The city slumbers; o'er its silent walls
Night's dusky mantle, soft and silent falls;
Sleep o'er the world slow waves its wand of lead,
And ready torpors wrap each sinking head;
Still'd is the stir of labor and of life,
Hush'd is the hum, and tranquill'd is the strife;
Man is at rest, with all his hopes and fears,
The young forget their sports, the old their cares,
The grave or careless, those who joy or weep,
All rest contented on the arm of sleep.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nighttime in New York was hardly "soft and silent", for the night belonged
to the gangs. The Sixth Ward was synonymous with degredation and vice. As
early as 1825, the area known as Paradise Square at the confluence of several
streets known as Five Points was the site of numerous cheap grocers and speakeasies
which catered to the local denizens. The Irish potato famine brought a sudden
influx of immigrants, many of whom settled in the district and the nearby
Gangs were sometimes necessary as a support system for the new immigrants,
who were otherwise powerless. Soon, the gangs were the undisputed rulers
of their districts, and the politicians soon began to call upon them for assistance.
Before long, an election day in New York City meant sinister looking men
armed with clubs hovering around the polling places ensuring that people
voted for the "right" candidate.
Other gangs operated independently of the political machines and served
only themselves and answered to no one. They were found mostly along the
waterfront of the Fourth Ward, and were likened to bloodthirsty pirates who
plundered vessels in the harbor, killing anyone who got in their way.
The Daybreak Boys was one such gang. Operating out of Pete Williams' gin
mill at the intersection of James and Water Sts.*, an area known as Slaughterhouse
Point, the Daybreakers were the terror of the East River in the early 1850s.
Between 1850 and 1852, they were credited (blamed?) for the loss of $100,000
in property and at least 20 murders. The origin of their name is uncertain,
though that they were known to operate on the East River sometimes into
the early morning is a theory. The phonetic spelling of "b'hoy" soon became
a badge of honor for men in the area, for a man was not truly considered
part of the "in" crowd if he were not "one of the b'hoys."
(* The intersection is no longer extant, now occupied by the Gov.
Alfred E. Smith Houses — and a block away from the modern Police Headquarters)
Like many gangs of the era, the Daybreak Boys attracted quite a following
in the local youth. An auxiliary known as the Little Daybreak Boys, manned
by boys from ages 8 to 12, assisted their older comrades as lookouts and
decoys, and allegedly committed heinous acts of murder and violence on their
The reign of the Daybreakers was curtailed, if only for a short while,
by the arrest in 1853 of three of its leaders, after a botched attempt to
plunder the brig William Watson. Leadership was assumed by Bill Lowrie and
Slobbery Jim, the former of whom would be jailed for a dock robbery and latter
of whom fled the city to avoid prosecution in the murder of fellow Daybreak
Boy Patsy the Barber. Slobbery Jim eventually was commissioned as a Captain
in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Cow-legged Sam McCarthy took
over control of the now-fledgling organization before falling in with a gang
of burglars from the Five Points.
In 1858, the Metropolitan Police began the first harbor patrol, a tradition
which continues in today's NYPD Harbor Unit, in direct response to the exploits
of waterfront gangs like the Daybreak Boys. That year, the police had killed
12 Daybreakers and arrested another 57. The gang could not survive this
loss, and thus by 1859, most of its core had dissolved into other local