A 1924 mugshot from Australia. Credit NPR, NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum, Historic Houses Trust of NSW

Think that North Brooklyn was a safer place back in the good old days? Think again! In the second half of the 19th century, North Brooklyn had many notorious gangs and hard-core hoods. Here are some of the most infamous local gangs of yesteryear.

The Battle Row Gang – This gang, which had an almost two-decade-long life starting in 1870, was in the words of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “composed of the scum of the Fourteenth Ward (Williamsburg).” known as “fighters and rowdies,” they lurked at “Crow” McGoldrick’s saloon on Union Avenue and North First Street. They became notorious in July of 1871 when gang member Henry Rogers killed Brooklyn Police officer Donoghue and was hanged for the murder. In June of that year, two factions of the gang fought with “pistols, knives, fists and slingshots. The battle raged,” furiously and unrestrained” for thirty minutes. One dying member, Patrick Cash, asked to name his assailants, replied “I’d die with the name of the fellow in my throat, before I’d give him away.” You can read more about these scumbags in the Daily Eagle archives here and here.

The North Sixth Street Gang – Former Forty Thieves gang leader “Skinny” Wilson became the leader of this gang in the 1870s. Some of the elder gang members were also former members of the Battle Row Gang. Notorious for burglary and highway robbery, the gang leaders often spent long sentences in Sing Sing, which led to a lot of leadership turnover. An 1875 article in the Daily Eagle mentions a lot of gang guys with great-sounding nicknames, including the aforementioned “Skinny” Wilson, “Jumper Lively”, “Stiffy Curtis”, “Whistling” Quinn, “Goose” McCue, “Sugar” Van Wagner, “Matches”, and “Gallows”.

The Meeker Avenue Gang – Their hang out was Sullivan’s Saloon, located at the corner of Meeker and Graham Avenues. Members of this gang were also in the North Sixth Street Gang and veterans of Battle Row Gang. In 1875, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the gang forced entry into a saloon to get free beer. In 1873, the gang invaded a saloon at 333 Devoe Street, trashed it and then took the owner and his wife as hostage when the police showed up. A bullet from the gang grazed an Officer Ward’s face and cheek.

The Gang of the Green – The “green” in their name was an open lot between Bushwick and Greenpoint, The New York Herald reported. An offshoot of the Battle Row Gang, this gang was infamous for highway robbery, fighting with the police and muggings. Headquartered on Union Avenue, in June, 1891, a drunken gangster brawled with a police officer, kicking him multiple times in the head before eventually being arrested. A One of the gang members was stabbed in the neck with a pen-knife, then arrested. After sentencing, the judge told him, “I know… that you are a member of the notorious Gang of the Green. I want to say that every time a member of your gang is convicted before me, I will give him a long sentence. I consider it my duty to do all that I can to break up the gang.”

The Rainmakers – A gang that lurked under the docks along the waterfront of North 1st and North 4th streets and in tenement basements. Known as “dock rats,” they stole from factories, barges and railroad yards. They brawled with police, while also attacking and robbing local Jews by throwing bricks and cobblestones at them (hence the name “Rainmakers”), then demanding money. In 1903, this gang was blamed for starting a fire at 288 Wythe Avenue, beating a patrolman and mugging residents for “beer money.” In 1904, the gang started a donnybrook with local Jews at the corner of Wallabout Street and Harrison Avenue. At the signal, the gang hurled paving stones and other missiles at the Jews and a riot ensued when the Jewish community fought back.

Headline from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 10, 1912

By 1912, The Daily Eagle had declared the Brooklyn gangs “long gone”. And today more than 100 years on, our criminal landscape in North Brooklyn is surely much different than it was back then.

Credit to Art of Need‘s Eamon Loingsigh for the research.

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  1. Union Avenue and North First Street? The grid must have been completely different then, because those streets don’t even come close to intersecting now.

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