GLC Logo
Homepage  |   About Us  |   Historians  |   Classroom  |   Events  |        

Indexed by: Subject | Author | Date | Document Type
Listed Under:  Hate Crimes  |   Know-Nothings  |   Mob Violence  |   Ursuline Convent Fire

Boston Evening Transcript

Burning of the Charlestown Convent

Citation Information:"Burning of the Charlestown Convent," Boston Evening Transcript, 12 August, 1834


The subject of universal interest in the city today has been the work of destruction accomplished by a mob, last night and this morning, at and about the Ursuline Convent, on Mount Benedict, in Charlestown—resulting in the complete sacking of the principal building itself—a four-story handsome brick edifice, with wings, and front about eighty feet—together with the farm house, cottage, and every other building upon the premises, and also with the demolition or consumption by fire of all the furniture and chattels of every description, appurtant to the whole.

The circumstances which have led to the commission of this horrible outrage need not be discussed at length. We shall confine ourselves principally to a statement of facts, ascertained from witnesses of the scene, and from personal observation, and application to all the authorities in whom most confidence may be placed. It is sufficient, perhaps, to introduce the statement of the Selectmen of Charlestown, in regard to this subject, as it appeared in this morning's Gazette:

To the Public. Whereas erroneous statements have appeared in the public papers, intimating that the liberty of a young lady was improperly and unlawfully restrained at the Convent in this town, and believing that said publications were intended to excite the public mind against that Institution, and might result in unpleasant or serious consequences, the Selectmen, considering it their duty to endeavor to allay any such excitement, have, at the request of the Government of the Institution, fully examined into the circumstances of the case, and were conducted by the lady in question throughout the premises, and into every apartment of the place—the whole of which is in good order, and nothing appearing to them to be in the least objectionable; and they have the satisfaction to assure the public, that there exists no cause of complaint on the part of said female, as she expresses herself to be entirely satisfied with her present situation, it being that of her own choice, and that she has no desire or wish to alter it.


Charlestown, Aug. 11, 1834

The Post of this morning, also published a card from Mr. Edward Cutter, a respectable and well known citizen of Charlestown—not a Catholic—equally calculated, as that paper remarks, (had it come in season) "to allay the unjust excitement about the Nun." Mr. Cutter says: "On the afternoon of Monday, the 28th inst, the lady in question came to my house, appeared to be considerably agitated, and expressed her wish to be conveyed to the residence of an acquaintance in West Cambridge. I lent her my assistance; and on the succeeding day, I called, with the purpose of inquiring for the causes which had induced her to leave the Institution. I was informed that she had returned to the Nunnery, in company with the Bishop, with a promise that she should be permitted to leave in two or three weeks, if it was her wish. Since that time, various rumors have been in circulation, calculated to excite the public in mind, and to such an extent as induced me to attempt to ascertain their foundation; accordingly on Saturday the 9th inst, I called at the Nunnery, and requested of the Superior an interview with the lady referred to. I obtained it; and was informed by her that she was at liberty to leave the Institution at any time she chose. The same statement was also made by the Superior, who farther remarked, that, in the present state of public feeling, she should prefer to have her leave."

The attention of our citizens was first called to the proceedings at Mount Benedict, by an alarm fire given from the vicinity of the Convent a little after eleven o'clock, and caused by tar-barrels and other combustible materials having been set on fire, as is supposed, to draw together those who had undertaken to aid in the work of destruction, or whose aid was expected to be obtained by the display of this signal. We have been informed that some time previous to this is a small party, of the same description with those who subsequently constituted the mass of the assailants, had ascended the hill, reconnoitered the premises pretty carefully, and apparently satisfied themselves that no suspicion was entertained, or, at all events, no defence prepared within the walls, from which serious difficulty or delay might be apprehended in the prosecution of the plan. This was no doubt suggested by the circumstance of certain, or rather uncertain, designs against the Convent having been for some days the subject of general report. Immediate action or attempts, however, on the part of the disaffected, were not anticipated either by the municipal authorities, or the citizens generally; and this impression of at least present security had been artfully confirmed by a hand-bill yesterday posted up and extensively circulated in Charlestown, which intimated, substantially, that what was proposed to be done would be done on Thursday evening next.

A few moments after the signal was given, as above described, a gang of about fifty persons—as nearly as we can ascertain—but certainly at no time exceeding sixty—having gathered about the front door of the Convent, and made considerable noise by way of warning the inmates to flee, proceeded to affect a forcible entrance.

The whole party, we should observe here, were disguised. All of them, so far as we can learn, had their faces painted—some after an Indian fashion, and others in other ways; and a part of the number employed devices and disguises of various other descriptions, adapted to conceal the individuals concerned in the outrage, from recognition, at the time of its execution, and of course from punishment hereafter.

Meanwhile, the inmates of the Convent had all, we believe, effected their escape from the house, as admonished to do by the assailants in their first demonstrations about the entrance. These were the Lady Superior, five or six Nuns, three servant maids, and fifty-five or fifty-six children, the latter being pupils under the instruction of the Nuns, and placed there by their parents and other friends—the majority of whom we understand to be Protestants—belonging in this city and other places in Massachusetts generally, but some of them resident at greater distance. All of the inmates had retried when the alarm was given, and most were probably asleep; but the Nuns exerted themselves in rousing the children as fast as possible, and were successful in getting them all out of the Convent, whence they fled in great haste, through the rear of the building, and the garden attached to it, over the garden wall, scattering themselves in various directions, but most of them finding shelter in some of the houses not far distant from the premises.

Those only who delayed most for the assistance of the younger part of the number were personally molested, among whom it is said was the Lady Superior, upon whom some persons laid rude hands to hasten her movements. The efforts of this lady and the nuns who aided here were doubtless increased by the absence of three or four of their number, who at the earliest alarm devoted themselves to the removal of a sister sometime confined to her bed by a disease from which there is no hope of her recovery. Others perhaps were occupied in the care of one of their companions who is deranged, and who, in the phrenzy occasioned by the consternation and confusion of the horrid scene which surrounded her, and the frightful sounds of disorder which assailed her ears, attempted to throw herself headlong from one of the upper windows of the house, and was not without difficulty restrained, and in some degree pacified, by her sisters.

It is stated by some that the invalid was actually conveyed from the house by some of the assailants, (to a neighboring dwelling) and that she was treated by them with comparative tenderness. It is exceedingly difficult today to ascertain precisely the facts in regard to this point, and indeed in regard to the whole subject. This city and Charlestown are both full of contradictory rumors. We profess only to get as near the truth as we can.

Of the destruction of all the buildings by fire, however, there is no doubt. The fire was set, in different parts of the Convent, probably about 12 o'clock, after considerable time had been spent in breaking up the furniture, including three pianos, an elegant costly harp, and other musical instruments. The whole establishment was in a blaze before one, and was reduced to ashes in the course of an hour or two.

There was an insurance at the American office, on the building, to the amount of $12,000, and $2,000 also on the furniture; but no part of this will be available to the proprietors under the circumstances of this occasion. The policy does not apply to occasions of this kind.

Great numbers of people were attracted to the scene of destruction in the course of the night, most of whom probably arrived too late to prevent much of the harm which was done, had they been disposed and able to interfere to advantage. As many as ten or eleven engines from this city, besides five from Charlestown, and some from Cambridge, repaired to the spot, but only to swell the crowd of spectators. Our firemen were of course under the control of the Charlestown Engineers, and by these were requested, as we are told, not to play upon the buildings, no water was thrown by any of the engines. The nearest which could be used to much extent was that of the Middlesex Canal. In reference to all this part of the transaction which relates to the firemen, we presume that correct information will be furnished hereafter; meanwhile, we insert, by request, the following card, to counteract an impression circulated in some quarters today, to the prejudice of Company No. 13:

Boston, Aug. 12th, 1834

This is to certify that I was with No. 13 Engine Company on their way to the fire, and during their stay there, and hearing the command of the officer for the members not to leave the Engine, took particular notice that not a member left, and that the utmost order was preserved whilst there. CHARLES S. CLARK, Assistant Engineer

The Nuns, and those of the pupils whose relatives do not reside in the neighborhood, are now quartered with the Sisters of Charity in Hamilton street. Mr.Cutter, we understand, gave an asylum to a large number of them during the night. We are told this afternoon by one of the pupils, that the only one of their number who saved any clothing, was a little girl about 12 years of age, who had packed up some dresses in a larger handkerchief some time before the alarm was given, supposing there might be trouble sooner or later, and carried them away in safety. We cannot learn, indeed, that any of the children were personally injured or insulted in any manner.

The city is full of excitement upon this affair, and our readers must, as we intimated above, be patient till the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," shall be sifted out of the multitude of rumors which now besets us on every side. We agree only in the utter condemnation of the outrage.