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The Plug Uglies were a street gang, sometimes referred to as a political club, that operated in the west side of Baltimore, Maryland from 1854 to 1860.
The Plug Uglies coalesced shortly after the creation of the Mount Vernon Hook-and-Ladder Company, a volunteer fire company whose truck house was on Biddle Street, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Ross Street (later Druid Hill). They were originally runners and rowdies affiliated with the Mount Vernon. Plug Ugly captains included John English and James Morgan. Other prominent members were Louis A. Carl, George Coulson, George "Howard" Davis, Henry Clay Gambrill, Alexander Levy, Erasmus "Ras" Levy, James Wardell, and Wesley Woodward. The gang associated with the emerging American Party (the Know Nothings) in Baltimore.
Like similar associations in Baltimore and other United States cities during this period, the Plug Uglies' street influence made them useful to party politicians anxious to control the polls on Election Days. The Plug Uglies were the central figures in the first election riot in Baltimore in October 1855. Together with the Rip Raps, they were also actively involved in deadly rioting at the October 1856 municipal election in Baltimore and in similar violence at the Know-Nothing Riot in Washington in June 1857. At the Washington riot, the National Guard called out to quell the fighting, shot and killed ten citizens. Accounts of the Washington riot appeared in newspapers nationally and gained widespread notoriety for the Plug Uglies.
Besides election-day fighting, the gang was involved in several assassinations and shootings in Baltimore. Most notably, Plug Ugly Henry Gambrill was implicated in the murder of a Baltimore police officer in September 1858. Gambrill's trial (presided over by judge Henry Stump) and the subsequent deadly violence relating to it, made the crime one of the most sensational of the era.
The violence of the Plug Uglies and other political clubs had an important impact on Baltimore. It was largely responsible for the creation of modern policing and a paid, professional fire department, as well as court and electoral reforms. These reforms, together with the election of a Reform municipal administration in October 1860 and then the Civil War, led to the breaking up of the Plug Uglies.
On July 16, 1863, during the New York City draft riots, The New York Times reported that Plug-Uglies and Blood Tubs gang members from Baltimore, as well as "Scuykill Rangers and other rowdies of Philadelphia," had come to New York to participate in the riots alongside the Dead Rabbits and other New York gangs. The Times said that "the scoundrels cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity of indulging their brutal natures, and at the same time serving their colleagues the Copperheads and secesh [secessionist] sympathizers."
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- Haskins, James., Street Gangs, New York: Hastings House, 1974.
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- Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum (2001).
- Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld (1927).
- Luc Sante, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (1991)
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- The Legend of Old Smoke Morrissey by John William Tuohy
- On April 26, 1860, Erasmus Levy led the mob which broke up the Maryland Republican Convention. "Maryland Republican Convention.; MEETING AT BALTIMORE – THE HALL MOBBED, AND THE CONVENTION DISPERSED.". New York Times archive. April 27, 1860. Retrieved March 27, 2012.
- Asbury, Gangs of New York (1927)
- "FACTS AND INCIDENTS OF THE RIOT.: THE MURDER OF COLORED PEOPLE IN THOMPSON AND SULLIVAN STREETS.". The New York Times. July 16, 1863. p. 1.