27 July 2010

Looting in wartime America

With relief, Tingey found his own home still standing, but only, he learned, because [Brit. Rear Adm.] Cockburn had declared private property sacred. Local mobs, however, had already broken in and run off with some of the contents… Tingey’s departure set off a new flurry of looting by people living close to the navy yard. He was the last figure of authority blocking their way. They set to with crazed abandon, swarming into homes, scurrying from cellars to attic, and snatching anything that could be carried away, even ripping fixtures off the walls and tearing locks out of the doors… (p. 135)

(British officer) “We have not come here for the purpose of plunder, but to destroy all public property. If anything of the kind [theft] should take place again, such as you have just witnessed, I have to request that your citizens will assemble, seize the villains without delay, and conduct them to headquarters. Depend upon it, Sir, they will be punished.” The [British] soldier was set on his stolen horse and escorted up to Capitol Hill… On the way he tried to escape several times, but his luck had run out. After being paraded at headquarters, he was summarily shot. (p. 137)

The morning after the British left the capital, hordes of citizens swarmed over the remains of the President’s House, the Capitol, and the navy yard… Without any means of law enforcement, the city was open to looters and thieves. Like vultures, they descended on the open ruins to pick and pluck at random… Unchecked, they violated the sanctity of private homes, snatching and hoarding items of value and even of worthless sentiment. (p. 150)
Excerpts from The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814, by Anthony S. Pitch, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1998.

1 comment:

  1. last week we happened upon and toured the Octagon House in DC, one of the city's first private residences--built around the same time as the original white house and by the same architect. It was among the few buildings spared...


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