Gangs of Greenpoint and Williamsburg

In the 1870’s and 1880’s the Northside of Williamsburg and Greenpoint had serious gang violence.
Here are some of the gangs that terrorized people.

Meeker Avenue Gang – (1870s) Their hang out was Sullivan’s Saloon, which was located at the corner of Meeker and Graham Avenues. Members of this gang were also in the North Sixth Street Gang after being driven out of Sullivan’s Saloon, although in 1875, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported this gang forced entry into a saloon to get free beer. Some of the elder gang members were once in the Battle Row Gang. One member was charged and convicted for stealing a pair of shoes valued at $2. In 1873, the gang invaded a saloon at 333 Devoe Street and trashed it, taking the owner and his wife as hostage when the police showed up. An Officer Ward’s face and cheek was grazed by a bullet from the gang.

Gang of the Green (1885-1892) – The “green” referred to in this gang was the “open space between Bushwick and Greenpoint,” The New York Herald reported. An off-shoot of the infamous Battle Row Gang, this was a small-time gang known for highway robbery, drunken revelry, fighting with police and muggings who had a headquarters on Union Avenue. In 1885, a gang member simply known as “Bender” attempted to rob a taxi of its cash box. In September of 1886, on the corner of Union and North Second Street at a bar called Fagin & McDonald, one of the owners was challenged to a fight outside by a patron. A donnybrook ensued and five men were arrested. In June of 1891, a drunken gangster brawled with a police officer, kicking him multiple times in the head before eventually being subdued. In November, another gang member robbed two Chinese men who owned a laundry store at 337 Second Street. One of the gang members was stabbed in the neck with a pen-knife, then arrested. After sentencing, the judge said to him, “I know… that you are a member of the notorious Gang of the Green. I want to say that every time a member of your gang is convicted before me, I will give him a long sentence. I consider it my duty to do all that I can to break up the gang.” The next month, another gang member was arrested at the corner of Graham and Driggs for a stabbing. In 1892, a gangster kicked several teeth out of a policemen’s head while being arrested for “assaulting his mother.” In 1896, businessmen and reporters blamed the gang for a riot and ruining seven trolley cars by blocking the tracks, throwing rocks and shooting at the trolley cars. In reality, the violence was spurned by a union strike which didn’t stop the trolley company from hiring scabs to continue service. The gang had been broken up by this time, but the trolley owners had no problem equating unions with the behavior of gangs.

Rainmakers Gang (1894 – 1904) – A gang that lived under the docks along the waterfront of North 1st and North 4th streets and in tenement basements. Known as “dock rats,” they stole from factories, barges, railroad freight yards, brawled with police and assaulted and robbed local Jews by throwing bricks and cobblestones at them (hence the moniker “Rainmakers”), then demanding money. In 1900, two members were arrested for asking for a drink at a saloon owned by Samuel Goldstein, then grabbing the whiskey bottle from him. In 1903, this gang was blamed for starting a fire at 288 Wythe Avenue, beating a patrolman and mugging residents for “beer money.” In 1904, the gang started a riot with local “Hebrews” at the corner of Wallabout Street and Harrison Avenue. At the signal, the gang through paving stones and other missiles at “defenseless” Jews. Other local Jews returned the favor and a riot ensued.

The Dump Gang – (1890s) In March of 1894, seventeen of the gang members were arrested after a raid by police underneath a pier at the garbage dump on the waterfront where they lived during the winter. The officer told a judge they “lived like water rats.” By covering up holes in the pier with canvas and using coal fires, they stayed warm. The leader, “whose proud boast it is that he never worked and never will” along with the others were sentenced at the Tombs Police Court. For food or alcohol, they begged and filled up soda bottles with cheap whiskey or beer growlers. They often stole things like rope from ships along the East River and traded it in for cash. In 1898, a man was beaten to death and had his eyes gouged by this gang.

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