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Astor Place Riot


ASTOR PLACE RIOT, in New York City on 10 May 1849, sparked by a long-standing rivalry between the American actor Edwin Forrest and the English tragedian William Charles Macready. The haughty and aristocratic Macready had already emerged as a hated figure among working-class audiences. Forrest, for his part, did little to discourage the flames of anti-British sentiment and class discontent.

On 7 May the two actors appeared simultaneously, just blocks apart, in separate productions of Macbeth. Forrest performed before cheering crowds, while Macready was forced from the stage of the Astor Place Opera House by a flurry of chairs thrown from the gallery. Macready prepared to leave the country, but members of the New York literati convinced him to complete his American tour.

On 10 May, the night of Macready's next performance, a pro-Forrest crowd of ten thousand gathered outside the Astor Place Opera House. The mob shelled the theater with stones and charged the entrance, only to be repelled when the state militia fired directly into the crowd, killing at least twenty-two that night; nine others died of their wounds within the next few days. Eighty-six men, mostly workingmen, were arrested. The clash out-side the Astor Place Opera House symbolized the growing cultural stratification in antebellum New York. Even a cultural icon as universal as Shakespeare had become a battleground of class sentiment.


Buckley, Peter G. "To the Opera House: Culture and Society in New York City, 1820–1860." Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1984.

Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Moody, Richard. The Astor Place Riot. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1958.

Stanley R.Pillsbury/a. r.

See alsoRiots, Urban .

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