The War of 1812 Riot

In the Spring of 1812, relations between the United States and Great Britain were heating up.  The Napoleonic Wars had disrupted shipping, and the British routinely impressed American sailors into service for the Royal Navy, while the British were suspicious of American ambitions in Canada (to give a quick and simplified review).  So, spirits were running high by the time President Madison called on Congress to declare war in June of 1812, and all over the country, troops were raised for the war.

In Norristown, the growing unrest was covered thoroughly in the Herald.  We have only a few issues from March 1812 on microfilm at the Historical Society, and they are full of the evil machinations of the British, specifically an attempt to lure the New England states away from union in the case of war.  The British agent, John Henry had second thoughts when the British government refused to pay him what he wanted.  So, he sold his orders from the British to the US government for $50,000.  The papers turned out to be valueless and Federalist papers (like the Herald) attacked the government.

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The Herald also covered British press gangs who did not recognize the US citizenship of foreign born Americans.

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The Federalists were generally against war with Britain.  The paper at the time was under the ownership of Charles Sower, the son of David Sower who founded the paper.  After the commencement of the war, Sower published something in the paper that provoked a violent reaction, but the stories on just what he published are in dispute.

According to a letter by Charles Sower’s nephew, Charles G. Sower the article was “when read in calmer times quite inoffensive, but it was violently distorted and misrepresented in a distant part of the county.”  That letter was written in 1866, and does not quote from the article at all.  He goes on to say, “A party was formed who came to Norristown in the night or early morning (I believe) broke into the office and did some little damage.   Thereupon some of Charles’s friends persuaded him to sell out believing his life was in danger.”

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An old exhibit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania gives a more detailed version.  It states that Sower published a letter in the Herald, making fun of a newly formed militia company in Philadelphia, particularly targeting its Irish-American members. It was the officers of that regiment who incited a mob, which, according to the exhibit catalog, caused a great deal of damage.  They also threatened Sower’s life.

Of course, not having the issue of the newspaper in question, we are left with uncertainty.  We do know that soon after Charles Sower sold the paper and moved to Uniontown, Maryland where he began another Federalist newspaper.  Charles Sower died there in 1820 at the age of 31.

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1 Comment

  1. I love this Blog! However, I will be unable to read or respond for the next 3-4 weeks.. We’re in process o moving and I’m cutting back on all but necessary emails for that time. ‘Be back at th end of July..

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