Two New York City checks reimbursing property owners for damages to their buildings. Mayor George Opdyke.
Two New York City checks reimbursing property owners for damages to their buildings

Two New York City checks reimbursing property owners for damages to their buildings

New York City: 1863. Unbound. These checks measure approximately 8” x 3.75”. Both are printed in blue and have official red overprints reading, “Riot Damages.” Both were drawn on the County Treasury account at the Broadway Bank, one for $25 and one for $914. Both were signed by Opdyke with additional signatures by Matthew Brennan, the Comptroller, and Joseph B. Young, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisor, on October 3rd, 1863, and one on November 5th, 1863. The checks are in nice shape and both have the distinctive cross and circle hole punch cancellations used by the bank to indicate that it had been cashed and was invalid for future use. Very good. Item #009193

Between 13 and 16 July 1863, Lower Manhattan was beset with violent draft riots by mostly Irish working-class men venting their opposition to laws passed by Congress authorizing men to be conscripted into the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. President Lincoln directed that several regiments be deployed from Gettysburg to regain control of the city, however they didn’t arrive until the second day of the riot. In the interim, mobs destroyed public buildings, private homes (especially homes of wealthy abolitionists and African-Americans), and the Colored Orphan Asylum. Casualty estimates range from 2,000 to 8,000 injured and place the number of dead between 120 and 2,000. Total damage has been estimated as high as $5 million (about $100 million in today’s dollars).

To this day, these riots remain the most violent and costly civil disturbance ever to have occurred in the United States. A number of historians maintain that the riots were more about race than the draft and were the culmination of years of Irish resentment over black competition for working class jobs, especially at the docks and wharves. (See New York Draft Riots at History.com, Asbury’s The Gangs of New York, and Vodrey’s Blood in the Streets.)

An interesting documentation of the worst civil disturbance ever to occur in the United States. Surprisingly scarce. As of 2018, no other “Riot Damage” checks are for sale in the trade, and OCLC shows none held by institutions. Although draft riot checks occasional appear on eBay, the Rare Book Hub shows only one formal auction record; a pair of similar checks sold at a Swann auction (Sale 2344) in April of 2014 for $1,875.

Price: $1,000.00

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