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Gangs of New York – Herbert Asbury

Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York, written in 1928, is an excellent read for those who love to read stories about crimes and criminals that took place in New York City, dating back to the early 1800s. The book begins with the chapter titled “The Cradle of Gangs,” which was the Five Points area in 1829. Roughly, the Five Points area was the territory bounded by Broadway, Canal Street, Bowery and Park Row, which was formerly Chatham. Street. Now this area is home to the city prison called Tombs, the Criminal Court Building, and the County Courthouse. In the early 1700s, the area was primarily an exchange area, surrounding a lake called Fresh Water Pond by the English and Shellpoint by the Dutch.

Eventually the lake was filled and houses were built on the landfill. This landfill became the region known as the Five Points. The Five Points area got its name from the intersection of the five blocks of Cross which became Park Street and is now Mosco Street, Anthony which became Worth, Orange which became Baxter, Mulberry Street and Little Water , which now doesn’t even exist. It was originally a respectable area where the wealthy lived, but then houses began to sink into the imperfectly drained swamp, and the wealthy left the area for better parts of Manhattan Island. Their places were mainly occupied by freed black slaves and the lower class Irish, who began to flood the area from Ireland, starting in 1790.

The Five Points area became a breeding ground for criminals and criminals, and people from other parts of the city did not dare to venture into its limits. The great Charles Dickens once visited the area and wrote of the Five Points: “This is the place: these narrow roads diverging left and right, and reeking of dirt and grime everywhere. houses are very prematurely old. and puffy faces on doors have counterparts at home and around the world. Many pigs live here. Did you ever wonder why their owners walk upright instead of on all fours, and why do they talk? instead of growling?

It was in these rotten streets that Dickens described that the first street gang was formed in 1825. It was aptly named the Forty Thieves and started in the back room of a produce store on Center Street. It was owned by Roseanna Peers, and beyond the rotten veggies outside, she sold illegal hootch in the back room inside, and allowed a cowardly guy named Edward Coleman to rule over a motley crew of criminals. Being Irish, everyone hated the English, but they robbed and looted mainly their own.

Soon other gangs appeared with names like Chichester, Plug Uglies, Roach Guards, Shirt Tails, and Dead Rabbits. They fought among themselves over who would have the right to control crime on certain streets. More gangs soon reached the fringes of Five Points, such as the Bowery Boys, the True Blue Americans, the American Guards, the O’Connell Guards, and the Atlantic Guards. The streets in and around the Five Points area became so dangerous that the brave Davey Crockett, known for his heroism in the west, said that the Five Points area of ​​New York City was the most dangerous place there was. visited in his whole life. .

Over the years, gangs came and went in the Five Points area. The Civil War was the biggest destroyer of the original Five Points gangs, as many of the hooligans were drafted into the war in the south. Some returned mutilated. Some did not return at all.

The rest of Asbury’s book details all the gangs and criminals that roamed New York City until 1928. We meet such nasty guys as Monk Eastman and his Jewish gang, Owney Madden and his Irish Hudson Dusters, and Paul Kelly (Paulo Vaccarelli) and his Italian. Five pointers.

If you want to get dirty and read about the lives of such despicable men who hung themselves weekly in the courtyard of the city prison called Tombs, The Gangs of New York is the book for you.

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