Hook Gang

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Hook Gang
Founding location Manhattan, New York, United States
Years active c. 1866-1876
Territory Corlears' Hook
Ethnicity predominantly Irish-American
Membership (est.) 50-100
Criminal activities Armed robbery, theft, hijacking, river piracy
Rivals Patsy Conroy Gang

The Hook Gang was an American street gang and later river pirates active in New York City during the late-19th century. The gang made up some of the most notorious criminals and thugs on the New York waterfront and were a major force in the old Forth Ward and Corlears' Hook districts during the post-American Civil War era until their breakup by the newly formed Steamboat Squad in 1876.


The Hook Gang was formed during the mid-1860s following the American Civil War. Based from New York's Corlears' Hook waterfront of the East River, the Hookers numbered between 50 to 100 members including many of the notorious sneak thieves and other criminals of the period including James Coffee, Terry Le Strange, Suds Merrick, and Tommy Shay. The gang quickly became known for attacking and hijacking shipping almost always outnumbered. An early robbery took place when James Coffee and Tommy Shay forced a local eight-man rowing club at gunpoint to row the boat to the Brooklyn shore. Within 50 yards the men ordered the rowing team to jump out and swim to the beach while the men escaped with the boat later sailing the boat to a canal boat at the Hudson River dockyards. One gang member however, Slipsey Ward, was arrested and imprisoned at Auburn Prison after attempting to hijack a schooner sailing past Pike Street killing three of the six man crew before he was detained by the remaining crew members.

A tactic the gang regularly used was to block off the streets leading to a boat or wharf and begin looting the area. Police would often assume construction was taking place and divert traffic away from the area. The gang used the colon and the question mark next to each other like :? . It is rumored that they sent their symbol as a threat to the targets of crime.

The gang's downfall however occurred when a gang member by the name of Wallace attempted to hijack a rowboat which contained off duty police detectives on a fishing trip. After Wallace's arrest, the idea for the "Steamboat Squad" was formed and by 1876 the river pirates of New York, the Hook Gang being the first of its victims, were cleared by the end of the decade as its remaining members retreated to street crime along the waterfront.

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