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Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835

 
 
Reply Mon 3 Sep, 2012 12:06 pm
This wonderful book will reveal that the Civil War did not begin 1861. It really began on 1835. This book will remind you of today's November election demonstrates the same, but less violent dispute, about our African-American president and the rights of all Americans to vote and the non-African-American's attempt to block voting. This earlier civil war story indicates that African-American rights are still not complete yet and the war continues. BBB

Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835
by Jefferson Morley

Book Description
Publication Date: July 3, 2012

A gripping narrative history of the explosive events that drew together Francis Scott Key, Andrew Jackson, and an 18-year-old slave on trial for attempted murder.

In 1835, the city of Washington pulsed with change. As newly freed African Americans from the South poured in, free blacks outnumbered slaves for the first time. Radical notions of abolishing slavery circulated on the city's streets, and white residents were forced to confront new ideas of what the nation's future might look like.

On the night of August 4th, Arthur Bowen, an eighteen-year-old slave, stumbled into the bedroom where his owner, Anna Thornton, slept. He had an ax in the crook of his arm. An alarm was raised, and he ran away. Word of the incident spread rapidly, and within days, Washington's first race riot exploded, as whites fearing a slave rebellion attacked the property of the free blacks. Residents dubbed the event the “Snow-Storm," in reference to the central role of Beverly Snow, a flamboyant former slave turned successful restaurateur, who became the target of the mob's rage.

In the wake of the riot came two sensational criminal trials that gripped the city. Prosecuting both cases was none other than Francis Scott Key, a politically ambitious attorney famous for writing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” who few now remember served as the city's district attorney for eight years. Key defended slavery until the twilight's last gleaming, and pandered to racial fears by seeking capital punishment for Arthur Bowen. But in a surprise twist his prosecution was thwarted by Arthur's ostensible victim, Anna Thornton, a respected socialite who sought the help of President Andrew Jackson.

Ranging beyond the familiar confines of the White House and the Capitol, Snow-Storm in August delivers readers into an unknown chapter of American history with a textured and absorbing account of the racial secrets and contradictions that coursed beneath the freewheeling capital of a rising world power.

"Snow-Storm in August is the sort of book I most love to read: history so fresh it feels alive, yet introducing me to a time and place that I had little known or utterly misunderstood. After reading Jefferson Morley's vibrant account, one can never hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner' the same way again."
—David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story

Editorial Reviews

"Snow-Storm in August is the sort of book I most love to read: history so fresh it feels alive, yet introducing me to a time and place that I had little known or utterly misunderstood. After reading Jefferson Morley's vibrant account, one can never hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner' the same way again."
—David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story

"[Morley’s] plunge beneath the surface of history exposes realities more true to daily experience than executive proclamations or speeches in Congress. The book’s central motif is race, and the theme reverberates through a range of fascinating vignettes ... As an exploration of America’s capital city at a time when the fault line over slavery had become impossible to ignore, Snow-Storm in August deepens our appreciation of how slavery made a mockery of the founding and made the Civil War as close to inevitable as any event in our history."
—The Washington Post

"Morley skillfully weaves his several narrative threads into a vibrant and illuminating picture of the antebellum capital at a time when national stability depended on placating the owners of slaves ... [He] reveals a tangle of back stories that eventually lead deep into a tension-filled landscape of class resentments, provocative abolitionism and proslavery passions. It is a world peopled with vivid characters both black and white, among them, most intriguingly, the city's district attorney, Francis Scott Key, the author of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'"
—The Wall Street Journal

"An elegant, readable narrative ... Snow-Storm in August touches on themes still relevant today: unresolved racial tensions, simmering resentment over economic disparity, influence peddling among the powerful, and the red-blue divide between conservatives and progressives over whether human property — and their descendants — deserve the full benefits of the new nation's famously stated ideals."
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"In a crackling good tale of the deep impact of race and politics on a young nation struggling to create its identity, Salon Washington correspondent Jefferson Morley boldly and elegantly recreates a moment in time when free black businessmen mingled with their white counterparts while proponents of slavery and abolitionists struggled to co-exist in the nation’s bustling capital."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Jefferson Morley has vividly and factually recreated a largely lost but pivotal time in Jacksonian Washington, an emerging, still somewhat primitive capital city where racial tensions among its complex mix of white, free black, and enslaved residents inevitably lead to violence and push the debate over abolition into the houses of Congress and the President. The historical characters, famous and forgotten, come to life in affecting and surprising ways without fictional artifice, a tribute to Morley's meticulous research and empathetic narrative style."
—Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post

"Morley vividly recreates the episodes connected to the riot, and dramatically depicts the personalities involved, giving important insight into race relations before the Civil War."
—The Columbus Dispatch

"A sprightly social history of the convergence of pro- and anti-slavery agitators in the city of Washington during the explosive summer of 1835. . . . Salon Washington correspondent Morley ably weaves the many strands together: An enterprising restaurateur of mixed race found that his success aroused the ire of resentful white patrons; an impressionable young slave hoping to educate and free himself ran afoul of his white mistress; a Yankee abolitionist newly arrived in town disseminated incendiary emancipationist literature; and the famous author of 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' serving as Jackson’s district attorney, pursued his job of punishing vice and enforcing slavery. . . . Morley alternates the characters and scenes of action for a suspenseful tale, culminating in the court of law where Key upheld the country’s oppression of African-Americans and thereby helped shape the rancorous debate over slavery. . . . Elegant and nimble history of a series of events likely unknown to many readers."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Morley’s gripping, fast-paced narrative captures all the drama that encompasses a rich cast of characters that includes Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, Roger Taney, Sam Houston, and a host of others who inhabited the young nation’s capital ... Morley has given readers a noteworthy, insightful look into an often overlooked chapter in American history."
—Booklist

"Absorbing ... This book reminds us how deeply entrenched proslavery forces were in the nation’s capital and what a struggle it was for African Americans to receive justice and for abolitionists to be heard ... An enlightening account of racial tension in pre-Civil War America."
—BookPage

About the Author

JEFFERSON MORLEY is the Washington correspondent for Salon. He has worked as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post, The Nation, The New Republic, and Harper’s Magazine. His work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, and Slate. His first book was Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA.
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BumbleBeeBoogie
 
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Reply Mon 3 Sep, 2012 12:18 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
August 'Snow-Storm' Brought Devastation To D.C.
by NPR Staff- NPR Morning Edition
July 5, 2012

In 1835, Washington, D.C., was a city in transition: Newly freed African-Americans were coming north and for the first time beginning to outnumber the city's slaves. That demographic shift led to a violent upheaval — all but forgotten today.

Few of the city's buildings from that time remain, but you can still sense what it was like, if you sit in a park by the White House, as NPR's Steve Inskeep did with writer Jefferson Morley.

"The White House was very much as it is today," Morley says. "In the summer of 1835 it was a little shabby because they were constructing a new driveway, and there were workmen's materials all over the place, and people thought that was a little not quite appropriate, but that's the way it was for a year or two."

The look was appropriate, in a way, because American democracy was very much under construction in the 1830s. And Morley brings to light a lost tale of that evolving society in his new book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 — a tale that begins in that very park by the White House.

"On Aug. 4, 1835, there was a young man loitering here with a friend," Morley says. "He was 19 years old, a black kid, his name was John Arthur Bowen. ... He was the property of a woman named Anna Maria Thornton." Bowen had just come from a meeting of the Talking Society, a group run by a local schoolteacher dedicated to educating slaves and working for their freedom.

It was not the kind of activity that made white people comfortable. A Virginia slave revolt a few years had spurred some Americans to call for slavery's abolition — and also infuriated slave owners. So it was a dangerous environment for a young black man to leave a political meeting, and go out drinking in a park beside the White House.

Morley says Bowen was most likely pretty drunk when he headed back to the Thornton home nearby at 13th and F streets NW. "He picks up an ax, and he goes upstairs ... and on the first floor is where his mother sleeps in the same room with Mrs. Thornton, the woman who owns him. And at about 1 o'clock in the morning, he opens the door to their room and walks in. And his mother and Mrs. Thornton wake up to this sight of this young man standing in the door with an ax in his hand."

Bowen made no move, but Mrs. Thornton screamed, ran to the front door, and began shouting for her neighbors. "And this story starts to spread that Mrs. Thornton has been attacked in her bedroom by a slave with an ax," Morley says. Bowen was arrested for attempted murder after the story reached the ears of local law enforcement.

"A lot of whites thought that [Bowen] attacking his mistress was the beginning of a slave rebellion," Morley continues — which led to a lynch mob gathering at the jail in D.C.'s Judiciary Square, where the young man was being held.

The idea that a black man had possibly attacked a white woman added to the story's power — even though Mrs. Thornton, once she had recovered from her shock, was quick to tell people that Bowen had not meant to hurt her. "And nobody wanted to hear that," Morley says, "least of all, the district attorney, Francis Scott Key."

Author Jefferson Morley says the story of John Arthur Bowen's supposed attack on Anna Maria Thornton, his owner, took on a life of its own — even after Thornton proclaimed his innocence.

Yes, the man who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 1814 was, by 1835, a prominent lawyer. "In a lot of ways, he was really the prototype of the modern Washington lawyer-lobbyist," Morley says. "He had a nice house in Georgetown, he had nice neckties, he had a wine cellar, he had clients who paid big retainers." Morley calls Key a "political operator," who used his fame and his law practice as an entree into politics.

Key's political hero was President Andrew Jackson, who repaid his loyalty with an appointment as D.C.'s top law enforcement official. "So that is how Francis Scott Key came to prosecute Arthur Bowen," Morley says. "When this type of racially charged incident erupted, Key wanted to prove right away that he was in control, and that there was no threat to the slave order in Washington."

But Key couldn't control the fear and resentment of the white mob that had formed in the city. "And the mob just destroyed everything. The black schools, the black churches, the homes of the free blacks," Morley says. "They kind of ran wild, and the law enforcement was just nowhere to be seen. ... This went on for a couple of nights."

Washington hadn't seen that kind of destruction since the British invasion more than 20 years before. "Shock is hardly the word," Morley says. "This wasn't a foreign army that did the damage; this was Americans."

Morley says the riots of 1835 still resonate today — even though few people remember them. "The political debates about free speech, about property rights, about citizenship rights, those are actually still with us. And in fact, this is really when the formative moment of American politics really comes about, and you have this dynamic that we still have with us today: the red and the blue, right? The red states are conservative; the blue states are liberal. A lot was the same."

PHOTOS AND READING

http://www.npr.org/2012/07/05/156123569/august-snow-storm-brought-devastation-to-d-c

Read an excerpt of Snow-Storm in August
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