In the late 1700's, when the US constitution was ratified and the first Catholic diocese was established in the US in Baltimore
, the vast majority of Christians in the US were Protestants - only something like 30,000 Catholics called the new country home. This number rose dramatically within a few decades to over a million with the influx of Irish and German Catholic immigrants in the early 1800's. Simmering anti-Catholic feelings that dated back a hundred years or more occasionally boiled over - one of the most notable incidents, the burning of the Ursuline Convent
, happened in sight of Bunker Hill in August 1834.
Just outside Boston, Massachusetts in a section of Charlestown that later became part of Somerville, a convent of Ursuline
nuns built a school to educate children both Catholic and Protestant in 1820. It moved and expanded in 1827 to a hilltop. In the summer of 1834 a nun ran away from the convent and was later convinced to return by the bishop of the diocese. However, rumors that the girl had been kept against her will and tortured combined with other general anti-Catholic rumors that convents were places of great debauchery and sin, and this served to inflame anti-Catholic feelings among some of the Protestants residents. It culminated in a riot where anti-Catholic protesters broke into the convent and ransacked it and set fire to it.
The Charlestown fire department, comprised of Protestants, did nothing to stop the fire, which burned until it had destroyed the convent. The ruins stood for decades until the site was leveled in 1875. The hill was used for fill and the bricks of the burned convent recycled and incorporated into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston
Some links if you'd like to learn more about this: A pamphlet about the event
published later that year. Text of an article about it from the Boston Evening Transcript, 12 Aug, 1834
. The Catholic website EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network)
has a piece about the fire
(published 1996) as well.
If you're local to the area, the Somerville Public Library has a bunch of source material
if you want to get your research on.