© Daily Mail
© Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Library of Congress
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The Forty Thieves Gang


Rosanna Peers 

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One of Gotham’s earliest known criminal outfits, the Forty Thieves operated between the 1820s and 1850s in the Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan. The first Forty Thieves gang in New York City was formed in the 1820s on the Lower East side by Irish immigrants . It was New York's first organized criminal gang with a disciplined membership and leadership that catered to corrupt polititians and committed muggings and robberies. Their name probably came from the Arabian Nights tale of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." The gang would meet in a speakeasy run by Rosanna Peers on what would become Centre Street where the chieftan Edward Colemen gave out criminal assignments. By 1850 the gang fell apart and the name was associated with Tammany Hall politicians who stole from the city treasury. A gang resurfaced in the Depression and Prohibition era with the name. Malcolm X's description of the Forty Thieves reveals the continuation of the tradition of a well organized criminal legacy linked to the wider New York underworld and respect of criminals for disciplined effective organization.

This band of Irish thugs, pickpockets and ne’er-do-wells first came together in a grocery store and dive bar owned by a woman named Rosanna Peers.