The book’s title derives from the so-called “Snow Riot” of August 1835, when a mob of angry young laborers vandalized a restaurant at 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW operated by Beverly Snow, a free black. Compared to other great civil disturbances such as the race riots of 1919 or 1968, the mayhem and destruction in 1835 were almost negligible. Nevertheless, it was a shocking event for many Washington residents, and the underlying tensions were as strong as at any time in the city’s history.
It all began when Arthur Bowen, a slave belonging to Mrs. Anna Maria Thornton, got drunk one night and seemed to be contemplating murder. He came home late that evening and entered the widowed Mrs. Thornton’s bedroom carrying an ax. Maria Bowen, Arthur’s mother, had also been asleep in the room, and she awoke and quickly restrained her son, pushing him out of the house through a back door. Mrs. Thornton awoke as well and needless to say was terrified. She ran to get help from neighbors who returned to the house with her and heard, through the locked back door, the rantings of the inebriated young slave. “I’ll have my freedom,” Arther shouted. “I’ll have my freedom, you hear me? I have as much right to freedom as you do.” These were dangerous words for a slave to utter in Washington City in the 1830s.
Make sure you catch the book talk at Politics & Prose on Saturday, July 14th at 6pm.