2. ^ "Selective Service Fight". Retrieved September 3, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "The Catonsville Nine File : The Action". C9.digitalmaryland.org. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  4. ^ Quaid, Mary Lou Murphy. "My mother was the antagonist to the 'Catonsville Nine'". Baltimoresun.com. Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  5. ^ "Catonsville Nine – 50th Anniversary Commemoration". Catonsville9.org. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  6. ^ "The Catonsville Nine File : The Catonsville Nine File : Collection". c9.digitalmaryland.org. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  7. ^ "United States v. Moylan, 417 F.2d 1002 (4th Cir. 1969)". Scholar.google.com. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Dowty, Morgan. "Incendiary Etchings: Tom Lewis and the Catonsville Nine", Art in Print, Vol. 7 No. 3 (September–October 2017).
  9. ^ Aloi, Daniel (4 April 2006). "Legacy of Activism at Cornell". Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  10. ^ Stuart Lipton and Joseph Masci (April 16, 1970). "Weekend Activity Schedule Set". Cornell Daily Sun. Vol. 86, no. 120. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
  11. ^ Solowey, Fred (April 20, 1970). "Thousands Hail Berrigan and Peace". Cornell Daily Sun. Vol. 86, no. 122. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
  12. ^ "Grand jury indicts two for hiding Dan Berrigan". Cornell Daily Sun. Vol. 87, no. 63. Associated Press. December 18, 1970. p. 3. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  13. ^ "Catonsville 9 (Thomas and Marjorie)". Bandcamp. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  14. ^ "CATONSVILLE NINE RESOURCES". catonsville9.org. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  15. ^ Roden, Renée (29 November 2021). "This band wrote a song in honor of Dorothy Day. Now their album could help make her a saint". America - The Jesuit Review. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  16. ^ Listen to War No More on SoundCloud.
  17. ^ folkmaster, Author (2015-02-13). "CHIP TAYLOR – The Little Prayers Trilogy (Trainwreck)". Folking.com. Retrieved 2021-07-06. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  18. ^ MacArthur, Greg (2023-12-02). "Fellow Travelers Episode 6 Recap: 13 Story Reveals". ScreenRant. Retrieved 2024-05-03.
  19. ^ Mills, Bart (June 9, 1974). "Peck's gamble". Chicago Tribune. p. h64.
  20. ^ David Eberhardt The Play—The Trial of the Catonsville 9 at the writer's personal website

Further reading[edit]

  • Berrigan, Daniel. The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
  • Harrison, Dorothy Lilja (2010). Peace, Be Still. ISBN 978-1-4515-3745-1
  • Peters, Shawn Francis. The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0199827855
  • Polner, Murray -Disarmed and Dangerous
  • Lynd, Straughton; & Lynd, Alice (Eds.) (1995). Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
  • Zinn, Howard – A People's History of the United States
  • Mische, George (May 10–23, 2013). "'The Catonsville Nine' – Righting distortion". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2013.

External links[edit]