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Sunday, January 22, 2023

In This Beautiful Place

by Richard White
Copyright 2023. All rights reserved by the author.

“In this beautiful place, which has come to be the acknowledged center for tourists who visit the St. Lawrence River area, there exists a feeling of bitter hatred between the black and white servitors. It has no effect whatever upon the place as a pleasure resort, for the authorities hold both sides in check and will maintain the strictest order here.” 

On July 23, 1889, this was the observation of the Watertown Daily Times on Alexandria Bay’s recent race riot that was caused by a “bitter hatred,” and, in addition, it offered a preventive incantation to reassure guests and tourists that there would not be another riot because of strict measures to separate the
“bitter” blacks and whites. Although had been a riot in town, the public could still stay at a fabulous resort with all its amenities on a majestic river with great enjoyment.

However, there was no enjoyment on the 18th when two well-armed mobs tried to eradicate each other. The sole instigator of the evening was a local individual, John Gladd, a white longshoreman, whom the Syracuse Weekly Express on July 25 described as “notorious.” Gladd was widely known as “Crosseyed John,” but he easily could have been called “Stupid Crosseyed John.” For example, the night before
the riot, Gladd, for no stated reason, went to Flack’s saloon, where many black waiters from the Thousand Island House went after work and confronted them. The Express’ reportage did not describe Gladd’s exact behavior, but “he was removed by waiters and the proprietor.” There was no discussion on whether Gladd was thrown out physically or otherwise or whether what he said and/or did was obnoxious. Gladd did not appreciate his forced exit and felt he should have revenge.

So, the following night with 10-15 friends whom The Utica Weekly Herald labeled as “well-known characters,” united as a mob and followed Gladd back to Flack’s. The "characters" immediately attacked a small group of waiters with fists and broken pipes and drove them off without serious injury.

But these men quickly regrouped, gathered reinforcements and weapons, and went back to the saloon—there were about 20-25 of them, and they were anxious for action, as were Gladd’s mob, whose anthem during the riot was “kill the niggers,” wrote the Times on July 24.

At this juncture, references to firearms being used appeared in many newspaper accounts. For instance, on July 19, the Times coverage of the riot reported that “pistol balls whizzed through the air.” Fortunately, no one on either side was shot.

Most of the injuries were the result of the use of billiard cues and clubs. Such was the beating of “a quiet, inoffensive colored waiter who was trying to quiet the mob…and was severely clubbed and beaten for interfering,” Soon, law enforcement would arrive to restore order.

In the aftermath of the riot, there were two critical results. First, there was not any crowd control upon the arrival of Special Officer Fred Cornwall of Watertown, and the village constables, who could do nothing to quell or slow down, the rioters at first because of their belligerent state of mind. Each
Watertown Re-Union side was determined to have it out. The July 24 edition explained what Cornwall and his crew finally did to impact the fighting—“they used their batons freely and worked hard” and made nearly a dozen arrests. Gladd slipped away but was arrested the next day along with another ringleader. Later a Grand Jury indicted them, and the two-day trial resulted in sentences for the ringleaders of 35 days in jail, but charges against the rest of the white mob were dropped.

The black waiters were not indicted, let alone arrested. The second critical result was that the waiters protested at an evening indignation meeting on July 19, the night following the riot. At the meeting, the status of the waiters was emphasized—they were college students, not local tough guys or “characters” looking for opponents to beat. The Times’ coverage was clear but incomplete---it wrote that “it is understood that the colored employees contemplated reopening their troubles with the whites here” but does not present data on other “troubles.” In addition, research has not uncovered any specific racial incidents.

There was no report in the press that the racial tension, let alone the hatred, in the Bay subsided. And just as important, there was no assertion in the press that the riot was not serious compared with the racial violence in the South in an attempt to make it seem unimportant. But even in a picturesque setting in the North, deep seeded feelings and emotions brought two races to violence in 1889.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.