07/13/05 - philadelphia gangs

In today's excerpt - violence in Philadelphia from the 1830's to the 1850's and Philadelphia's answer to the 'Gangs of New York' from the same era:

" 'Whoever shall write a history of Philadelphia from the Thirties to the end of the Fifties will record a popular period of turbulence and outrages so extensive as to now appear almost incredible.' These are the words of Charles Godfrey Leland, one of Philadelphia's most talented journalists and poets, who was reflecting in the 1890s on a life of covering the city. Certainly he was right, for nothing unsettled Philadelphians more in the antebellum decades than crime and violence. Street gangs such as the Moyamensing Killers, Gumballs, Bloodtubs, Scroungers, Hyenas, Bedbugs, Swampoodle Terriers, Nighthawks, Flayers and Deathfetchers represented a frightening new aspect of urban life. By 1854, fifty-one street gangs were known, comprosed of teenagers and young men who battled for turf rights, terrorized pedestrians, and covered fences and walls with graffiti. ...

"As old sobriquets for the city–Penn's 'greene country towne' or the 'City of Brotherly Love'—became wildly inappropriate, civic worship of past heroes, presented as unblemished paragons, assumed new importance. If a carefully abridged past could help shape an intractable present and an uncertain future, then now was the time to make it matter."


Gary B. Nash


First City: Philadelphia and the forging of historical memory


University of Pennsylvania Press


Copyright 2002, 2006 by University of Pennsylvania Press


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