The Patenburg Massacre

October 12, 1872, page 796

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The Sunday-night attack - burning negro cabins at the tunnel
Murder of a negro at Mrs. Carter's house
The murder of Powell
An obscure settlement called Patenburg, on the Muthockaway Creek, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, has just been the scene of an outrage which, although of less extent, recalls by its unprovoked atrocity the New Orleans riots of 1866, and the draft riots in our own city. Full illustrations of the scenes and incidents of the outrage are given on page 796. The facts, briefly stated, were as follows:

In the neighborhood of Patenburg the railroad now building from Easton to Perth Amboy is to run through the Musconetcong Mountain by a tunnel which will be a mile in length. Work is in progress in this tunnel at both ends. The approach to the tunnel from the east is by a deep cut, on which large gangs of laborers are now employed, some white an others black. The Negroes work in gangs separate from the whites, and were quartered in log-houses on the south side of the cut, the quarters of the whites being on the opposite side. Immediately at the village of Patenburg, half a mile from the tunnel, the road skirts a mill-pond formed by a dam across the Muthockaway Creek. Here some heavy rock cutting is required to be done, and other gangs of laborers, all whites, are employed. About a mile further east, on the farm of a Mrs. Carter, there is some heavy earth-work in progress, upon which several gangs of colored men have been employed, who were quartered in shanties in that vicinity. In all there were about one hundred and fifty Negroes and between two and three hundred white laborers, mostly Irish, employed about the tunnel.

On Saturday, September 21, the laborers were paid off, and, retiring to their respective quarters, spent the evening in great jollity. The white laborers appear to have drank a good deal of whisky; whether the Negroes did is not known. Late in the evening a party of the latter went to the village on a serenading expedition, and on their return fell in with a party of Irish laborers, by whom they were violently assaulted. They succeeded in driving off their assailants, and retired to their own quarters.

The negroes immediately collected reinforcements, and, to the number of fifteen or twenty, advanced toward the scene of the first conflict. They were met near the same spot by a still larger party of Irishmen, armed with pistols and clubs, and, after a sharp fight, were discomfited, cut off from their quarters, and forced back to Mrs. Carterís farm. Here they obtained further help, and then endeavored to save the cabins of the first party, which had been already attacked by their assailants. The Irish, better armed and more numerous, fired upon them across a deep cut and drove them off. The abandoned cabins were pillaged, and the money which the poor fellows had received the day before, and which was mostly deposited in sachels left in the quarters, was stolen. The Irishmen then fired the cabins, and immediately got into a row among themselves, during which one of the number, named Colls, was killed, and his body left near the cabins.

During the night the Irishmen collected reinforcements, and next morning renewed the fight. By spreading the report that Colls had been murdered by the negroes, they roused their countrymen to the utmost frenzy, and a party of about 150 made an attack on the Negroes on Mrs. Carterís farm just at daybreak. Roused from sleep by the firing, the poor fellows fled in terror and confusion, closely pursued by the infuriated Irishmen. One of the negroes, Denis Powell, was shot, and left dying by the road. A portion of the fugitives sought refuge in the out-buildings around Mrs. Carterís house, under the porch, and elsewhere about the premises. The Irish demanded admission to the house, and when the brave woman refused, they beat in the door. Just at that moment a poor old Negro was discovered crouching under the porch. He was immediately shot, dragged out, and beaten to death with clubs. After searching the premises, and finding no one, they retired. On their way back they found Powell still alive, and falling upon him, beat out his brains with clubs and stones. Spying another fugitive, Oscar Bruce, in the act of climbing a fence, they shot him down, and then, jumping upon his prostrate form, stamped it and beat it with clubs until it was unrecognizable as the remains of a human being.

This murder ended the bloody work. The butchers withdrew to their quarters and disbanded. The leaders of the mob fled. To the disgrace of New Jersey, no determined effort was made by the authorities to arrest and punish the perpetrators of these horrible outrages. Inquests were held on the bodies of the murdered men; but the magistrates appear to be afraid to move vigorously, and the murderers are not only still at liberty, but seem likely to remain so. The Irish openly defy the sheriff, who dare not make his appearance among them. Five days after the massacre Governor Parker offered the paltry sum of $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the murderers, but meanwhile the opportunity passed. As three colored fugitives from the massacre have been arrested, while the main body of their assailants remain at large, it is reasonable to conclude that nothing but the pressure of public opinion will compel the authorities of New Jersey to do any thing toward bringing to justice the authors of this horrible outrage.


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