© Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Library of Congress
© Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Library of Congress
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Bowery Boys

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The Bowery Boys were a nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-Irish criminal gang based in the Bowery neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City in the early-mid-19th century. In contrast with the Irish immigrant tenement of the Five Points, one of the worst city slums in the United States, the Bowery was a more prosperous working-class community. Despite its reputation as one of the most notorious street gangs of New York City at the time, the majority of the Bowery Boys led law-abiding lives for the most part. The gang was made up exclusively of volunteer firemen—though some also worked as tradesmen, mechanics, and butchers (the primary trade of prominent leader William "Bill the Butcher" Poole)—and would fight rival fire companies over who would extinguish a fire. The Bowery Boys often battled multiple outfits of the infamous Five Points, most notably the Dead Rabbits, with whom they feuded for decades. The uniform of a Bowery Boy generally consisted of a stovepipe hat in variable condition, a red shirt, and dark trousers tucked into boots—this style paying homage to their firemen roots.