1 (One account has it that a medical student "imprudently shook an arm out of the window of the dissecting-room at some passersby.") The boys,
horror-stricken, ran home as fast as their own sound legs could carry them. Their equally horrified, but furiously indignant parents hurried to the hospital, other lusty, indignant, and ignorant neighbors and citizens joining the throng as they proceeded. It was an angry mob that gathered in front of the
hospital, the institution which it would seem would aim to serve their class of all others, and to serve them in their ailing extremity, regardless of pecuniary return.
All this was forgotten, as the drying limb still hung from the window. So the mob stormed the hospital, smashed the doors, burst into the dissecting room, demolished the furniture, destroyed all instruments, and seriously mauled the "ghoulish" doctors, who were "such fiends as to rob the graves, in order to mangle the bodies of the dead." Dr. Bayley's anatomical collection, "was all bundled out into the streets and served to make a bonfire." However, another anatomical museum was soon made, chiefly through the interest of Dr. Wright Post, who added to local
specimens many that he imported from Europe.
2 After the Revolution, the buildings and grounds were put in order, and the hospital was ready for the reception of patients in 1791. In 1787 and 1788, a number of bodies for the purposes of dissection by the students were dug up from the potter's field and from the old negro burial-ground. These were legitimate fields for cadavers; but when the resurrectionists began to invade private cemeteries, the indignation of the people was aroused, and the medical profession was looked upon with scant reverence by the people at
On the thirteenth of April, 1788, while the minds of the people were in this agitated state, some students at the hospital exposed the limbs of a body at one of the windows in full view of a group of boys who were at play near the building. The news spread like lightning, and soon an enormous crowd assembled, burst open the doors of the hospital, destroyed a valuable collection of anatomical specimens, and carried off and buried several subjects which they found. The physicians hid themselves, but were discovered and would have suffered severely at the hands of the infuriated mob if the magistrates had not interfered; at last, the mob dispersed, carrying the accounts of their actions to all parts of the city.
The next morning a still larger crowd gathered with the intention of searching the houses of all suspected physicians; but owing to the remonstrances of Clinton, Jay, Hamilton, and others of the leading citizens, the mob dispersed. The students were removed to the jail; but in the afternoon a violent party gathered about the Jail and demanded the surrender
of the students, a demand that was, of course, refused. This aroused the worst spirits of the mob; and Mayor Duane, fearing mob violence, called out the militia, one party of which went quietly to the jail without interference.
A second party was arrested and disarmed by the mob, who then attempted to storm the building. The mayor, John Jay, and others attempted to pacify the mob, and Jay was struck by a brickbat and felled to the earth. The mayor was about to give the order to fire, when Baron Steuben interposed and implored him to desist; but before he could finish his entreaty, a stone whizzed through the air and laid him prostrate. "Fire, mayor, fire!" he cried; and Mayor Duane gave the order; the militia blazed away, and a number of rioters fell. Five persons were killed and seven or eight severely wounded. The students were sent out of town, and the public excitement slowly died out, though it was a long time before the ignorant could look upon the hospital without a sort of horror. Thus ended what is known in New York History as the "Doctors' Riot." It is surprising how much trouble can sometimes be caused by the pranks of thoughtless students.