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The Snow Riot

6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

At the corner of 6th and Pennsylvania stood the Epicurean Eating House, a popular restaurant owned and operated by an African American, Beverly Snow.  In 1835, Snow’s Eating House became the target of local rioting.

The Nat Turner Plantation Uprising in Virginia, the growing number of blacks in the nation’s capital, and the increasing militancy of abolitionist literature produced conditions in which an isolated occurrence sparked widespread violence in Washington.  An alleged assault by a slave on Mrs. William Thornton, widow of a famous architect of the US Capitol Building and Octagon House, was that catalytic event.

According to the newspapers, this incident caused great excitement among the citizenry and “menacing assemblages” gathered in the streets.  Rumors spread that Snow had made disparaging remarks about the “wives of white mechanics who work at the Navy Yard.”  Denying that he had used such language, Snow escaped with the help of white friends to Canada where he remained.

The initial wrath of the white crowds centered on the looting and vandalizing of Snow’s popular restaurant. Ostensibly looking for abolitionist literature, the rioters then attacked black homes, businesses, and churches.  But most especially, the roving bands vandalized all black schoolhouses, destroying completely those operated by Mary Wormley and John F. Cooke.  Cooke escaped to Pennsylvania on a horse provided by an abolitionist white supporter.  He stayed there for three years before returning to Washington.

Despite a new city ordinance that blacks could no longer operate their own businesses, Snow’s restaurant reopened within a year under the ownership of Absalom Shadd, a black man.  Twenty years later Shadd liquidated his business for the handsome sum of $25,000.