Gangs of New York - Summary

Immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, in which so many soldiers died, President Lincoln needed more men to fight for the North. Draft laws were passed to fill the gap, but wealthy people were able to buy their way out of conscription.

 A legal loophole allowed a man to avoid service if he could “contribute” $300 - valued at just under $6,000 today - to the war effort. Recent immigrants to the city, mostly Irish, were outraged. The July riots of 1863 claimed nearly 1,000 lives.

At the time, the city had numerous gangs. Some, like the Bowery Boys, were associated with residential areas. And the character of New York’s neighborhoods was changing. Seventeenth-century pastoral places had morphed into nineteenth-century tenements.

The Collect Pond, a picturesque place which served as the city’s water source in 1798, had become part of the tannery industry (which used its water to process goods). Soon the pond was so polluted it had to be drained and filled. Within a dozen years, the land began to sink - as did the morals of people living in the area (called Five Points).

What had once been beautiful was now a slum. After visiting the Five Points neighborhood, Charles Dickens observed: “From every corner, as you glance about you in these dark retreats, some figure crawls half-awakened ...Where dogs would howl to lie, women, and men, and boys slink off to sleep, forcing the dislodged rats to move away in quest of better lodgings.”

This was the city of Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) and fictional characters like Amsterdam Vallon (Leo DiCaprio) and Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) featured in Gangs of New York (the film by Martin Scorsese). It was home to Tammany Hall and crooked politicians like “Boss Tweed.”

In this story behind the movie, virtually visit both seventeenth- and nineteenth-century New York to see how the city changed. Read contemporary newspapers and “meet” some of the city’s leading residents. Examine drawings of the 1863 riots, take a trip to Five Points and see how immigrants of the time fared in their new American home.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Nov 04, 2016

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"Gangs of New York" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 01, 2002. Jan 18, 2020.
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