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DISGRACEFUL OUTRAGE. The Ursuline Convent of Charlestown was entirely destroyed on Monday night, by a MOB! We burn with indignation while we write the sentence; but the naked truth must be told. A lawless and infuriated mob, on Monday evening, attacked a convent- the residence of a community of secluded and unoffending females, and the seminary of education for the daughters of their fellow-citizens,- expelled the helpless inmates from their rooms- destroyed the furniture, and to complete their infernal work, set fire to the buildings, and succeeded in destroying whatever of combustible matter they contained.

Our readers were informed on Saturday, by a paragraph, extracted from the Mercantile Journal, that some excitement had been produced in the vicinity of the convent, by the supposed mysterious absence of a Nun. They were also informed by a paragraph in Monday's paper, that the rumors which produced the excitement were untrue. An explanation of all the circumstances, on which the exaggerated rumors were founded, was promised; and here, it was hoped the excitement would end; or, at least, that the angry feelings, that had been exhibited, would be allayed, and the explanation patiently awaited. But we have been disappointed. Lawless violence has taken the place of reason, and committed an act which deeply stains the character of our population, and calls for a prompt and decisive attempt to punish, in the most exemplary manner, the wanton and malicious offenders against the peace, the property, and the safety of the community. If we are to be governed by mobs, and punished by mobs, if we do not fulfil their bidding, or so shape our course as to please their whims and prejudices, (not always of the most reasonable character,) no man in the community is secure from personal violence. His house may be set on fire at midnight, and his wife and children sacrificed to appease the jury of a demon, whom he may never have injured.

At 11 o'clock yesterday morning, a handbill was issued from the office of the Morning Post, stating the following particulars of the proceedings of the mob:-

Fire-Outrage- It is well known, that for some time past a groundless rumor has prevailed, in Charlestown and its vicinity, that a young lady, by the name of MARY HARRISON, or MARY ST. JOHN HARRISON, placed in the Catholic Convent, as a candidate for the veil, has been secreted or abducted, through the machinations of the controlling agents of the establishment, and was not to be found by her friends. In consequence of this rumor, a great excitement was created in Charlestown, and open threats of burning down the Convent were uttered, but scarcely credited, til about 10 o'clock last night, when a large mob gathered round the Institution, and communicated to the inmates their design to carry their threats into execution, and gave them a certain time to retire. At this moment, the Convent contained twelve Nuns, and fifty-seven female scholars, some of whom were of a very tender age. One of the latter informed us, that at the first annunciation, all, or nearly all, the nuns swooned, and were not aroused by a sense of their dangerous situation, until the heralds of destruction returned and reiterated their mission, with threats of burning the Nuns with the building.

The unfortunate ladies then retired to the garden, carrying with them such articles of value as were within reach. In order to accelerate their flight, tar barrels were brought near to the walls, and ignited, and as soon as the building was deserted, the assailants entered, with flaming torches, and after flying through the apartments, which were fitfully illuminated, by the transient but glaring blaze of the torches, they were simultaneously applied at twenty distinct points, among the curtains and drapery of the rooms, and instantly the interior of the Institution was enveloped in one general conflagration. The astounded refugees at first gathered round the tomb, at the bottom of the garden, but were soon driven from the sanctuary, by the ruthless avengers of an imaginary wrong, and were compelled to fly to the adjoining fields and neighboring houses for safety. A large number found a retreat in the house of Mr. Joseph Adams, at Winter Hill. The mob burst open the tomb, and ransacked the coffins, but retired without offering any other outrage to the ashes of the dead. The fire was first applied about 11 o'clock, and the Boston engines, responsive to the tocsin of alarm, immediately repaired to the spot, but were prevented from acting against the fire, by the surrounded multitude, which, we are informed, were not less than four thousand in number. We understand that Mr. Runey attempted to read the riot act, but without effect; and the mobocrats did not cease from their exertions till the main building, together with the chapel, out-houses, and even the gardner's dwelling were entirely destroyed. The few articles that the nuns and scholars succeeded in conveying to the garden, were seized upon by the destroyers, and thrown back into the flames, and nothing was rescued from ruin except what was actually attached to their persons. When the nefarious undertaking was thoroughly accomplished, fragments of fire and combustibles were collected, and a bonfire built up, as a signal of triumph. A majority of the scholars were Protestants, some of whom have no relations in this vicinity, and their distressing situation, being stripped of every thing, is indescribably lamentable.

The threatre of the outrage, this morning, presented a melancholy scene- parents anxiously, but without avail, inquiring for their daughters, and brothers for their sisters- were to be met with on every hand. Thousands of spectators thronged the hill- some staring, more sorrowing, and a miserable few rejoicing, at the evidence of unparalleled desolation.

At 1 o'clock, P. M. a meeting of the citizens of Boston, was held in Faneuil Hall, by notification from the Mayor, for the purposes of adopting such measures as might be deemed necessary on the occasion. The public excitement was very great, and the Hall was crowded to suffocation. The Mayor briefly stated the reason for the meeting, which was then addressed by Josiah Quincy, Jr. Esq., Hon. Harrison G. Otis, and George Bond, Esq. The great crowd within the Hall and the tremendous heat of the atmosphere prevented our getting near enough to the speakers to hear them. But one spirit seemed to animate the meeting- a resolution to avenge the injuries done by the mob. The several speakers were loudly cheered by the acclamations of the multitude.

The following resolutions were offered by Col. Quincy and unanimously adopted.

Resolved, That in the opinion of the citizens of Boston, the late attack on the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, occupied only by defenceless females, was a base and cowardly act, for which the perpetrators deserve the contempt and detestation of the community.

Resolved, That the destruction of property and danger of life caused thereby, calls loudly on all good citizens to express individually and collectively, the abhorrence they feel on this high-handed violation of the laws.

Resolved, That we, the Protestant citizens of Boston, do pledge ourselves, collectively and individually, to unite with our Catholic brethren in protecting their persons, their property, and their civil and religious rights.

Resolved, That the Mayor and Aldermen be requested to take all measures consistent with law, to carry the foregoing resolution into effect, and as citizens, we tender our personal services to support the laws under the direction of the city authorities.

Resolved, That the Mayor be requested to nominate a committee from the citizens at large, to investigate the proceedings of the last night, and to adopt every suitable mode of bringing the authors and abettors of this outrage to justice.

The following Committee was nominated by the Mayor:-

H. G. Otis, John D. Williams, James T. Austin, Henry Lee, James Clark, Cyrus Alger, John Henshaw, Francis J. Oliver, Mark Healy, Charles G. Loring, C. G. Greene, Isaac Harris, Thomas H. Perkins, John Rayner, Henry Gassett, Daniel D. Brodhead, Noah Brooks, H. F. Baker, Z. Cook, Jr., George Darracott, Samuel Hubbard, Henry Farnam, Benjamin F. Hallet, John K. Simpson, John Cotton, Benjamin Rich, William Sturgis, Charles P. Curtis.

On motion of Mr. George Bond, the committee of twenty-eight were requested to consider the expediency of providing funds to repair the damage done to the Convent, &c.

On motion of John C. Park, Esq. it was

Resolved, That the Mayor be authorized and requested to offer a very liberal reward to any individual who, in case of further excesses, will arrest and bring to punishment a leader in such outrages.


ZEBEDEE COOK, Jr. Secretary.

In connection with this account, it is proper to introduce the following certificate of the selectmen of Charlestown, which appeared in the Boston Gazette, and the letter of Mr. Cutter, which was in the Morning Post of yesterday.

To the Public. Whereas erroneous statements have appeared in public papers, intimating that the liberty of a young lady was improperly and unlawfully restrained at the convent of 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 in them to be in the least objectionable; and they have the satisfaction to assure the public, that there exists no cause on complaint or 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.

Mr. Editor,- Some excitement having been created in this vicinity, by misrepresentations that have come before the public, in relation to the disappearance of a young lady from the Nunnery in this place, I deem it proper for me to state certain facts that are in my possession respecting the affair.

On the afternoon of Monday, the 28th ult. 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 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 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 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.

As it has been currently reported that the lady was not to be found, to allay the excitement in consequence to it, I have thought the above statement due to the public.


Charlestown, Aug. 11, 1834.

These documents, had they appeared on Saturday or Monday, might have done much to prevent the mischief which took place on Monday night. Why they were postponed, till a period when it was too late for them to be the least benefit, we are not informed. When popular excitement has arrived on such a pitch, those who have facts or explanations in their possession to allay it, should not be guilty of procrastination. The delay in this case has been most disastrous.

There was a meeting at the Catholic Church in Franklin street yesterday at six o'clock, which we were unable to attend; another at Charlestown, and another at Cambridge, at 8 o'clock in the evening; the proceedings of which we are unable to present this day.

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In 19th century America, many Protestants felt that Catholics were a threat to society because they gave allegiance to the pope and church over the laws of the land. This is an account in the Boston Courier of a mob who burned the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, to the ground. A rumor had been circulated that a young woman was being held against her will, and this incited the mob. This rumor had been investigated by the selectmen and they found that it was untrue. However, their findings were not reported in the newspaper until after the convent had been destroyed. Reaction from the citizens of Boston, at a meeting in Faneuil Hall, was overwhelmingly in support of the nuns and denounced the actions of the mob who caused property damage and danger to the occupants.


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"Disgraceful Outrage" article on the Ursuline Convent from the Boston Courier newspaper

publisher   Boston Courier
date   Aug 14, 1834
location   Boston, Massachusetts
height   18.0"
width   2.25"
height   8.25"
width   2.25"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L05.095

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See Also...

"A Plea for the West" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Franklin Herald newspaper

"Roman Catholics" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Franklin Herald newspaper

"Roman Catholic Provincial Council" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Franklin Herald newspaper

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