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(897 posts)
Tue Apr 2, 2024, 08:31 AM Apr 2

On This Day: 300 armed women lead Richmond bread riot - Apr. 2, 1863

(edited from Wikipedia)
The Southern bread riots were events of civil unrest in the Confederacy during the American Civil War, perpetrated mostly by women in March and April 1863. During these riots, which occurred in cities throughout the Southern United States, hungry women and men invaded and looted various shops and stores.

Richmond bread riots

On April 2, 1863, in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, about 5,500 people, mostly poor women, broke into shops and began seizing food, clothing, shoes, and even jewelry before the militia arrived to restore order. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen. No one died and few were injured. The riot was organized and instigated by Mary Jackson, a peddler and the mother of a soldier.

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson was a Virginian peddler known for her role in organizing the 1863 riots in Richmond, Virginia. Jackson instigated and led a group of around 300 armed women through the streets of Richmond, demanding food and supplies that were in shortage during wartime. Although for the most part the violence was only threatened and not actually perpetrated, the armed mob did succeed in stealing thousands of dollars in goods as an expression of their frustration and desperation as the government failed to care for them while most of the men were fighting in the war.

Mary Jackson lived in a working class suburb on Oregon Hill in the city until 1860, when she moved to a farm several miles west of the city. She lived with her husband. The Jacksons had four children. The eldest son was enlisted in the Confederate Army. Jackson frequently wrote to the War Office to petition for the discharge of her son from the army.

Women's mass political mobilization

The Richmond Bread Riots were born out of Confederate soldiers' wives grievances as women were forced to represent themselves in community appeals and communicate with government and generals. They have been described as an expression of women's mass political mobilization.

Planning and recruiting - "a meeting of the women"

Jackson began recruiting women for the riot on March 22, 1863, telling them in the market where she worked that there would be "a meeting of the women in relation to the high prices."

She was open about her recruitment and used all of the urban and rural networks available to her. She primarily reached out to women in the market and to women working in a government clothing factory, but she also appealed to women in the countryside.

Jackson persuaded more than 300 women to show up at the Belvidere Baptist Church in Oregon Hill on April 1, 1863, for a meeting. Jackson asserted that, "the object of the meeting was to organize to demand goods of the merchants at government prices; and if they were not given, the stores were to be broken open and goods taken by force."

The gathering was rowdy, but Jackson was clearly in control, according to observers. She walked up to the pulpit, where she delivered instructions on how the riot was to take place. She told the gathered women not to create a scene initially, but rather to walk quietly into the stores and demand supplies at government prices. She also insisted that the women were to demand an audience with the governor to air their grievances. If their demands were not met, the women were to break open the stores and take the goods for themselves. She instructed the women to meet at 9:00 the next morning and to bring weaponry.


On the day of the riot, Jackson arrived at the market early in the morning. She continued to openly recruit women to her cause, instructing a police officer that he had "better keep out of the street for today for the women intended to shoot down every man who did not aid them in taking goods", and brandishing weapons. Jackson also warned a clerk of the market and several other men that the women would demonstrate and seize edible goods, but the men did not take her seriously. A man overheard her violent threats against the city's merchants and she asked to borrow his pistol. She was seen leaving the market with a Bowie knife and a pistol.

By 8:00 am Jackson and a crowd of women had left the market. They walked to Capitol Square for another meeting and then traveled to the governor’s mansion to demand an audience with him. Visiting the governor's mansion to lay out their demands was a move calculated by Jackson to give their movement a sense of legitimacy, but also to make clear that they held the state government as responsible for their condition as they did the merchants.

Accounts vary on what happened next. According to one version, Jackson and the other women barged into [the governor's] office and encountered an aide who asked what they wanted. They reportedly responded that they "wanted bread, and bread they would have or die." Other accounts report that [the governor] did, in fact, meet with the women. In either case, Jackson and her compatriots were dissatisfied with the governor's response to their demands.

[Pistols, axes, knives, bayonets, and hatchets]

One report indicates that, following the incident at his mansion, Governor Letcher gave a short and menacing speech, but the women were not intimidated and took to the streets. The crowd, numbering more than 300 women and including a growing number of men and boys, marched silently, per Jackson's instructions, up Ninth Street. The women were heavily armed, carrying both household implements and the contents of an old armory, including pistols, axes, knives, bayonets, and hatchets.

Once at the stores, they broke into open violence. They smashed shop windows using axes, held up the owners at gunpoint, took their goods, and loaded them onto stolen wagons in the street. One shopkeeper said that the mob took his entire supply in ten minutes, robbing him of 3,000 dollars of supplies, including 500 pounds of bacon. Jackson was closely involved in the rioting, leading a group of women and returning to her home before noon to retrieve a knife.

One observer reported that Jackson directed an assault on John C. Page's shoe store at 93 Main Street midway through the riot. In total, at least twelve shops and warehouses were looted over the course of the riot. Ultimately, the public guard was called in, and the troops threatened to fire on the mob, which brought the riot to an end.


In the aftermath of the riot, many of the women involved were arrested. A number were captured as they attempted to drive the stolen wagons filled with goods back to their neighborhoods. Jackson was among those arrested. She was taken in around noon, found in the middle of a mob of women attempting to break into a store at First and Broad Street. At the time she was reportedly waving a Bowie knife and yelling "Bread or blood!"

On November 12, 1863, the Richmond Sentinel reported that Jackson was being tried for a misdemeanor because it could not be proven that she had actually stolen any goods. Little is known about Jackson’s fate after her trial.

[Robberies throughout the South on nearly a daily basis]

The riots were triggered by the women's lack of money, provisions, and food. All were the result of multiple factors, mostly related to the Civil War.

Citizens, mostly women, began to protest the exorbitant price of bread. The protesters believed a negligent government and speculators were to blame. To show their displeasure, many protesters turned to violence. Robberies of grocery and merchandise stores were happening on nearly a daily basis. Riots took place over food or flour in Atlanta (March 16), Salisbury, North Carolina (March 18), Mobile and High Point (March 25), and Petersburg (April 1), but the largest and most important of these was in Richmond on April 2.

[Davis during the Richmond bread riot]

President Jefferson Davis pleaded with the women and even threw them money from his pockets, asking them to disperse, saying "You say you are hungry and have no money; here, this is all I have". The mayor read the Riot Act; the governor called out the militia, and it restored order.

"A rich man's war, but a poor man's fight"

To protect morale, the Confederate government suppressed most news reports of the riot itself. Many newspapers, however, were keen to report on the trials of the participants themselves, and they usually portrayed those people in an unflattering light, suggesting that they were not actually starving, or that the rioters were mostly "Yankees" or lower-class people, allowing many upper-class citizens to ignore the scope of the problems. However, that only served to deepen the feelings of resentment and injustice among the lower classes, leading to the sentiment that the Civil War was "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight".

In Richmond, measures were undertaken to alleviate starvation and inflation for poor people, and special committees were held to classify "worthy poor" from "unworthy poor"; the city then opened special markets for "worthy poor" citizens to purchase goods and fuel at significantly reduced prices.



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On This Day: 300 armed women lead Richmond bread riot - Apr. 2, 1863 (Original Post) jgo Apr 2 OP
Most enlightening! GreenWave Apr 2 #1
Wow, I don't recall ever hearing about this. Joinfortmill Apr 2 #2
This is the first time I've ever heard of this. Thank you for bringing slightlv Apr 2 #3
Thank you ... jgo Apr 2 #4
KNR and thank you for this important, overlooked, piece of history. niyad Apr 2 #5


(2,760 posts)
3. This is the first time I've ever heard of this. Thank you for bringing
Tue Apr 2, 2024, 12:47 PM
Apr 2

it to our attention!

"leading to the sentiment that the Civil War was "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight"." It never changes, does it? To this day, it's the same damned thing. Change the names involved and the "reasons" and you've got us today.

We women might want to put this in our pocket. There's more than one way to make our voices heard... we can listen to the voices of women of the past, because their issues are still our issues. And this actually sounds pretty damned good to me in light of *rump and his fascists.

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