Colored Orphan Asylum

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In 1850
Burning in 1863
Rebuilt on 143d Street

The Colored Orphan Asylum was an institution in New York City open from 1836-1946 that housed on average four hundred children annually and was mostly managed by women.[1] Its first location was on Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Street, a four-story building with two wings.

The Colored Orphan Asylum was founded in 1836 by three Quakers;[2] Anna and Hanna Shotwell and Mary Lindley Murray. It was one of the first of its kind in the United States to take in black children whose parents had died, or were not able to take care of them.[3] In 1846 Dr. James McCune Smith, the country's first licensed African American medical doctor, became the orphanage's medical director.[3] The orphanage moved several times in Manhattan.

1863 riots[edit]

In March 1863, federal draft laws became stricter. All male citizens between the ages of twenty and thirty-five were subjected to the military draft. The federal government used a lottery system to choose the men that were eligible for the draft. Males did have the opportunity to hire a substitute or pay the government three hundred dollars to avoid enlistment, but most working males couldn't afford substitution. Black males weren't eligible for the draft because they weren't considered citizens of the United States. Working-class white males who were furious about the federal draft laws rioted federal buildings and black neighborhoods.[4] The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned down by Irish mobs on July 13, 1863, during the first day of the New York Draft Riots. The children were led out the back door to escape.[5]


The asylum was rebuilt by the Quakers in 1867 on 143rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The operation moved to a new building in 1907, in Riverdale, Bronx. In 1944, the asylum was renamed the Riverdale Children's Association.[1] This building later became the Hebrew Home for the Aged.


  1. ^ a b "Colored Orphan Asylum - Encyclopedia of New York City". Retrieved 2015-12-03. 
  2. ^ Catherine Reef (2005). Alone in the World: Orphans and Orphanages in America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 13–. ISBN 0-618-35670-3. 
  3. ^ a b "MAAP | Place Detail: Colored Orphan Asylum". Retrieved 2015-12-03. 
  4. ^ "The New York City Draft Riots of 1863". Retrieved 2015-12-03. 
  5. ^ Gootman, Elissa (2003-04-07). "Recalling a Place of Sanctuary for Black Orphans". New York City: Retrieved 2015-07-12.