The Colored Orphan Asylum was an institution and shelter for abandon black children in the United States.

Founded in New York City in May of 1836. The institution founders were Mary Murray and sister Hannah and Anna Shotwell. It was managed solely by women for more than a century. The purpose for the institution was a home for black children whom parents had died or parents simply could not care for them properly. The Colored Orphan Asylum only accepted children under twelve years of age. Education at the institution included the learning of a trade for boys, and domestic skills for the girls. Once a child of the institution reached twelve years old, he or she was released from the institution.



The Colored Orphan Asylum counted on the locals for donations to be able to feed, buy books, clothed, and pay employees. In 1846, Dr. James McCune Smith (April 18, 1813 – November 17, 1865), the first Black American man to hold a medical degree and the first black American to run a pharmacy in the United States, became the Institutions medical director.

By February of 1851, the number of orphans had risen to 114 and expenses totaling about $281.00 ($8078.47 in today’s money). And in 1860, with the number of orphans now at 180, the institution had managed to receive assistance from the local government at $0.60, a week per orphan (totaling to $17.25 in today money).


The orphanage is remembered best not for the good it did for Black children, but for what happened to it on July 13, 1863. On that day a hate-filled mob of white men and women ransacked the building, looting and burning it to the ground, igniting the New York City draft riots of 1863. The 233 children in residence were led to safety by the matron, barely escaping with their lives. On August 16, 1863 all the children were conveyed to Randall’s Island. Their orphanage was a blackened ruin. On November 12, 1863 the Superintendent of Unsafe Buildings directed that the charred walls of the Colored Orphan Asylum be taken down.  Almost immediately, fund raising began to rebuild.


The asylum was rebuilt by the Quakers in 1867 on 143rd street, Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway in Harlem. In 1944 the asylum was renamed the Riverdale Children’s Association. And as far the old location where the Asylum stood it was no longer rural, rocky terrain. The mansions of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens had begun creeping up the now paved Fifth Avenue.



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