Swamp Angels

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The Swamp Angels were a New York waterfront street gang during the mid nineteenth century.

One of the most successful waterfront gangs of the period, the Swamp Angels dominated the dockyards of New York Harbor from the 1850s into the post-Civil War era. Their headquarters, a rookery on Cherry Street called Gotham Court, gave them access to the sewers under Cherry Street, and using these the gang was able to raid the East River dockyards and sell off its valuable cargo within hours, before the theft was discovered the following morning. With the gang's success, police began posting snipers to guard the waterfront. However, when this did not slow the gang's activity the police were forced to send police into the sewers, which resulted in regular battles between the police and gang members. Eventually regular police patrols of the sewers forced the gang to halt its use of the sewers although the gang continued to hijack cargo ships as they were being unloaded onto the wharfs. The Swamp Angels were less visible after about 1860 but continued to operate on the waterfront, according to one source, until eventually they merged with the rival waterfront gangs into the White Hand Gang at the end of the century.


  • Sifakis, Carl. Encyclopedia of American Crime, New York, Facts on File Inc., 1982