The Green Dragon was the name of an iconic tavern in Boston, Massachusetts, said to have been the location where the Boston Tea Party was planned. In New York City, the name has a different heritage. The Green Dragon Hotel was opened in December 1834, at 162 Bowery by a young Englishman, A. Unsworth. He manufactured ginger beer on location, and advertised his tavern as being run on the “English system,” offering a variety of English ales and the house specialty, welsh rarebit. Unsworth wanted to maintain a cozy Old World atmosphere, but after being open just a few months, he made a miscalculation. When some members of a local volunteer fire company barged into his establishment one evening, already drunk and rowdy, he refused to serve them. This gang of firemen represented the “American” contingent, i.e. second or third generation native-born citizens, who resented the recent influx of Irish and “Dutch” (German) immigrants, to say nothing of freemen of color. Unsworth’s slight was not forgotten.
In late June of 1835, less than a year after anti-abolishionist rioters had wrecked residences and storefronts in hysteria over rumors that the city’s notable abolitionists were promoting miscegenation, a new riot broke out in lower Manhattan based on similar nativist fears. In this case, the leading cause appears to have been the announcement of the formation of an Irish-American local militia, the O’Connell Guards. Local militias had been one of the institutions that conveyed power to nativist fraternities, and the formation of an Irish (Catholic) unit was perceived as an intolerable threat. Two or three hundred young rowdies roamed the Five Points and Bowery districts, destroying properties known to be associated with the Irish.
As the mob reached the Bowery, the offense of Mr. Unsworth was recalled. The rioters broke his windows and entered the hotel, breaking all the furniture and fixtures of the saloon. It was a strange conflation of nationalist animism: Unsworth, an Englishman, was thought to be anti-American; Irish-Americans had little love for the English, and could hardly be thought of as the Green Dragon’s main clientele; Unsworth, for his part, had probably thought he was honoring his adopted country’s beginnings by naming his hotel after Boston’s revolutionary tavern. Shortly after this point, police were finally able to disperse the mob before further damage could be done.
A month later, Unsworth had repaired his establishment and renamed it the York Hotel. He took ads out in several newspapers, in which he explained that “it was my uniform earnest desire to give to my house a respectable reputation,” and that was his reason for denying service to drunkards. He also described several times when he had thrown his doors open to firemen exhausted from their efforts. Finally, he denied any anti-American feelings; on the contrary, he had “freely and openly acknowledged the many favors shown me as a ‘stranger in a strange land.'”
Writing in 1927, nearly ninety years after the Five Points Riot, Herbert Asbury magically transported the attack on the Green Dragon from 1835 to 1857, during the Dead Rabbits riot. Moreover, Asbury got the affiliations all wrong. Asbury wrote:
“Early the next morning the Five Points gangs, reinforced by the Roach Guards, marched out of Paradise Square and attacked a resort called the Green Dragon, in Broome street near the Bowery, a favorite loafing place of the [Bowery] Boys and other Bowery gangs.”
And so, according to Asbury, it was not the nativist American rowdies who destroyed the Green Dragon, but the Irish-American gangs. And–Asbury gratuitously added–they also drank all the liquor in the place. Asbury’s version of the wreck of the Green Dragon has made its way into countless New York City histories, immortalizing his sloppy approach to research (if not an intentional anti-Irish bias).
As for Mr. Unsworth, one can only hope this did not sour his desire to be a gracious host. Let us all raise a ginger beer in his memory.