History as it Happened presents contemporary newspaper and other media accounts of notable times in urban history, with added commentary as appropriate. These accounts are offered to help the modern reader see events through the eyes those who observed them as they were happening.
The following articles, arranged chronologically from 1834 to 1857, illustrate the rising tide of violence, disease and despair that made The Five Points neighborhood a frequent topic of New York conversation. Researched, compiled and written by Gregory J. Christiano.
From the New York Sun, Thursday, May 29, 1834 (Publ’d Daily by Benj. H. Day & Geo. W. Wisner) [Office: 222 William Street].
Robbery: - A black man was knocked down and robbed night before last in the vicinity of the Five Points.
Mr. Robert Castle, of this city, was one of three men who drifted ashore, and over whose bodies a coroner’s inquest was held at Yellow Hook, mentioned in our paper a few days since. On the 13 inst. [this month], Mr. Castle strayed from the house of his son, 151 Elizabeth street, who made every effort to discover what had become of him, which proved ineffectual until on Tuesday, when he learned the above fact.
From the New York Sun, Monday, June 23, 1834.
Caution to Shop Keepers. – While there are so many rogues prowling the city, as at present, an argus [watchful] eye should be every where kept. Saturday morning a chap called at the store of Mr. Beatty, at the corner of Jay and Washington streets, to get a bank note changed, and having satisfied himself that the till contained “deposites,” he soon returned and made a purchase of three pence worth of sand. While the lad was outdoors engaged in measuring it, he “removed” all the “metal currency” from the drawer, amounting to 8 or 10 dollars.
From the New York Sun, Monday Morning, June 22, 1835.
[Reported to the Sun]
Police Office – Saturday.
Elizabeth Batson of 41 Pitt street was brought in at half past 10 o’clock, with a young
Thomas, alias William Jenkins, of 271 Greenwich street, who said he was bookkeeper for Mildengenery & Timpson, was taken up at Peck slip by Mr. Doyle, Street Inspector of the 4th ward charged with being very drunk, and sent to the watch-house. In the morning being yet under the influence of liquor ... he was remanded to the watch-house until he could become sober and civil.
Henry Marshal, a sailor was found drunk in the street, “wallowing in filth as do the swine,” and brought in on a hand cart. Committed.
Dennis Murphy, of Avenue B and Clinton street was found by the custom house watchman at 10 o’clock at night wagging along with a heavy piece of pig iron on his shoulder, whereupon being questioned, he said he got it from Pier No. 9, East River and then from No. 3, and on being taken there he could not tell where he got it, but said a man got him to carry it. He was committed.
Celia Riddle, yellow girl, of Bayard street was found at the Five Points, drunk and disorderly and wanting to fight. Committed.
William Fisher, and old sailor, who said he was sail maker on board the U. S. schooner Experiment, had been in the United States service more than 19 years and fought hard for his country in the last war, was brought up, with his …a gushing gory from weighty blows, charged with having been found late at night in the house of Capt. – Hugh March, No. 123 South street, under peculiarly suspicious circumstances. Fisher, having been previously confined to duty on shipboard, and having just returned from a long voyage with nearly $500 on him, obtained a short furlough to go on shore with his friends, stretch his limbs and take a glass of grog with his shipmates. Having accomplished all this and having drunk incessantly until his mind became inflamed he strolled about until he espied the door of the house of Capt. March, and in he walked to seize hold of the hospitality it appeared to offer. As a snug berth was desirable, in the then drooping condition of his mind and body, Fisher very deliberately hauled off his shoes and tarpaulin, and planning to go on the entry floor mounted aloft to the 3rd floor hunting for a hammock in which to take a snooze. Finding a handsomely dressed bed, he doffed his jacket and in the bed he hopped and ensconced under the covering, sunk into a sound sleep. After snoring a while, Mrs. March came up to show Mrs. Ireland to bed, and on advancing to it then found Fisher in full possession. The ladies “screamed and screamed,” and scampered off, and the gentlemen were being [obliterated] who had the impudence to disturb him in his hammock. Jack, however, was ordered to get out, but he swore he would do no such thing, and bid them to be gone, for a set of laud sharks as they were. The gentlemen urged, but Jack, swearing he would not “give up the ship,” and being disposed to resist to the last plank reefed up his forces and prepared for action; but the whole squad began bearing down upon him, carried the boarding, and Jack was made a prize of the squad and led to the watch-house. In the morning the effect of his grog not being quite worked off, Jack was sent to Bridewell, until he should become sober enough to spin a straight yarn on the subject of his capture.
Daniel Dowland, alias Durgan Dothy youth and dealer in sugar plums, arrived on Friday in this city from Liverpool, and the first thing he did after landing was to go to the nearest grog shop and get drunk, and then get into the watch-house. He thought it was mighty funny that he should do so and it was much easier to get drunk here than in Liverpool, and had the pleasure of going to jail the day after his arrival, for the ugly sin of getting drunk.
Sally Carpenter, alias Maria Williams, a yellow woman, was sent in by Bowyer officer suspected of a felony. Committed.
Samuel Letts, assault and battery on Morris Gentry. The parties settled and he was discharged.
Hannah Fowle, alias Donnelly of 313 Pearl street was brought in beastly drunk, and swore it was her husband that was drunk, and not herself. Committed.
Bernard Lawless, just from New Orleans, was brought in drunk from the oyster house of a man named Smith for attempting to leave a child there, which he brought with him, and swore that he had never seen before, though it was the child of landlord. He was fined $1 which he paid and was discharged.
Mary Ann Allen, 5 years from Sligo, was sick and sent to the alms-house.
Lydia Cutter was sick and without home, and sent to the penitentiary for 90 days.
A stranger taken in. – A Scotch gentleman from Princeton, N. Jersey, named Paul came to this city about three weeks since and in disbursement of his business went one afternoon to the Five Points. There he chanced to enter a house which persons of poor character sometimes frequent, and while there, a mulatto woman came in and by engaging him in conversation, contrived to pick his pocket of $65, with which she made off. The gentleman came to the police office, and communicated the fact to Bowyer officer, who keeping a sharp look out on Friday night as he was passing the Five Points, happened to come across the mulatto, who was engaged in a fierce fight, while another negress was crying “give it to her Sal.” She was then followed and arrested by the officer, who lodged her in the watch-house and in the morning she was sent to prison, but no part of the money was found, that having long since been wasted in intemperate indulgence.