The Myerstown Riot 1793
The Myerstown Riot of 1793 may be of only passing interest to the historian. It has been ignored in all published books and thus far has held interest only for the residents of Myerstown and its immediate environs. But there is more to the story than merely an event in time or a problem for the courts, The student of sociology will discover in it elements of mass psychology and the snapping of racial tensions. It is one of the few instances of conflict between Pennsylvania Germans and Scotch-Irish elements in the Pennsylvania melting pot.
The building of the canal connecting the Susquehanna and Schuykill Rivers, now known as the Union Canal, brought many strangers to the Tulpehocken region. They came as workmen overseer and engineers. Most of them were Irish or Scotch-Irish men utterly unfamiliar with the dialect and customs of the Pennsylvania Germans who inhabited the region. Bad blood developed when the strangers poked fun at the unfamiliar culture they found among the natives and the farmers along the Tulpehocken made biting remarks about the work methods employed by the diggers of the canal.
On December 26 a group of canal workmen and supervisors were celebrating a belated Christmas by indulging in the spirits served at Thomas Millard’s tavern near Myerstown. At the same time a group of natives were courting Bacchus at the nearby tavern belonging to Frederick Pohlman. Martin Glass was among those who guzzled beer at Pohlman’s. He was nursing an insult which he had received that day from one of the canal overseers. He confided his grievance to “the godly crowd” that was there and together the Dutchmen set out for Millard’s Tavern where the strangers were wont to assemble. A quarrel ensued in which fists flew merrily. There were 12 in Glass’s party against 8 at Millard’s. The Irishmen got the worst of the encounter.
On the following day the canal people swore out warrants against Glass and his cohorts. Twelve canalmen offered to accompany Constable Benjamin Speicher in his expedition to capture the offenders. But Speicher declined their proffered help, saying that “amongst the inhabitants whose manners and language being foreign to each other, might be attended with bad consequences..”
In spite of Speicher’s protests the 12 canal men accompanied him. Soon they were joined by many others, so that almost a hundred men, all armed with clubs, went with the constable to make the arrests. The petition of the residents of Myerstown charged that one of the canal overseers brandished a pistol. Citizens were frightened; innocent young men were made prisoners. Some of those captured were beaten and abused. When the mob had rounded up most of the young men of the village they took all their captives to a magistrate and a few of them were bound over trial.
More than 100 townspeople signed a petition for redress against the canal operators. The affair was a matter of concern to Gov. Thomas Mifflin and other dignitaries of the law. The canal people countered by sending their own statement of the case.
The courts assessed fines against the young men who perpetrated the brawl at Millard’s and much smaller fines against a few of those who were leaders of the avenging mob.
Natives- Martin Glass, John Weiss, Martin Heffelinger, Jacob Grove (Groff), Jonas Eckert, Phillip Lootz (Lutz), Henry Blecker, Adam Kassert, George Weirick, George Sinkle.
Canal Men- Samuel Galbreath, Joseph Long, John Scott, Neal McHugh, John Fletcher, James Rennals, Robert Galbreath, John Quigley, Daniel O’Boyd, Patrick McHenry.
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