Whyos Article of the Week: February 1, 1884

The Whyos were, in their time, the quintessential New York gang. They were a sort of sequel to an earlier gang, the Chichesters, who were located in New York’s Five Points and managed a 50 year run before being busted up by the police. But the Whyos grew as no New York street gang ever had, absorbing other gangs and diversifying their criminal activities. The gang was largely, if not exclusively, Irish-American, especially in leadership.

I’ve decided to reprint articles about this gang, once per week or so. This is not intended to be comprehensive, but instead representational — I’ll reprint the articles that strike me as the most interesting. As much as is possible, I shall try to do so chronologically, as so let me begin with the first article I have discovered about the gang:


New York Herald, February 1, 1884

Justice Duffy yesterday received a note from President Kirk, of the Board of Aldermen, asking for the discharge of John Chapin, nineteen years old, of No. 5 Monroe Street, who was arrested on the 5th inst., with three other members oft he “Whyo” gang, a notorious band of young thieves that have rendered a portion of the Alderman’s district unsafe for respectable people after nightfall. Seven more of the gang were “taken in” in the 25th inst., and as no charge of larceny could be brought against them the eleven prisoners were sent to the island as vagrants. Besides Chapin there was a youth among them named Samuel Abramson, of No. 44 Elizabeth Street, whose discharge has been asked in vain by thirteen politicians. Justice Duffy, after reading Alderman Kirk’s plea for Chapin, said to the messenger:–

“I will not discharge this man, because he is a thief and belongs to a gang which I am determined to exterminate.They hang around the Bowery and ‘lay’ for drunken men, ‘working lushes’ they term it, and when a dark place is reached these ruffians knock the intoxicated man down and rob him. I have found that a section of the Penal Code gives me power to send prisoners whom I know to be thieves to the island as vagrants. The District Attorney says he will sustain such an action. No one knows the pressure that has been exerted to have me release some of this gang. I have telegraphed the Commissioner to support me by refusing to discharge them. If they were hard-working men no efforts would be made on their behalf, but as usual when good-for-nothing, desperate characters are imprisoned plenty of politicians try to get them out. Now, messenger, you tell Mr. Kirk that he doesn’t know this man Chapin. He is a thief, and I shall not let him out unless the detectives who arrested him swear they have made a mistake. Otherwise I would not discharge him for the Mayor of New York.”

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.