The bloody, two-day “Great Gang Fight” of 1857

Lower Manhattan’s Five Points district was a wretched place in pre–Civil War New York.

As if poverty and disease weren’t bad enough, powerful gangs—backed by local politicians and ignored by a disorganized police department—ruled the neighborhood.

Such a heavy gang presence meant that violence was a normal part of life. But the Great Gang Fight—also known as the Dead Rabbits Riot—that broke out on July 4, 1857 was something else.

That evening, groups of Five Points gangs, such as the Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies, invaded a nearby Bowery Boys clubhouse. A vicious brawl with other street gangs continued the next day.

About 1,000 gang members armed with paving stones, axes, and other weapons fought along Bayard Street between Baxter and the Bowery (as seen in the illustration above). Other thieves joined in, looting houses and keeping the police at bay.

Federal troops finally stopped the violence on the afternoon of July 5th. Officially, eight men were killed, but it’s thought that dying fighters were carried off by fellow gang members, then buried in secret.

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10 Responses to “The bloody, two-day “Great Gang Fight” of 1857”

  1. David Freeland Says:

    Great post! Your readers may be interested to know that the clubhouse where all the fighting started is still standing. It’s a small, dormered building at either 40 or 42 Bowery. There’s a Chinese restaurant there now.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks David–I’d like to check that out!

  3. Nabe News: January 10 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] the two-day Dead Rabbits Riot, which transpired on July 4, 1857 just off the Bowery [Ephemeral […]

  4. jacadigan Says:

    The Plug Uglies were a Baltimore nativist gang, not connected to new York at all, actually.

  5. fivepointsguy Says:

    Another reason for this riot was that the police force was in complete disarray after the June 16th Police Riots. At best, the cops were apathetic.

  6. Is history repeating itself? You Decide.Justin Hayslett Says:

    […] […]

  7. How Five Points became the city’s worst slum | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] prostitution and rum shops arrived, followed by gang-related crime. Anyone who could move out of what was once called the Collect neighborhood did, and those who […]

  8. The bloody gang history of two Bowery houses | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] It’s during Five Points’ heyday when these two buildings earned their notoriety. In 1857, 40-42 Bowery functioned as a gang headquarters and was the site of one of the city’s bloodiest gang fights. […]

  9. trilby1895 Says:

    “Collect Pond” – where, exactly, was it located within the Five Points district. “Lispenard Meadow”; recently looking down Lispenard Street, I try hard to imaging today’s city street as a lovely, long-ago meadow. Ephemeral, thank you for the “memories”.

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