Stone-throwing and gunfire: A riot at a political meeting in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1860

In the late summer and autumn of 1860, the looming election sparked heated political rhetoric, marches in support of political causes, and whispered talk of a coming civil war.

These feelings manifest themselves in a violent skirmish between Republicans and Democrats on the streets of a Wayne County community on September 28, 1860. The fight in Hawley, which started with shouted chants and ended with stone throwing and pistol shots, pitted the proto-military “Wide Awakes” of Honesdale in support of Abraham Lincoln against canal boatmen on the Delaware and Hudson Canal who supported Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas.

A map of Hawley, Wayne County from 1860 showing the railroads and canal that made this community hum with activity and made it politically important in that crucial election year.

The Wide Awake movement blasted into existence during the 1860 election and featured mostly young men marching late at night with torches and in pseudo-military uniform. Across the Coal Region, marches took place, often in conjunction with meetings and speeches in support of Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy. Many of these marches included “Wide Awakes” from various localities in the Coal Region marching through the selected town where a political meeting was taking place.

This photograph from 1860 shows the Wide Awakes in their uniforms and with their torches.

Observers of the Wide Awakes often noted the military appearance and cadence of the movement. Opponents denounced them or called them silly.

The events in Hawley were depicted by the Democratic press in Honesdale a week after the riotous occurrence.

Riot at Hawley

We have learned the particulars of the riot at Hawley, on the evening the Republicans held their meeting at the Ewing House. 

The people assembled in front of the Hotel, near the canal and basin, and Mr. S.E. Dimmick commenced his speech. All was quiet enough until he indulged in hard sayings against Judge Douglas, when some boatmen on the bridge retaliated by giving three cheers for the Little Giant. 

About this time fifty or sixty Honesdale “Wide Awakes” arrived and were formed in a line and were formed in a line in front of the Hotel. Before the speaking ended a fight took place between a boatman and several of the Wide Awakes, and the single handed combatant got the worst of the bargain. 

At the close of the meeting the “Wide Awakes” started for home in a canal scow, and when passing a high bank a short distance from Hawley, some of the friends of the pummelled boatman hurled stones down upon the scow, and the “Wide Awakes” returned the charge with the contents of their revolvers. 

We believe that none were injured by the stones or by the pistol shots; nevertheless, we deprecate the whole affair, and would be glad to have the guilty parties promptly punished. It is stated to the credit of the Democrats of Hawley, that they had no hand in the disgraceful proceeding. 

In this connection, we have to protest against the threat of the Republicans to visit Hawley again soon, and be revenged upon those who disturbed their late meeting. One wrong will not justify another wrong. 

The attempt to take revenge as threatened, may make things much worse. The “Wide Awakes” should not go to Hawley armed for a fight, for the result may be too horrible to relate. 

A premediated attack upon three or four hundred boatmen, will be just as likely to lessen the Republican vote, as to increase it. Of all things, let the revolver argument be repudiated – especially by a peace loving and christian people. 

You can read a thorough report of the Hawley Riot of 1860 in this excellent two-part piece from the Tri-County Independent from 2010.


Featured Image: Wide Awakes during the 1860 election – Harper’s Weekly 

Read more from Wynning History about the 1860 election HERE. 


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