Posts Tagged ‘New York City in he 1850s’

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

January 10, 2011

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.