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The Bowery Boys were a nativist, anti-Catholic, and Anti-Irish gang based north of the Five Points district of New York City in the mid-19th century. They were primarily stationed in the Bowery section of Manhattan, which, at the time, extended north of the Five Points. It was said that the gang was so popular during its time that many of the lesser gangs of the Bowery followed it in its various fights with the Dead Rabbits.
Bowery Boys were mostly single males who frequented the saloons and brothels of the Bowery and dressed in black stovepipe hats, red shirts, black flared trousers, high-heeled calfskin boots and black vests, with oil-slicked hair. One famous member of the Bowery Boys was William Poole, also known as Bill the Butcher.
The Bowery Boys often fought Irish gangs from the Five Points such as longtime rivals the Dead Rabbits and were affiliated with the "Know-Nothing", or "American", political party which lasted from 1849 to 1856, and the Civil War era Democratic Party. Herbert Asbury's book The Gangs of New York clearly states that the gang was most famous for helping the nativist movement. The party, which ultimately replaced the Whig party in New York, was made up of Protestants calling themselves "native born Americans" to differentiate themselves from Catholic immigrants they opposed. Originally, it was a branch of Tammany Hall but decided to go on its own after many disagreements. The Bowery Boys, deciding to align themselves with the American party, had many fights with the O'Connell Guards, who decidedly aligned themselves with Tammany Hall.
During the New York Draft Riots of 1863, the Bowery Boys took part in much of the looting while fighting with rival gangs. By the end of the decade, however, the gang had split into various factions as the Bowery Boys gradually disappeared.
Asbury's book, The Gangs of New York, describes the most famous leader of the Bowery Boys as a man only referred to as Mose the Fireboy; however, Richard Dorson's America in Legend traces the growth of this character from a fictional B'hoy portrayed on stage into a giant of urban legend, and the character is plainly fictional. He is described as:
|“||at least 8 feets tall and broad in proportion, and his colossal bulk was crowned by a great shock of ginger-colored hair, on which he wore a beaver hat measuring more than two from crown to brim. His hands were as large as the hams of a Virginia hog, and on those rare moments when he was in repose they dangled below his knees; it was Skysey's habit to boast pridefully that his chieftain could stand erect and scratch his kneecap. The feet of the great captain were so large that the ordinary boot of commerce would not fit his big toe; he wore specially constructed footgear, the soles of which were copper plates studded with nails an inch long. Woe and desolation came upon the gangs of the Five Points when the great Mose leaped into their midst and began to kick and stamp; they fled in despair and hid themselves in the innermost depths of the rookeries of Paradise Square.||”|
- B'hoy and g'hal
- The Bowery Boys (Hollywood films (1946-1958)
- The Bowery Boys: New York City History (audio podcast)
- Adams, Peter. The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-275-98538-5
- Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. ISBN 1-56025-275-8
- Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File Inc., 2001. ISBN 0-8160-4040-0