Swinish Multitude

Catherine McNeur’s article The “Swinish Multitude” presents a historiographical understanding of urban development, the environment, and social classes, using the controversies over roaming hogs in Antebellum, New York City as a classic case study. The hog riot of 1825 was one of the longstanding runs of legal and physical encounters that shaped the New York setting. The concerns over free-roaming hogs were divisive, leading to a struggle that subjected the city to a class war. McNeur writes that most New York City areas, including the Eighth Ward, were reshaping, and wealthier residents moved in, creating new demands. One of the demands was clean streets, free from free-roaming swine roaming the heaps of garbage (p 640).

This is arguable because unkept streets make shelters and hiding places for stray and roaming animals, and often the animals feed on garbage left out in the streets. The city’s filthy streets had created a fertile environment and informal economy friendly for roaming animals. The 1822 Yellow Fewer outbreak pushed many downtown residents to the northwestern suburbs in the move to by the city to cordon off the overpopulated neighborhoods in the southern region. However, many people who moved to the south of the city, including Eighth Ward, decided to stay even after the restriction was lifted, finding a permanent home in Eighth Ward.

However, tension began when interlopers raised concerns over the free-roaming swine, and the middle-class hog owners, having resided in the region for so long, felt that the newcomers were offending their way of life and the neighborhoods. Swine are dirty, and they would become a risk factor to resources available for hogs or come with infections. As New York’s population amplified rapidly in the 19th century, conflicting ideas emerged over the utilization of public spaces, leading to a fierce clash between the wealthy and the working class over whose vision and rights reign supreme. The fight over free-roaming hogs was one of the class wars.


Livestock was a significant source of income and livelihood for Eighth Ward residents, most of whom were predominantly African American and Irish laborers. The wealthier residents who did not own any livestock could not hear that. They considered the hogs a nuisance and even went to the extent of petitioning the Common Council to lengthen the boundary of the hog laws to incorporate Eighth Ward. The anti-free roaming hogs argued that the animal hindered progress. The move to refine and polish the city streets involved getting rid of the free-roaming animals blocking the pathways. The hogs roaming the garbage were seen as a hindrance to the effort to modernize New York.

Nevertheless, it appears that hogs were not just a problem in New York in the 1810s and 1820s, but an issue that had persisted for centuries among the New Yorkers. McNeur recounts that as early as 1640, the Dutch West India Company complained of severe damage and injury of cultivation to the company’s holdings because of the roaming hogs. The New Amsterdam’s director-general, Peter Stuyvesant, vowed to shoot down roaming hogs near the fort out of desperation. Even the English who colonialized America after the Dutch faced a challenge managing the roaming swine and initiated several laws to hunt loose hogs on the city streets. The war with hogs and hog owners grew even bigger as the American population swelled following the Revolution as more people moved to American cities from the countryside and abroad. Hog owners would not concede to lose them, while the other part of the population felt disgusted and desired that the roaming animals would be eliminated. The hog population thrived as more garbage pilled in the city, and there was about one hog per five people in the city by 1820 (p 640), a problem that had to be dealt with as soon as possible. It would not be possible to modernize New York amid all the garbage and the roaming hogs.


McNeur, C. (2011). The “Swinish Multitude” Controversies over Hogs in Antebellum New York City. Journal of Urban History37(5), 639-660.