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On this date in 1812: Free press under fire

Baltimore, July 26, 1812 A small gang of boys gathered outside the house on Charles Street shortly after sunset. They watched intently as a stagecoach pulled up in front of the brick home and appeared to drop off supplies to the Federalists garrisoned inside. As soon as the coach drove off, the boys, “of various sizes, in number twelve or fifteen,” began hurling threats and insults toward the house. Egged on by several older men nearby, they soon progressed to bricks and paving stones. The loud noises and shouts attracted more attention, and the passel of boys quickly grew. By eight o’clock, “a herd of Irishmen and negroes and Frenchmen, and ragamuffins, had congregated and … commenced a most violent attack upon the house.” They pelted the walls, windows and front door with a volley of cobblestones, breaking glass and destroying the shutters. “The crash of shivered glass, falling on all sides…was tremendous,” recalled Alexander Hanson , the fiery Federalist newspaper editor who was the primary target of the mob’s ire, due to his strident anti-war editorials.

So began the deadly riot in the city of Baltimore that would result in the first fatal attack on the free press in the young nation’s history. The aftermath of the confrontation would end lives, launch careers, capture headlines and leave a bloody stain on the halls of the jail and the city of Baltimore itself. A defiant Alexander Hanson refused to back down, even when his own life was in peril. Hanson later became of the youngest U.S. Senators in history, but he never fully recovered from the attack against his newspaper. History has largely forgotten Hanson’s bold stand in defense of the freedom of the press, but the impact of the ‘Mobtown’ Massacre lives on.

Mobtown Massacre is published by History Press and is available in major online booksellers

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Alexander Hanson and the Mobtown Massacre by Josh S. Cutler