Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

0
4341

Join The Immigrants’ Civil War on Facebook

Five Points was the most economically downtrodden neighborhood of all of New York. When starving Irish fleeing the Famine washed up in New York in 1848, it was a short walk to the miserable overcrowded dwellings in the neighborhood.  The weak, sick refugees were cast into a slum that was built on a landfilled pond on whose shores the city’s slaughterhouses stood.  When the buildings began to sag as they settled in the soft ground, anyone who could afford to live somewhere else moved. Filling in the abandoned space were immigrants and blacks. 1 points-181 Five Points at the time of the Civil War

During the 1830s and 1840s, nativists tried to violently push out the Irish, but the Irish pushed back. In an era of New York history when mob violence was a part of civic life, fights involving dozens or even hundreds of combatants roiled the streets. 2

By 1855, the immigrants had a firm hold on the neighborhood.  Only 28% of the people living there were native-born, 52% were born in Ireland, 11% were German and 3% were Italian and about the same number were black. Roughly half of the Germans were Jews. During the middle of the 19th Century there were more Jewish congregations in Five Points than in the rest of the city combined.  3

fpoint-1859 This print from before the war shows the racial intermixing of Five Points life.

Most of the Irish came from just three counties, Kerry, Cork and, the largest group, Sligo. Nearly all of the Sligo Irish came from two plantations owned by wealthy British landlords. Decades earlier, the landlords had taken title to the land once owned by the indigenous Irish. The Irish farmer then rented the land he farmed from the landlord.  Almost all the earnings of the farmer went to pay the landlord. Farmers were reduced to eating nothing but potatoes three times a day.4

The land rental system already left the Sligo farmers malnourished before the potato blight destroyed their crops.  When the Famine hit in 1846, the Sligo farmers began to die off quickly. To rid himself of the starving, the landowner, Lord Palmerston, began shipping his tenants first to Canada and then to New York. Canadian inspectors compared the conditions on Palmerston’s ships to those prevailing in the slave trade. 5

south-street South Street was the principal landing place for immigrants in the 1850s and 1860s. Under the current Brooklyn Bridge, the docks along South Street provided employment to many Five Pointers.

Many of the Kerry Irish were from a single estate, that of the Marquis of Lansdowne. The New York Herald said the immigrants from that estate were ”the very picture of Despair, misery, disease and want…ejected without mercy and shipped for America…It is inhuman, and yet it is an act of indiscriminate and wholesale expatriation committed by the President of the Council of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.” Many of these new arrivals died before they ever got beyond the Five Points. 6

In many cases, only the father of the family came to America. He tried to live as cheaply as possible, knowing that spending an extra dollar for lodging or entertainment would steal the nourishment his children needed to survive in an Ireland where 15 % of the population was dying of starvation. To send remittances home, the Irish soon created the Emigrant Bank. Life-saving money could now safely be transmitted to Ireland for food, to save the farm, or for passage to America. 7

five-maps The Five Points in the Life of the Immigrant:  A. Ships from Europe carried immigrants to South Street where they landed. B. After 1855, immigrants walked to Castle Garden (The Battery) where they could meet friends or buy train tickets. C. Newcomers from Ireland and elsewhere would often obtain their first shelter in Five Points. The Five Points was in the city’s 6th Ward. D. The Five Points was so close to City Hall that its politically active, and often angry, residents posed a threat to the city’s political elite. E. America’s publishing industry was centered at Park Row, which meant that what happened in Five Points would be read about everywhere in America. F. The physical proximity of Five Points to Wall Street made its labor radicalism a threat to America’s owning class.

Sensational nativist newspapers painted the Five Points as a nest of thieves and murderers. But the residents were for the most part hard-working men and women trying to deal with the trauma of seeing their friends and family die from starvation, and then being forced to immigrate to a sometimes hostile new world. There were few murders in the neighborhood and most arrests were for what would now be called disorderly conduct.8

The nativist press also gleefully described the “sexual promiscuity” of the Irish Five Pointers, and in particular the frequency of the Irish sleeping with or marrying African American men and women. In fact, with the Irish outnumbering blacks by 15 to 1 there was little opportunity for “race mixing”, however, Irish women were more likely to bear mixed-race babies than any other group of women in the city. .9

While outsiders saw a great mixing of peoples, in fact there was significant segregation. For example, most people from Sligo lived in apartment buildings where only other Sligo families lived. German Jews tended to live with other Jews. However, with the streets so crowded, cross ethnic friendships and relations naturally occurred. Dance competitions between Irish and black Five Pointers, where dancers from each group adopted the others moves led to a combination of African-style dancing with Irish step dancing that is now called tap dance.10

tenementFive Point tenement

The largest group of workers among the Five Points Irish were day laborers who had nothing to sell but their labor. Men and women of all nationalities were in the needle trades, the lowest-paid of the semi-skilled occupations. Many of the so-called Five Points riots were in fact strikes by needle workers desperate for a few more cents a day in pay.11

Irish fish mongers were commonly heard on the streets of the Five Points calling out “My clams I want to sell today, the best of clams from Rock-away.” Irish who put away a little money would open a grocery or a grocery-groggery where a drink could be had while shopping.  The most prosperous would open a saloon, not just a drinking hall, but a center of working-class male culture. A popular saloon-keeper could parlay his renown into political power in the neighborhood.  12

after-the-war Bottle Alley at Five Points two decades after the war. This was in the heart of the neighborhood’s Sligo community.

In an age when women were expected to stay at home, Irish women worked as seamstresses and servants, they operated boardinghouses, and they were bookbinders, boxmakers, and artificial flower-makers.  While Irish women formed the largest segment of domestic workers, one-in-ten ads specified that applicants must be “Protestant” or “American.” An ad seeking a housekeeper announced “WOMAN WANTED:-To do general housework…any color or country will answer except Irish.”13

The Five Points also became known as New York’s prostitution district. Men ranging from sailors disembarking at South Street to wealthy Uptowners slumming came to the neighborhood for commercialized sex.  In fact, the term “slumming” originated in Five Points. 14

Most Five Points sex workers were Irish women in their late teens or early twenties. Most stayed in the sex trade for a few months or a couple of years. In most cases they entered the trade when a male protector, typically a father, died, often in a work-related accident.  The resort of Irish women to prostitution was used by the nativist press to show the degeneracy of the Irish while the fact that their customers were often native born men of the respectable class went unremarked upon. 15

For all the difficulties the Irish immigrants of the Five Points faced, it is significant that they sacrificed every penny to try to bring their families over to live there. In almost every case, life in America’s worst slum was better than starvation in Ireland. Letters home promised that America was “the best country in the world.” The promise of America kept the immigrants coming, and when war broke out loyalty to this new land led thousands to enlist in the neighborhood’s Irish and German military companies. 16

five-map3

Five Points Map A. The original location of the Five Points was purposely destroyed by city planners a century ago in a move to eradicate the neighborhood. The modern Court complex called Foley Square was built over the destroyed southern portion of Five Points and parks were placed on its northern side.  The area where Columbus Park is located was once a thriving black neighborhood which survived until the riots. B. Mulberry Bend, where the famous street turns, was the most notorious red light district in the city. At the time of the war’s outbreak there was at least one brothel in each building on the Bend. C. Collect Pond Park memorializes the pond and swamp that were imperfectly filled in to create the landfill that became Five Points. D. Chatham Square, now the heart of Chinatown, was the eastern boundary of Five Points. E. The Bowery was the center of the working class entertainment district. The intermixture of young men and women here gave rise to America’s first “youth culture.” They had their own music, slang, and ways of dancing and dressing. Nativist gangs from north of the Five Points sometimes went Paddy Hunting by this invasion route. F. Transfiguration Church is New York’s ancient immigrant parish. Since 1853 the 200 year old church has served the changing immigrant communities. Today it offers mass in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.


Video: A short look at the gangs of the Five Points

Resource:

A walking tour of the Five Points

Sources:

1. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 is a non-fiction book by historians Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (1998); The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007); The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1990; Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001); The Tiger: The Rise And Fall Of Tammany Hall by Oliver E. Allen published by De Capo Press 1993.

The following map shows Five Points in 1851. Paradise Park is the location of the intersection of three streets that gave rise to the neighborhood’s name.

points-18512. Modern readers may be unfamiliar with “The Mob” as a factor in urban politics. Mobs had played a key role in colonial politics in Boston during the years leading up to the American Revolution. Nativist mobs were active in many American cities during the 1840s and 1850s. In 1849, a working class mob at the Astor Place Opera House rioted against aristocratic discrimination in the theater. Police fired into the mob, killing 20 people. More typically, mob violence was rarely lethal. Even anti-black mob action rarely resulted in serious physical injury before 1863. Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 29-31
3.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 43-45
4.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 48-51
5.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 51-60
6.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 60-66
7.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 78-80
8.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 70-80
9.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 96-103
10.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 96-102
11.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 115-120
12.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 119
13.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p 126-128
14.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001)
15.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001)
16.Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001) p. 136-140

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

Cultural

Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

Blog Posts

The Real Story Behind The Immigrants’ Civil War Photo

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

The Five Meanings of “The Immigrants’ Civil War”

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Civil War Blogs I Read Every Week

First Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award Goes to Joe Reinhart

Damian Shiels Wins Second Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award

Mother Jones: Civil War Era Immigrant and Labor Leader

Juneteenth for Immigrants

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler-Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

LEAVE A REPLY