Share |
Stylized image of the face of an African American man.
Text logo of the Anti-slavery, Abolition and Agitation study section.


Study Areas



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

US Colored Troops

Year of Jubilee (1863)

20th Century History



Columbia's African American Community is Terrorized by White Mobs

The following articles were published in Samuel Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania, during August through October 1834.


The Columbia (Lancaster county) Spy, gives the following account of riots in that borough--

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday evening last, the first outbreakings of a riotous disposition were exhibited, and the windows of the houses of several of the coloured people were broken, partly on account of their own imprudence, and partly through the prevalent spirity of jealousy and animosity which pervades the country respecting that class of the population.--

On Tuesday night, however, the disorder broke out more violently, the passions of the persons who took part in the mob, and who generally consisted of minors with some older but not more reflecting heads among them, having been fired by a disturbance in the early part of the evening, represented by some as an attack, by the blacks, ona white man going to watch a lot on the outskirts of town, and by others as a defence of their property when assailed by violence. A band of persons, consisting in all of not more than fifty, then collected, and marched to that part of the borough generally occupied by the coloured population, attacked and injured a number of the houses with stones, disturbed the quiet of the place by shouting, and fired off guns occasionally though without any serious result.

The mob dispersed early, and the citizens, on Wednesday, assembled in town meeting, and made some additons to the police; and pledged themselves to sustain the peace of the city.

Editor's Notes: The dates of the weekend disturbances were August 16, 17, and 18, 1834 (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday). The date of Tuesday's violent disorder of was August 19, 1834. The African American neighborhood attacked on Tuesday was Tow Hill, located in the northeastern portion of the town. Many of the African American residents fled town for safety in the hills east of town, and in a location identified by historian William Frederic Worner as "Bethel's Woods."

Columbia's white employers, upset that many of their African American workers had been forced from town, sent notice to Lancaster County High Sheriff David "Dare Devil Dave" Miller for help. Miller responded with deputies, who helped round up the trouble-makers, but at a subsequent trial, none were convicted.

Riot at Columbia

Columbia, Pa. Sept 16, 1834.
Another exhibition of tha mad spirit of anarchy and violence which is spreading over the country like a flood, prostrating the barriers which have hitherto protected the lives and property of the citizens, and overthrowing the laws and good order of the community, was made in this place on Tuesday night last. At the dead hour of midnight--fit time for such deeds of darkness--a band of riotous persons assembled and attacked a house in Front street, occupied by a black man, the porch and part of the frame of which they tore down, the inmates leaving the building at the first alarm. Thence the mob proceeded to the office of another colored person, who deals in lumber, broke open the window and doors, rifled the desk, and scattered the papers along the pavement. After attempting to upset the building, they marched off, having gained "glory enough for one night." Such proceedings are disgraceful to the character of the town, subversive of the quiet and safety of the inhabitants and insulting to the laws under which we live.


Columbia, Oct. 4.
Thursday night last was one of bustle and alarm to all classes of our citizens at one hour or another, such as we have not lately experienced; the fury of disorderly men and the ravages of the destructive element of fire, conspired to make it a season of confusion and terror. About 12 o'clock a mob which had collected began their operations by stoning, forcing into, and destroying the interior, and furniture of several houses inhabited by coloured persons. Four dwellings were more or less broken and injured, the goods were scattered about and destroyed; one of the inhabitants, a black man, was severely bruised, cut in the face, and had one of his arms rendered powerless; and other violence was done to the persons and property of the class of people to whom he belonged.

These riots continued about an hour, and amidst great noise and shouting, and the sound of missiles coming in contact with the buildings, disturbed the rest of the citizens adjacent to the scene of action. The exciting cause of this exhibition of illegal tumult and devastation, was the reported recent marriage of a black man to a white woman, which rekindled the smouldering ashes of former popular madness, and afforded an opportunity to evil-disposed individuals to re-act past occurences of disorder and destruction. They however did not stop when they had punished the object of their wrath, but spent the residue of it upon others who had committed no fresh acts which called for punishment.--Spy.


Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania 14, no. 9 (30 August 1834): 143; no. 11 (13 September 1834): 175; no. 15 (11 October 1834): 240.

Worner, William Frederic. "The Columbia Race Riots." Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society 26 (1922): 175-187.

Image of the book cover of The Year of Jubilee, Men of Muscle.Covering the history of African Americans in central Pennsylvania from the colonial era through the Civil War.

Support the Afrolumens Project. Read the books:

The Year of Jubilee, Volume One: Men of God, Volume Two: Men of Muscle




About the AP | Contact AP | Mission Statement