The biggest American mob-lynching and murder took place in New Orleans on 14 March 1891.

But it wasn’t black Americans that were lynched, it was Italian-Americans.

A mob broke into jail, dragged out, and either shot or lynched 11 men, they wanted to kill more but 8 others had been hidden by the guards.

It was the culmination of growing resentment over immigration.

The Mayor, Joseph Shakspeare, had previously fanned the resentment in a letter:

“Southern Italians and Sicilians: the most idle, vicious, and worthless people among us. Filthy in their persons and homes, without courage, honor, truth, pride, religion, or any quality that goes to make a good citizen.”

So when Police Chief, David Hennessy, was shot the rumour quickly spread that with his dying breath he said: “Dagoes”.

Mayor Shakspeare said that Hennessy was “the victim of Sicilian vengeance”.

He called on the public to “teach these people a lesson they will not forget”.

Meanwhile he published an open letter to the Italian community: “We hope we will not be driven to harsh and stringent methods outside the law, which may involve the innocent and guilty alike. Upon you and your willingness to give information depends which of these courses shall be pursued.”

He told the police to round up every Italian, 250 were pulled in, of which 45 were arrested, and 19 charged.

Pietro Monasterio, a shoemaker, was arrested because he lived near the crime. Antonio Marchesi, a fruit peddler, was arrested because he was a friend of Monasterio.

All the charges were similarly ridiculous and the evidence was almost non-existent.

Of the 9 men tried, 6 were acquitted and 3 cases were declared mistrials.

But the media wouldn’t accept their innocence, the Daily States newspaper ran an editorial:

“Rise, people of New Orleans! Alien hands of oath-bound assassins have set the blot of a martyr’s blood upon your vaunted civilization! Your laws, in the very Temple of Justice, have been bought off, and suborners have caused to be turned loose upon your streets at midnight murderers of David Hennessy, in whose premature grave the very majesty of our American law lies buried with his mangled corpse, the corpse of him who in life was the representative, the conveyor of your peace and dignity.”

A leading attorney, William Parkerson, told the mob to “set aside the verdict of this infamous jury, every one of whom is a perjurer and a scoundrel”.

He led the mob as they marched to the jail chanting: “We want the Dagoes.”

When the lynchings were over, the rest of America was generally sympathetic.


It continued: “These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigation. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they. Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans.”


Subsequently, at least 8 more men of Italian descent were lynched in Louisiana.

Even the future President, Theodore Roosevelt, commented in a letter:

“On Monday we dined at the Camerons; various Dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it is rather a good thing, and said so.”

You wonder how such a large mob could be whipped up so easily by just a few people.

50 years later, Herman Goring had some simple advice: “People don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked. It works the same in every country.”

People believe what they’re told by the those who control of the media.

That’s why Denzel Washington said: “If you don’t read the news you’re uninformed. If you read the news you’re misinformed.”