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Nativist Riots

Identifier: MC 97

Scope and Contents

This small collection contains pamphlets and correspondence on the Nativist Riots in Philadelphia in 1844. The pamphlets consists of both pro and anti- Catholic viewpoints to the cause of the riots. The correspondence consists mainly of that of Morton McMichael the sheriff of Philadelphia at the time of the riots. His correspondence and journal deal with organizing volunteer posses as well as the riots themselves. Correspondence also consists of letters from General Robert Patterson and Mayor John Swift.


  • Majority of material found within 1843 - 1845
  • 1843 - 1970

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

The nativist riots that occurred in the city of Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1844 were the culmination of anti-Catholic sentiments and the growing nativist movement in the city. Sparked by the fiercely-contested issue of the presence of the Bible in public schools, the riots resulted in at least 20 deaths and more than 100 injuries. The Irish neighborhood of Kensington was practically destroyed and two churches and a convent were burnt to the ground. On Thursday, May 9, Philadelphia County was placed under martial law. Several thousand of the city’s elite formed into divisions of “Peace Police” and assisted the militia in guarding the Catholic churches of the city for the next several days. A second riot took place in July in Southwark. The 1844 riots shaped both the growth and development of the city of Philadelphia as well as Catholicism in Philadelphia. They led to the consolidation of the city and county of Philadelphia and the establishment of an organized police force. Moreover, the riots resulted in the creation of a distinct Catholic subculture in which the Catholic population would establish its own network of parishes, schools, and social service institutions as a haven from a hostile Protestant culture. References: Feldberg, Michael. The Philadelphia Riots of 1844: A Study of Ethnic Conflict. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975; O'Toole, James M. The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008; Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our faith-filled heritage : The church of Philadelphia bicentennial as a diocese 1808-2008. Strasbourg : Editions du Signe, 2007.


0.2 Linear Feet (; 1 box)

Language of Materials



This collection contains materials related to the Nativist Riots (also known as the Anti-Catholic Philadelphia Riots, the Philadelphia Prayer Riots, and the Bible Riots) in 1844. The bulk of the collection is contemporary pamphlets published about the riots as well as correspondence from Morton McMichael the sheriff of Philadelphia at the time of the riots.

Custodial History

Accession Number 1990.055

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital reproductions of the Nativist Riots papers are available at: Collection/vudl:255898 Transcripts of Morton McMichael correspondence are available in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 80 number 2-3, June-September 1969

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Repository

6719 Calvert Street
Philadelphia PA 19149