Five Points

Five Points was a notorious slum centered on the intersection of Worth St. (originally Anthony St.), Baxter St. (originally Orange St.) and a now demolished stretch of Mosco St. (formerly Park St., formerly Cross St.), and the eastern corner of a public park called "Paradise Square", on Manhattan island, New York City, New York, in the United States. The name Five Points derived from the five corners at this intersection.


The neighborhood took form by about 1820 next to the site of the former Collect Pond, which had been drained due to a severe pollution problem. The landfill job on the Collect was a poor one, and surface seepage to the southeast created swampy, insect-ridden conditions resulting in a precipitous drop in land value. Most middle-class-and-up inhabitants fled, leaving the neighborhood completely open to the influx of poor immigrants that started in the early 1820s and reached a torrent in the 1840s due to the Irish Potato Famine. It was situated close enough for a walking commute to the large mercantile employers of the day in and around the dockyards at the island's southern tip, but it was far enough away from the built-up Wall St. area to allow a total remake of character. At Five Points "height" only certain areas of London's East End vied with it in the western world for sheer population density, disease, infant and child mortality, unemployment, prostitution, violent crime, and other classic ills of the destitute. However, it was the original American melting pot, at first consisting primarily of newly emancipated African Americans (gradual emancipation ended in New York in 1822), and newly arrived Irish. The confluence of African, Irish, Anglo and, later, Jewish and Italian culture, seen first in Five Points, would be an important leavening in the growth of the United States. The rough and tumble local politics of "the ould Sixth ward" (The Points primary municipal voting district), while not free of corruption, set important precedents for the election of non-Anglo-Saxons to key offices. Although the tensions between the African Americans and the Irish were legendary, their cohabitation in Five Points was the first large-scale instance of volitional racial integration in American history, and arguably the first in world history. In the end, the Five Points African American community moved to Manhattan?s West Side and to the then-undeveloped north of the island.


Five Points is alleged to have sustained the highest murder rate of any slum in the world. According to New York legend, The Old Brewery, an overcrowded tenement housing 1,000 poor, is said to have averaged a murder a night for fifteen years, until its demolition in 1852. During this period, the Five Points neighborhood is said to have averaged fifteen murders a night. Many other sources dispute these figures, describing them as gross exaggerations of actual sustained averages. Five Points was dominated by rival gangs like the Roach Guards, Dead Rabbits, and Bowery Boys. According to Herbert Asbury's book "The Gangs of New York," police arrested 82,072 New Yorkers in 1862, or 10% of the city. In 1864, five police officers were murdered. To give a sense of the era, Asbury's book tells the story of a little girl who lived with 25 people in a small basement room, and was stabbed to death for a penny she had begged. Asbury reports that the girl's body lay in a corner for five days before her mother dug her a shallow grave in the floor. In the twentieth century, the Five Points Gang recruited members from the toughest gangs in the city. Five Points mobsters included:

  1. Paul Kelly
  2. Giovanni "Johnny" Torrio
  3. Frankie Yale. Recruits
  4. Charles "Lucky" Luciano
  5. Al Capone
Capone received his nickname "scarface" from a knife fight at The Harvard Inn, nearby the former locale of Five Points. When Capone was finally convicted for tax evasion in 1931, he was quoted in newspapers saying, "I shoulda never left Five Points." (meaning his New York gang of that name).

1800 NYC population: 60,000
1825 Erie Canal completed
1830 Lowell textile mills flourish
1845 - 1847 Great Famine in Ireland
1846 - 1853 Irish immigration swells
1855 NYC population: 800,000
1857 Five Points riot
1861 - 1865 Civil War
1877 The Great Railroad strike
1880s Irish-Americans help build the first national labor union in the US, the Knights of Labor
1890s New immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe begin arriving in large numbers

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