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Chronicles: The Legend of Five Points

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“Let us go on again, and … plunge into the Five Points….We have seen no beggars in the streets by night or day, but of other kinds of strollers plenty. Poverty, wretchedness, and vice are rife enough where we are going now.” – Charles Dickens, American Notes
Never has a slum been so notorious as that of Five Points. So rife with filth and debauchery that when Charles Dickens visited in 1842, he felt compelled to comment on all that he has seen. Overrun by gangs, where families came to live when they had no where else to go, Five Points was the breeding ground for disease and strife but also, in its strange way, for the first rumblings of what it means to be a New Yorker- living together in (relative) harmony with your fellow man no matter what their color or creed. It is here in Five Points where the Irish escaping the famine came in the 1840s and where the newly emancipated African American population found refuge. The violence between these two groups was legendary but it is also the first instance of integration in America.

6BanditsRoost MCNYWhat categorized Five Points more than anything else was its proliferation of gangs. This was made famous in the 2002 Martin Scorsese film, Gangs of New York, which fictionalized an Irish gang and race riots of the time. The real gangs of Five Points fell into three groups, the Irish, the Italians and the Jewish. The Italian Five Points Gang led by Paul Kelly became the most significant criminal group in American history, spreading throughout the US and gaining famous members such as Al Capone and Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
The location of Five Points no longer exists anymore in Manhattan. It originally occupied the filled in Collect Pond, which created a swamp in the area, at Mulberry, Anthony (now Worth St.), Cross (now Mosco), Orange (now Baxter), and Little Water Street (no longer exists). Between 1885 and 1895, efforts were made to clear the slums and eventually, the area was razed to the ground. Today, Five Points if covered over by government buildings in Foley Square, Columbus Park and Collect Pond Park.
Five Points
Worth st. & Baxter st., New York, NY

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