This Day in History – March 28th, 1884

The Cincinnati riots of 1884, also known as the Cincinnati Courthouse riots, were caused by public outrage over the decision of a jury to return a verdict of manslaughter in a clear case of murder. A mob in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States attempted to find and lynch the perpetrator. In the violence that followed over the next few days, over 50 people died and the courthouse was destroyed. It was one of the most destructive riots in American history.

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Colonel C. B. Hunt, commanding the First Regiment of the Ohio Militia with four hundred men, prepared for trouble, ordering sections from each company to stay on guard at their Armory on Court Street, half a block from the courthouse. On the evening of Friday March 28th, 1884, several thousand people attended a meeting at Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine to protest the lenient sentence of William Berner and Joe Palmer. A large group of protesters then headed to the jail, apparently planning to lynch Berner. Unknown to the rioters, Berner was not there. He had been sent to Columbus, Ohio for his own safety, and had escaped en route.


Hamilton County Courthouse, Cincinnati, after the riots.

The Hamilton County Sheriff Morton Hawkins was also expecting trouble. He had thirteen deputies helping him guard the jail. The rioters managed to break into the jail through the Sheriff’s apartment, but left when they were shown that Berner was not present. Then more rioters arrived. The Sheriff had the alarms rung which had the effect of drawing yet more people to the scene.

The mob, now 10,000 strong, pelted the jail with bricks and stones. They overcame resistance by the guards and police reinforcements and managed to break in again. They were driven out by reinforcements from the militia armory who entered the building via a tunnel from the courthouse. After one of the attackers was shot dead the violence escalated. Rioters attempted to set the jail on fire using stolen kerosene. By the time the situation became temporarily under control late on Friday night, five people had died including one police officer and many more were wounded.

Saturday, March 29th, 1884, things escalated even further . . . as we shall see tomorrow.

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