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Friday, August 16, 2013

Charlestown Townies Burn Convent to the Ground, 1834

Image Courtesy of Archdiocese of Boston 

"In Charlestown, the townsmen grew increasing resentful as the Catholic presence increased in the town. Bishop Fenwick had built Saint Mary’s Catholic church, opened a Catholic cemetery, and developed the twenty-four-acre Ursuline Convent, all within the space of a decade. The convent, a boarding school for girls, especially rankled the laboring class, since the young women came mainly from wealthy Catholic and Protestant families in Boston. Historian Nancy Lusignan Schultz writes that “these families paid a yearly tuition to the nuns equivalent to a bricklayer’s wages for six months’ labor.”

"The workmen, frustrated by economic woes and the growing competition from immigrants for jobs, took on a nativist mentality that put the rights of Americans above the rights of immigrants. It didn’t help that Rev. Beecher and others were preaching about a Catholic conspiracy, rekindling seventeenth-century Puritan fears of popery and Jesuit priests that had sparked anti-Catholic hysteria more than a century earlier.

"All these factors came to bear on August 11, 1834, when the Ursuline Convent was set afire by angry workmen led by John Buzzell, a New Hampshire transplant who worked as a bricklayer. The frightened nuns and their young female boarding students rushed from the school as the building went up in flames, with the bloodthirsty mob intent on burning it to the ground. A newspaper later reported that the “pianos and harps, thrown from the windows when the Convent was set on fire, were subsequently burnt, and nothing but an old chair and one or two worthless articles were saved from destruction.”

Excerpt from Irish Boston, 2nd edition, by Michael Quinlin
Publisher: Globe Pequot Press
Publication Date: October 1, 2013 

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