Forty Thieves (New York gang)

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Forty Thieves
Founding location Centre Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York
Years active 1820s-1860s
Territory Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York City
Ethnicity Irish and Irish-American
Membership (est.) ?
Criminal activities street fighting, knife fighting, assault, murder, robbery

The Forty Thieves — likely named after Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves — was the first organized street gang in New York City's history. Primarily consisting of Irish immigrants, they terrorized the Five Points intersection in New York City, New York.

Originally based in New York's Lower East Side, the Forty Thieves were formed in the early 1820s by Edward Coleman. Initially it was formed to rebel against their low social status but the members soon turned to crime to relieve their frustration. This gang emerged due to prejudice and class distinction. Such social conditions were evident in the Five Points area of New York in the 1820s. Canal Street, the Bowery, Broadway, and Mulberry Street bordered this area, which was a slum infested with mosquitoes and disease. Meeting at a Centre Street grocery store owned by Rosanna Peers, members would be given assignments and issued strict quotas on the gang's share of illegal activities. The quota system proved a great motivator among veterans competing against younger members seeking to take older members' positions. However, in the long term the gang was unable to maintain internal discipline in early New York, and by 1850 the gang had dissolved with its members joining larger gangs or leaving on their own. From the violence to the high crime rates, Five Points desperately lacked the aid of government support. The Forty Thieves saw this as an economic opportunity, as they established relations with Tammany Hall. This corrupt bureaucracy provided community services in exchange for money and support from its residents to fund their corrupt agendas. The juvenile Little Forty Thieves, an apprentice gang of the original Forty Thieves, would outlast their mentors, continuing to commit illegal activities throughout the 1850s before eventually joining the later street gangs following the American Civil War in 1865.