The REAL Gangs of New York

The REAL Gangs of New York March 29, 2009

On April 5, 1844, the Brooklyn Eagle carried a story of a riot that happened in Brooklyn the day before:

Serious Disturbance Last Night—Outrageous Conduct of the Native Americans—The Military Called out
The attempts of the so-called ‘Native American’ party, to provoke collisions
with the adopted citizens [Irish] were but too successful last evening. We have been at pain to collect the facts in the case, and for this purpose have consulted gentlemen of both parties—all of whom declare, or tacitly admit, that the spirit of aggression was first manifested by the ‘Natives,’ at their gathering on Fulton Street. Meetings had been announced at the head-quarters of each, and at an early hour, a good deal of excitement was visible. Crowds were collected in the vicinity—processions, with banners, music, and all the paraphernalia of elections. Were marching to and fro, but still there were no manifestations of violence. At the appointed time, the Democrats organised, and after listening to speeches from the Hon. Mr. Murphy, Mr. Campbell, & c., adjourned and retired to their homes. Meanwhile, the Native orators were indulging in violent and abusive language toward the fellow citizens; and their auditors— most of whom were armed with bludgeons— responded vehemently thereto. Finally a person—whose name we have not been able to learn—closed the proceedings by stating that he had just received a note from a particular friend, urging it as a duty on the meeting to see the delegation from the Sixth Ward safely home, and adding that trouble was anticipated. He proposed, therefore, that they escort the Sixth Warders down, “and if the Irish attempt to interfere,” said he, “we’ll eat them without pepper or salt!” Several persons who heard these and other similar expressions, among which was a threat to demolish the Catholic Church, in Court street, thought it their duty to convey the intelligence to the parties threatened, and this led to the assembling of some forty or fifty of the latter on the corner of Dean and Court Streets, near the Church.

The meeting by this time had broken up, and several hundreds of them, joined by a delegation from New York, started for the Sixth Ward—yelling and shouting as they went. They passed up Fulton to Boerum Street, down Boerum to Atlantic, up Atlantic to Smith, down Smith to Wyckoff, and down Wyckoff to Court. Shortly after entering Court Street, one of their torches was blown out, and the bearer endeavored to gain admission to gain admission into a house occupied by an Irish family, for the purpose of re-lighting it. This was refused—nobody but the woman and children being in. A gang immediately collected about the premises, and such exclamations as these were uttered—“Break open the door—break open the windows—tear down the shantee—throw the damned Irish bitch into the street.” An entrance was at last effected, and the torch re-lit. Shortly before this occurrence took place such expressions as ‘That church must come down—the church must be gutted—damn the Irish”—were frequently muttered . While passing the hotel of Mr. Dougherty—where the Democrats hold their meetings—some one shouted, ‘Let’s go at that—let’s tear that down!” & c. On passing the Catholic Church, they played a dead march, uttered groans, and imprecations against the building and the Irish, and renewed the shouts of ‘Tear it down!’ ‘Gut it!’ & c. Some stones, we are told, were likewise thrown, but for this we cannot vouch.

On reaching the corner of Dean and Court street, a number of adopted citizens (forty or fifty) were discovered, armed like the Natives with bludgeons, and prepared to resist any attempt at violence. As the rear guard came up, some stones were thrown at the persons congregated as above, which brought down a shower of missiles in return, and the procession moved off briskly toward Atlantic Street. This was the commencement of the battle proper; though we should have stated before that the Natives, on reaching Smith Street, made a temporary halt in front of their ward house, and were addressed by a Mr. Fay, who said that a threat to tear down that house had been made, and added, “If the Irish want to do that now, let them come on! I think we are strong enough to sweep their hovels.” This, however, did not provoke any disturbance.

To return to Atlantic Street: the Natives, after recovering from their first shock, returned toward Dean street, (except the valiant orator who had threatened to eat up the Irish without pepper or salt,” and who was the first to make his escape) and renewed the attack. The air was filled with stones, but the parties did not approach each other. His Honor the Mayor had by this time arrived, and proceeding into the midst of the assemblage commanded them to dispense. ‘Will you do it?’ said he. The Natives answered as one “No! no! go talk to the Irish! Make them go home! You are all concerned in it!” & c. Ald. Gerald had by this time succeeded in persuading the adopted citizens to desist from throwing stones, and attempted to induce the Natives to cease likewise. A torrent of abusive epithets, and cries of ‘go talk to the Irish—send the Irish home!” & c., was the result of—in a few moments the combat was renewed (with stones) and some guns were fired. The latter, we suspect, were not loaded with ball or shot, as we have heard of no damage from them. Finally, by the perseverance of the magistrates, order was restored, and both parties gradually retired. One man was considerably though not dangerously hurt; Ex-Sheriff Mervin and Mr. Smith, a druggist, were roughy handled, and several others received slight damage.

Such are the facts, as relayed to us by eye witnesses—all of whom are willing to repeat their statements upon oath. And now we ask every candid citizen, who is responsible for this outrage? We see five or six hundred men—a considerable portion of them from a neighboring city—under pretence of escorting a few individuals home, parading the streets at midnight, disturbing the people by their clamor, breaking into the Irish houses, threatening violence upon their Church, invoking them to fight, using every means in their power to awaken animosity and deadly strife, and yet professing to be actuated by American feelings, and appealing to the public for countenance and support. Surely such conduct must bring down upon any man, or set of men, the indignant and withering rebuke of community. Relentless and vindictive proscription cannot take root upon truly American soil.

In the course of the night a portion of the military—consisting of the Brooklyn Light Guard and the Union Guards—were summoned to their quarters, and held themselves in readiness to act, if necessary; but fortunately their services were not required. They are entitled to credit, however, for their promptness in responding to the call. Ample arrangements have been made for preventing a renewal of the disturbance this evening, or quelling it, if it occurs; and we caution the aggressors against a repetition of this dangerous electioneering game.

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