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The Bowery Boys, One Of The Toughest Gangs Of New York

From our partners at Gothamist: As Corcoran tries to outwit Rodrick, he, Maguire and O’Brien consider the various factions ruling New York City’s underbelly. The Bowery Boys are mentioned as a possible threat, and in real life, the gang’s members were known for killing people “without the slightest provocation.”

The Bowery Boys were known as a nativist gang, since they were anti-Catholic and anti-Irish. They staked out ground on the Bowery, just north of Five Points, along with other gangs such as the American Guards, O’Connell Guards, and True Blue Americans. Five Points was where Irish gangs like the Plug Uglies, Forty Thieves, Shirt Tails and the Dead Rabbits resided.

Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 describes the scene, “Neighborhood frontiers crackled with border wars. Combatants fought with bludgeons and brickbats, clubs and hobnail stomping boots, and occasionally, though still rarely, knives and pistols. At times, local rivals would league together into a giant horde and sally forth to challenge a gang-combine from some other part of town.”

Herbert Asbury’s seminal book, The Gangs of New York, said that the original Bowery Boy was a “burly ruffian with his chin adorned by an Uncle Sam whisker,” usually a butcher or a carpenter. “On his head was a stovepipe hat, generally battered, and his trousers were tucked inside his boots, while his jaws moved constantly on a chew of tobacco as he whittled on a shingle with a huge knife which never left his possession.”

As years went on, the Bowery Boy would wear more fashionable garb, like an “elegant frock coat, and about his throat…a gaudy kerchief.” Not unlike Daniel Day-Lewis as Bowery Boy Bill “the Butcher” Poole.

While gangs would fight amongst each other, they all exploited the Draft Riots of 1863 to loot buildings. By the end of the 19th century, the Bowery Boys broke up into many different factions and ceased to exist, leaving their violent tendencies to our imagination.

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