Guiding Questions:

  • How did Protestants react to the arrival of Irish Catholics in Boston during the mid-1800's?
  • What are the similarities and differences in native Bostonians and immigrants?
  • What were the long term positive and negative effects of Catholic immigration in Boston?


Destruction of the Ursuline Nunnery

Destruction of the Charlestown Nunnery, courtesy of Somerville Historical Society
photo by Jay Griffin


Nativists were active players on the political scene, opposing immigration and all immigrants. Nativists viewed all immigrants as foreigners and, thus, as unwelcome. Boston's Protestant majority worried that large numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants would be loyal to the pope, and therefore undermine American democracy. Catholicism was viewed like a cancer. Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, summed up the feelings of most native Protestants in 1835 when he said "we find itself spreading itself into every nook and corner of the land; churches, chapels, colleges, nunneries, and convents are spring up as if by magic everywhere" (Jones et. al, 2003).

Your assignment is to discover the details of a religious conflict that occurred in Charlestown, Massachusetts on August 11, 1834. This event, which became known as the Ursuline Convent Riot, helps to reveal the attitudes and values of the Boston's Protestants as well as the newly arrived Irish Catholic immigrants. By examining news articles, literature, images and political cartoons of the era, you will be able to determine what chain of events caused the convent riot to erupt and what consequences resulted from the event.


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