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Five Points

In: Historical Events

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The five points area had a very infamous reputation in 19th century New York City. The population was largely Irish and it was said to be the home of gang members and criminals of all types, and was mainly known as the home turf of Irish immigrant gangs. The five points received its name because it was the intersection of 5 streets, which formed five corners. The streets were: Mulberry, Little Water, Anthony, Cross, and Orange. Mulberry Street is the only street that still has its original name. While the neighborhood was predominantly Irish in the 1850s, there were also African Americans, Italians, and various other immigrant groups. The Irish were stereotypically described as criminals, violent and drunks. Unfortunately, the slum conditions and widespread crime of the Five Points only contributed to that attitude.

The problems within the five points started with the five points area itself. The living conditions there were indescribably horrible. “See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly”(Doc. A). Tenements in the Five Points were made from wood and brick. The wooden structures measured about twenty to twenty five feet wide and twenty five to thirty feet deep, and stood two and a half stories high at most. These buildings were originally intended for shopkeepers businesses, and were meant to house their families and perhaps a few employees. By the 1850s, most of these shops had been made into small apartments with space for a shop or saloon on the ground floor. Rooms were windowless, the building had drafts and exposed to damage from the elements, the smell of the area did not help the area either. The city was originally build around a body of water called the collect pond. However, as the amount of free space became more scarce, they filled in the pond and began to build houses over it. When the landfill started to decay in the 1820’s the wood frame houses began to tilt over and sink. It became infested with mosquitoes and disease; many people moved out and many other wanted to, but had nowhere else to go. A large building, which had been a brewery in colonial times, was a notorious landmark in the Five Points. It was claimed that up to 1,000 poor people lived in the Old Brewery, and it was said to be a den of unimaginable sin, including gambling, prostitution and illegal saloons. “Anbinder quotes an inebriated woman telling a health official who asked her why she drank, ''If you lived in this place you would ask for whiskey instead of milk.''”(NYtimes). This shows how miserable the people who lived there were, and how they would jut get drunk to help them cope with their problems.

With the poor living conditions in the five points came immigrant gangs. These gangs formed in small groups and divided people of the same and different ethnicities and races. There are many legends about street gangs, which formed in the Five Points. The gangs had names like the Dead Rabbits, and they were known to occasionally fight pitched with other gangs in the streets of lower Manhattan. These gangs normally hung out in alleys on the side of the roads and would beat up anyone who would dare step foot on their turf.

The tensions between the races only intensified when the draft riots came about in 1863. “From the time of Lincoln's election in 1860, the Democratic Party had warned New York's Irish and German residents to prepare for the emancipation of slaves and the resultant labor competition when southern blacks would supposedly flee north. To these New Yorkers, the Emancipation Proclamation was confirmation of their worst fears.”(UChicago.edu). The frustration of the Irish community intensified when congress passed a law making all men between 20 and 45 years of age eligible to be drafted into military service. On July 13, the government’s attempt to enforce this new law in New York City ignited the most destructive riot the city had ever faced. Rioters set fire to government buildings and fought with troops. A large majority of the rioters were poor Irish working class men living in misery. A major factor in the anger from these men and women was that if you were drafted, you could avoid it by simply paying a fee of 300$. Which was a large sum of money that only the rich could afford. The African Americans, however, were not considered citizens and were not eligible to be drafted so they did not have to fight if they did not want to. This enraged the Irish even more and many began to blame the African Americans for stealing the Irish jobs. Eventually, after a long period of anger and rage built up with the Irish community, all of their anger was unleashed and they targeted the African American families. They ransacked their houses and hung almost any African American they could get their hands on.

The people living in the Five Points truly did acquire the reputation as drunk, violent and irresponsible people due to the many events that occurred during the 1800s in this area. However, it was not just a result of the Irish people, or any culture living in the five points, being naturally violent and drunks, it was a result of their mistreatment upon arrival into the city. They always had the short end of the stick. Whether it was their living conditions, the low pay they got for long hours of work, or being unrightfully forced to fight in a war they may not have believed in, the Irish had every reason to be frustrated. All of this mistreatment led them to abuse alcohol to help cope with their

problems and made them violent. While these multitude of cultures weren’t naturally dangerous, it was the way they went about handling their problems and expressing that anger in such radical ways that awarded them this title of the trash bin of New York City.

Works Cited

Christiano, Gregory. "The Five Points." Urbanography. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar 2014. <http://www.urbanography.com/5_points/>.

Harris, Leslie. "The New York City Draft Riots of 1863." UChicago. N.p.. Web. 30 Mar 2014. <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/317749.html>.

Baker, Kevin. "The First Slum in America." NYTimes. N.p., 30 9 2001. Web. 30 Mar 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/30/books/the-first-slum-in-america.html>.

"The Old Brewery." New York City Looking Back. N.p.. Web. 30 Mar 2014. <http://newyorklookingback.blogspot.com/2011/04/old-brewery.html>.

"Four Days of Fire." History. N.p., 5 7 2013. Web. 30 Mar 2014. <http://www.history.com/news/four-days-of-fire-the-new-york-city-draft-riots>.…...

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