The July 4th Riot of 1800
On July 4th, 1800, before the Academy even existed as a formal entity, a bloody riot broke out yards from the post at North’s Tavern. A combination bar, restaurant, event hall, and hotel, North’s was located approximately at the corner between Bartlett and Taylor Halls, where the bridge goes over to Thayer Hall. The boundary of the Government’s property was less than 100 feet away! The public house was a source of periodic angst for West Point commanders and by 1798, an order was on the books that no soldier was to go there without written permission. To enforce this rule, patrols from the garrison would periodically check the tavern for violators. According to West Point officials, local patrons would often attempt to start fights with soldiers at North’s.
On that fateful holiday, a large group of people from the surrounding mountains had come to North’s to celebrate. Captain James Stille, the garrison commander at West Point, claimed to have seen fighting at the tavern that spread across the Post boundary. When he subsequently sent a patrol to check out the fracas, the soldiers were reportedly disarmed and bloodied by the partygoers. When a soldier reported that people were being murdered. Stille set off to the barracks to round up reinforcements for an orderly response, but on his way he was met by angry troops, muskets in hand with bayonets affixed, storming towards the drinkery.
Thomas North, the proprietor, told a different version of the same incident. He claimed that an armed soldier barged into a dance on the second floor of the inn and refused to leave when asked. When asked a second time, according to North, a fight broke out and the soldier shoved his bayonet at him. North deflected it and the soldier, John Quirk, tumbled down the stairs with a civilian who had grabbed hold of Quirk's musket. At the bottom of the stairs was an outside door where other soldiers were waiting. They soldiers charged forth with their bayonets and those in the tavern defended themselves with chairs. After a scuffle, the soldiers retreated and gathered up their comrades.
As the angry soldiers approached, the local revelers retreated inside and formed a defense line at the top of a stairway. Armed with weapons they had taken from the patrol as well as clubs and stones, a vicious fight commenced in the stairway. The soldiers were “beat back with lots of blood.” Stille appears to have ordered the soldiers to surround the house, but it’s clear a great deal of commotion took place. North claimed that nine windows were smashed as soldiers threw stones into the structure. Several patrons were apparently injured. Some women inside tried to escape the fight by climbing into the attic by way of loose floor boards. North also claimed that the soldiers trashed the bar and stole money and alcohol before forcing the innkeeper’s fourteen-year-old son out of the house at the point of a bayonet. Further, he alleged that the soldier mentioned above, John Quirk threatened to “bash out” his wife’s brains until another soldier came to her rescue.
After some time, Captain Stille was able to end the melee and several people were taken to the guard house for questioning. North claimed that Stille threatened to fire a cannon at the house if the remaining patrons did not surrender. In the end, it is unclear if any charges were filed. Stille wrote to Major General Alexander Hamilton for advice and the future Broadway star recommend turning over any unreleased civilians to local authorities and to be cooperative in any civil matters against soldiers involved.
You can read Stille’s letter to Alexander Hamilton here, and Hamilton’s response here. Thomas North's account can be read in the July 29, 1800, edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal (p.4), available through a subscription to Newspapers.com.