The Philadelphia Nativist Riots
By Kenneth W. Milano
Published by The History Press, Charleston, SC., 2013. 160 pages.
In May of 1844, in Kensington, near Philadelphia, the Irish Catholics and the Nativists tangled in a three-day conflict that left destruction and death in the Kensington neighborhood. At the time, the Protestant Nativists prevailed in the reading of the King James Version of the Bible in the local public schools, and when the Catholics eventually pressed for the reading of the Douai, the Catholic version of the Bible, in the schools, a fierce clash of cultures erupted into carnage and bloodshed.
The Nativists were “native-born” families with established American residency before the Revolutionary War and who resisted the assimilation of the immigrant Irish newcomers into the local culture, considering the migrant refugees as alien, ignorant, and hostile.
Inflamed by the rumors that the Catholics wanted to suppress the Bible altogether, and fueled by lingering anti-Catholic sentiments, the Nativists gathered on May 6, 1844, initiating three days of riots that resulted in the burning of Catholic churches, a nunnery, a Catholic school, several blocks of houses and stores, and the killing of rioters.
Kenneth Milano has well-described these 1844 Kensington riots. He is well-grounded in the stories of these neighborhoods, as well as metropolitan Philadephia, having grown up in (and still living in) the locale of Kensington, where his mother’s German ancestors settled as immigrants from Bavaria. He co-founded the Kensington History Project, a community-based historical group that researches, lectures and publishes the history of Kensington and Fishtown.
Mr. Milano begins his account with the pre-American historical background of Ireland and the Irish in the late eighteenth century, and the subsequent migrations to America. Supplemental maps and photos represent the times and situations, offering us a glimpse into these years and places of Pennsylvania history. A chapter is devoted to each day of the riot with detail and drawings that illustrate the frightful events. An appendix lists each damaged building, the owner’s name, the location of the property, the date, and the property damage incurred along with a street map. The bibliography and government source citations will aid the researcher who wishes to read more about the affair.
This is an excellent local history reference that is well-written and illustrated. Its background of Irish persecution and discrimination reminds us of the generations of discord as the Irish sought to find their places in American society. This is one focussed depiction of one conflict that deserves this memorial.
The Philadelphia Nativist Riots is available from the author's web site at http://kennethwmilano.com/ as well as from RootsBooks.com and from Amazon at http://goo.gl/utVs5 and from other genealogy bookstores.