Bowery Boys

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For the group of actors who made a series of films between 1946 and 1958, see The Bowery Boys.
A view of the notorious 1857 fight between the two gangs, the "Bowery Boys" and the "Dead Rabbits", in the Sixth Ward, New York City
Bowery Boys
Founded by William "Bill the Butcher" Poole
Founding location Bowery, Manhattan, New York City
Years active mid-19th century
Territory The Bowery, Manhattan, New York City
Ethnicity English-American
Membership (est.) ?
Criminal activities street fighting, assault, murder, robbery, arson, rioting
Rivals Dead Rabbits, Plug Uglies

The Bowery Boys were a nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-Irish gang based out of the Bowery section of Manhattan in the mid-19th century and, despite their reputation as one of the most prominent gangs of 1800s' New York, led law-abiding lifestyles for most of the week. The gang was made up exclusively of volunteer firemen but also worked as mechanics and butchers (the occupation of famed Bowery Boy leader William "Bill The Butcher" Poole) and would fight rival fire companies over who would extinguish a fire. While acting in capacity as a gang (and aided by other Bowery gangs) the Bowery Boys would battle against multiple outfits out of the infamous Five Points, most notably the Dead Rabbits, with whom they would feud for decades.The uniform of a Bowery Boy generally consisted of a stovepipe hat in variable condition, a red shirt, and dark trousers tucked into boots; the uniform paying homage to their roots as volunteer firemen.

Mike Walsh[edit]

Mike Walsh was largely considered to be the leader of the Bowery Boys.[1] Walsh acted as a political figure to the Bowery Boys and even became an elected official. He reached the peak of his popularity in 1843, when he created the political clubhouse he called the "Spartan Association", which consisted of factory workers and unskilled laborers. [2] Walsh felt that the political leaders were treating the poor unfairly and wanted to make a difference by becoming a leader himself. Walsh was sentenced to jail twice, but the Bowery Boys became so powerful that they were able to bail him out during his second trip to jail. The front page of The Subterranean on April 4th read, "We consider the present infamous persecution of Mike Walsh a blow aimed at the honest laboring portion of this community". [3] Due to the threat of violence in the streets because of the Bowery Boys power, Walsh was let out midway through his sentence. Walsh was considered by many to be the "Champion of the poor man's rights". Walsh was eventually taken to Tammany hall and was nominated for a seat in the state legislature. Even Walt Whitman was in support of Mike Walsh. Walsh eventually died in 1859 and his obituary in an edition of The Subterranean read that the leader of the Bowery Boys was an "original talent, rough, full of passionate impulses... but he lacked balance, caution-the ship often seemed devoid of both ballast and rudder". The obituary was thought to be written by Whitman. [4]

Bowery Boys In The Theater[edit]

The Bowery Boys frequented theaters in New York City quite often. Richard Butsch from The Making Of American Audience's said that, "they brought the street into the theater, rather than shaping the theater into an arena of the public sphere". [5] The Bowery Theater, in particular, was a favorite among the Bowery Boys. The Bowery Theater was built in 1826 and soon became a theater for the working man. Walt Whitman wrote of the theater as, "packed from ceiling to pit with its audience, mainly of alert, well-dressed, full-blooded young and middle aged men, the best average of American-born mechanics". [6] Plays even began to appear in theater's frequented by the Bowery Boys with shows about Bowery Boys themselves. Particularly, a character named Moses who many Bowery Boys deemed as "the real thing". [7] It was not uncommon for men to drink, smoke, and meet with prostitutes in the theater. What may seem preposterous to us now was actually the norm at the time for these working class men. The Bowery Boys dominated the theater in the early nineteenth century and theater was considered to be a "male club". [8]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Adams, Peter (2005). The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion. Praeger. p. 1. 
  2. ^ Adams, Peter (2005). The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion. Praeger. p. 1. 
  3. ^ Adams, Peter (2005). The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion. Praeger. p. 2. 
  4. ^ Adams, Peter (2005). The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion. Praeger. p. 3. 
  5. ^ Butsch, Richard. The Making of American Audiences. p. 44. 
  6. ^ Butsch, Richard. The Making of American Audiences. p. 46. 
  7. ^ Butsch, Richard. The Making Of American Audiences: From Stage To Television. 
  8. ^ Butsch, Richard. Bowery B'hoys and Matinee Ladies: The Re-Gendering of Nineteenth-Century American Theater Audiences.