One of the engaging qualities of Asbury’s The Gangs of New York is his talent for name-dropping and inserting asides that hint at long, entertaining digressions that the reader can only imagine. This is certainly the case in his “The Killing of Bill the Butcher” chapter [Chapter V, Section 2] when he mentions the presence of “Mark Maguire, King of the Newsboys”, in the Stanwix Hall bar the evening of Bill Poole’s murder. Maguire was in the bar with his friend, the pugilist John Morrissey, when Poole and Morrissey had their confrontation. Who could read this and not want to know more about a “King of the Newsboys”? But Asbury never elaborates.
Born at sea in 1814 on the way New York, Maguire began life in the city as a newsboy. His hard work was rewarded, and he soon set himself up as a broker, recruiting newsboys who could not afford to buy their own newspapers (as was the practice, before newspapers managed their own newsboys). By his own count, Maguire at one point controlled an army of 500 paper hawkers, earning him the title “King of the Newsboys” in the late 1830s and 1840s. Many of the young men he gave a start in life later became members of the city’s establishment: actors, policemen, politicians, judges, etc. By 1850, Maguire converted his earnings into ownership of a tavern/hotel and trotting horses. He became a fixture of New York City’s sporting community; and a supporter and backer of the two predominate sports: pugilism and horse racing.
In the 1850s and 1860s, Maguire operated a series of roadhouses in Harlem, but always sought more space to host sporting events. He also became a sports editor for the New York Sun, and contributed articles to other sporting periodicals. His last resort was known as the Red House, located at 106th Street and 2nd Avenue, and supported at half-mile racing track which also served as a baseball field (in the earliest years of organized baseball). Commodore Vanderbilt was said to be a frequent visitor.
A sense of how much of a popular landmark the Red House became can be found in this March 3, 1866 column that appeared in Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times weekly:
…I went to see Mark Maguire at the Red House, on Second avenue. This same Red House, friend Wilkes, is not only one of the finest spots on the Island, but is as chuck full of trotting reminiscences as an egg is supposed to be of meat before there is a chicken inside of the covering called the shell. I have been a participant of some of the jolliest scenes that were ever rollicked through on the stage of life, or the road either, on that same spot.
I have witnessed on that “sacred soil” rattling trots every way rigged, intermixed with pigeon-shooting, target-firing, foot-racing, foot-ball, base-ball, cricket–but not Maggie Mitchell, though–quoits, military drills, chicken disputes, dog wrangling, bear-baiting, man encounters, with hands up, wrestling, dice chucking for horse-flesh, wagons, sleighs, harness, bells, blankets, fishing-tackle, and even big bass were raffled for, that had been caught about the Pot-rocks, and Hogsback in Hell Gate, when rattling little Benny Garno kept his famous stopping place where Ike Vermilyes lives now, on Third avenue. I say the dips were chucked for big bass by the odd fish of the day, including other scaly articles who can be found in every community, Christian or pagan, since the art of hunting was discovered, and maybe before the first eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred. I tell you, writers and riders of the present day, it was an established institution, was the Red House, for frolic, fun, and all practical matters of the fine arts–even weaving a match on eating, or who could stow away the greatest amount of grub, by those who prided on gluttony then, as some pride themselves now on rampant political villainy, to break down the most simple and beautiful form of government that was ever brought into existence since God formed the world for us to battle in.
Mark Maguire attended every major boxing match into the 1870s, but in his latter years was pitied for his failing eyesight; others noted that he had to have fights described to him blow by blow, since he could attend but not see. He lost his roadhouses, and died in modest circumstances in 1889, all but forgotten.
Herbert Asbury, in The Gangs of New York, credits Reed C. Waddell (Abt. 1861-1895) with the invention of a notorious confidence-artist scam, the Gold Brick game[Chapter IX, Section 3]. There were many variations to this con, but the two major versions followed a routine script: 1) Travelers strike up a conversation, and one of them discovers he urgently needs cash, but has only a gold bullion brick on his person. He asks his new friend for a modest loan–a fraction of the value of a gold brick–and lets the new friend hold the brick as collateral while he takes the loan of cash to settle his dispute. He disappears and the gold brick holder discovers the brick is plated-lead. 2) The con-man latches onto a stranger and relates a story in which he, though no fault of his own, came into possession of a stolen gold brick. Because it is stolen, he is willing to sell it as a fraction of its value [why couldn’t it be melted down?]. To test its authenticity, they take the brick to [an impostor assayer, a confederate of the con-man; or a real assayer, and present him with a select plug from the brick, which is the one spot on the brick planted with genuine gold.] Thus assured, the dupe buys the brick–and once he realizes it is fake, is too embarrassed to report it to authorities.
Counterfeit precious metals, of course, date to antiquity, so employing them to dupe others was hardly new to late-nineteenth-century America. The notable features that distinguish the Gold Brick game involve traveling to a new location, spotting a well-heeled mark, engaging them with a backstory and gaining their conspiratorial trust, and disappearing as soon as the sting has been made. The scam was made possible by the railroads and steamers of the expanding nation.
Reed Waddell may have been in the first generation of confidence-men to employ the Gold Brick game, but he worked off and on with four other older, more experienced men who also worked the same scam: William Emery “Bill” Train (1849-1890), John “Red” Leary (1840-1888), Van Buren Triplett (1840-1901), and Tom O’Brien (1853-1904). Any one of them was variously hailed as the originator of the Gold Brick game, but Waddell–as a well-known, high-roller gambler–received the lion’s share of media attention. Though mutual friends, Bill Train killed Red Leary during an argument in a bar; and Reed Waddell was killed in France by his old friend, Tom O’Brien, who wanted a loan. For that crime, O’Brien was sent to the penal colony on Devil’s Island and died there.
Robert Pinkerton, son of Allen Pinkerton, was reluctant to credit any of the con-men mentioned above with the invention of the Gold Brick game. In the May 28, 1901 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, he was quoted:
The gold brick business is an American institution, but its earliest promoters were Spaniards and Italians. About forty years ago the game was played with gold dust or gold filings. Among the pioneers were Emil Rodriguez and Adolph Superbella. Their game was to find some man who had a few thousand dollars, and then tell him about their having a bag full of gold filings or gold dust which had been stolen. They must get rid of the property, and would be willing to sell it at a great sacrifice. After getting him Interested they would take the intended victim to an assay office, which was a bogus concern, and then they would receive the assurance that the yellow metal was all that was claimed for it, and the man who gave this Information would usually make the owner a liberal offer for his plunder.
The bag, securely sealed, was then sold to the victim, who received strict instructions to say nothing about his purchase for a little while, until the loss of the gold was less fresh in the minds of the people. In order to be perfectly secure some of the victims packed up and went abroad, and only when they were ready to enjoy their new wealth they discovered that the treasure bag contained base metal and not gold. I arrested these men in Cincinnati more than thirty-five year ago, and they were tried in Chicago and convicted.
The gold brick from the mining districts followed the gold dust scheme, and gold bricks have found ready purchasers ever since, up to the present time. I think that $1,000,000 is realized every year by the gold brick merchants. They don’ t write to a man and don’t try to induce him to come to them—not they. They ‘go on the road’ to sell the stuff, like any other man who has something to sell, and their victims are usually the men who are known to be close and stingy, and from whom it is difficult to get a cent at any time. Only a short time ago a man with all the outward characteristics of a western miner, introduced himself to a farmer to whom he pretended to have been sent by a mutual friend, and confided to him that he could put him in the way of making a fortune. The westerner wanted a partner in his mining business. He was on his way to New York to secure one, but if he could find a man nearer home so much the better. By the way, he had at his hotel a sample of the gold taken from the mine. The farmer saw it and expressed a desire to possess it. The miner needed it to show in New York, but a piece of it would do just as well, and his new friend might have the rest at one-half its real value. The clerk of the hotel was asked if there was a metal expert in town, and to the joy of the farmer it was learned that a man who was on his way to one of the largest mines in the country, where he was employed as an expert on gold, had registered there a few days ago. The man was found, and for a consideration was induced to test the big chunk of bullion and declared it gold of the finest quality. Well, the sale was made, and you know the rest. The sham assayer and the confidence man left the town and worked the same game on some other easy farmer.
“Emil Rodriguez” and “Adolph Superbella” may exist somewhere in the Pinkerton archives, but they can not be found in any published documents. Still, Robert Pinkerton is correct in that the newspapers of the late 1860s and early 1870s abound with stories of bogus gold dust being used to deceive. In 1866, two swindlers giving the names of H. Welton and Richard Bishop were caught trying to sell fake gold bullion to banks and brokers in Ohio. A year later, a gang of Mexican criminals came to the United States with a story that they brought with them gold taken by the recently exiled government of Mexico, which they wanted converted to cash in order to fund the fight to retake the country. It turned out to be a fake alloy. However, these examples, although involving bogus gold, fall short of the classic con of the Gold Brick game that targeted specific individuals.
The first published mention of what can be identified as the classic Gold Brick game dates to 1879, where it was conducted in Chicago and Kansas City by men known only as “Walker” and “Thomas A. Lewis.” It is likely that these were aliases of one or two of the men mentioned above. Articles that credit Waddell with inventing the scam say that he brought it to New York in 1880. He would have been 19 years old at that point, which argues in favor of one of the older men mentioned above (Train, Leary, Triplett, or O’Brien) as the real originator of the con.
“…the Fourteenth Street gang, under the leadership of Al Rooney, successfully maintained its hegemony for several years, as did the Yakey Yakes, the Lollie Meyers and the Red Onions. The Yakey Yakes operated around Brooklyn Bridge under the leadership of Yakey Yake Brady. They finally left the field when Yakey Yake died of tuberculosis.” –Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York, Chapter XII, Section 4.
The above lines represent the entirety of Asbury’s remarks about the Yakey Yakes, one of the ferocious New York City gangs of the early years of the Twentieth century. The Yakey Yakes ruled the Cherry Hill section of the Fourth Ward, the area between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge on the East River waterfront. They were held together by the charisma of their leader, John “Yakey Yake” Brady, who was given his gang name from the attempts of a German bartender to render his nickname, Jack.
Brady was an unusual and interesting gangster. Less than five feet tall, he had once trained as a jockey. Unlike his followers, his preferred weapons were not revolvers, but fists and knives. He was not only gainfully employed, but a successful tradesman: he was a cooper, and also owned a combination candy store/pool room that was the headquarters of his gang. He split off from other neighboring gangs, it was rumored, because he didn’t condone the girlfriends of his neighborhood gang members being pimped out (and, in fact, the female auxiliary of the Yakey Yakes earned their own way mugging sailors).
Asbury missed out on recounting the 1902-1903 battle among the Monk Eastmans, the Five Pointers, and the Yakey Yakes. In the newspaper morgue of the New York Sun, Asbury could have found the following classic example of crime reporting from its March 15, 1903 edition. [The unknown author might have been Alfred Henry Lewis.] The article is titled, “A Wild West Feud in New York,” and within the space of two newspaper columns outlines a script of a great gangster saga:
The Monk Eastman-Five Points feud, of which the Monk Eastman-Yakie-Yake feud is an outcropping, is a slimy bit of city history. There isn’t anything in it to recall the husky fighting days of the old-fashioned New York gangs. Consider for a moment Monk Eastman, the leader of the upper East Side gang. Eastman got his name from the expression of pleasant human intelligence which does not adorn his countenance. He is reverenced by the idle youth of Allen street, Division street, and East Broadway. He earns their affection by managing East Side balls, with great profit to himself and great opportunities for the campaigns of that unsavory organization, the subdued, but not disorganized, Allen Street Cadets.
In the dives of that part of the city where the Monk Eastman gang is strong, innocent strangers are frequently lured into pool games at 2 1/2 cents a cue. If the stranger is willing to drink, he usually wakes up the next morning in a tenement hallway with his pockets turned inside out and no money left. If he will not drink, a fight is started over the game and he is clouted over the head and his clothing is ransacked in the confusion. The police have never had the slightest evidence that Monk Eastman himself has ever indulged in any of these reprehensible affairs. But many young men who have been accused of such crimes and have been arrested for them have been proud to describe themselves as members of “the “Eastmans” and have threatened the gang’s vengeance against all who helped to press a charge against them.
One day last September the Monk Eastmans gave a racket at New Irving Hall. to this ball came Tung Tung Bertini of the Five Points Social Club in White street, and no small company of retainers. Their very presence was an act of hostility. For in the matter of the murder of one of the Yakie Yakes in a resort with a foul nickname in East Broadway and Catherine streets many months ago, the Five Pointers had made common cause with the murdered man’s friends. The man was murdered, by the way, for having turned State’s evidence in a pocket picking case in which he had been arrested with a member of the Monk Eastmans. That feud was followed by three deaths. But they were deaths that were met in battle. The feud was carried on for some months as a family matter.
Nevertheless the Five Pointers had in the opinion of the Monk Eastmans “butted in.” The appearance of the Italians at the ball was distinctly a storm signal. Tung tung immediately laid siege to the affections of the sweetheart of one of Monk Eastman’s most respected henchmen. The young woman before the ball was half over transferred her allegiance to him, and gave token thereof by dancing with him a turning a glazed eye on “Becky’s Ike,” the henchman. Now this was more than an injury of the heart. Ike’s fine raiment, and indeed his means of subsistence, depended on the young woman’s loyalty to him. He lived on her earnings.
He drew a revolver and fired at Tung Tung. The Italians drew stilettos. The hall was full of smoke and screams in a minute. The private policemen and the special policemen who had been providentially sent to watch the ball by the captain of the precinct rushed in, and the combatants rushed out. The police, as is their wise custom on such occasions, made more of a point of giving everyone present a good drubbing than of making any arrests. If there were any actual casualties, the police records do not show it.
Two days later, the Monk Eastmans, declaring that the insult of “the breaking up of the racket” was one to be wiped out in blood, went down to the Chatham Club, in Chinatown. There they found Mike Bove, one of Tung Tung’s lieutenants. They beat him into unconsciousness and retreated to their own headquarters before the Five Pointers could gather. Bove, whose father was a well-known Italian banker, died of his injuries. Tung Tung sent word that they didn’t dare to come back. The Eastmans answered this challenge by invading the Five Points district on the night of Sept. 29.
There was a running fight in White street, Center street, Franklin street, and Broadway for two hours, despite the best efforts of forty policemen from three precincts to stop it. Hundreds of revolver shots were fired. In the morning, five or six revolvers were picked up, and twenty or more long iron T-bars, such as builders use. Many of them were stained with blood. But there were no wounded found by police. The next night Isadore Foster of the Monk Eastmans was chased through Clinton street by a crowd of Italians and was beaten to death. Three nights later the Tung tung forces went to Smith’s poolroom, in Suffolk street, the headquarters of the Eastmans, and started to wreck the place.
The police interrupted. But Samuel Levinson of 93 Monroe street was killed. Al Fryer was disabled for life. These crimes could not be brought home to anybody, though numbers of both gangs were sent to the workhouse for six months for disorderly conduct and the carrying of concealed weapons. The police interfered so much with the personal liberty of gatherings of the Five pointers and the Monk Eastmans for a while after this that they veered over into the oak street precinct, where both sides were more or less affiliated with the Yakie Yakes.
The Yakie Yakes took their name from one Yake Yake Brady, who keeps a most inoffensive looking candy store at 112 Roosevelt street, right around the corner from Cherry street, with a two-and-a-half-cent poolroom attached. With this place as a storm center the fighting was renewed. Two men were taken to the hospital with pistol shot wounds. Both refused to tell who shot them.
Then it was that Big Tom Foley, the boss of the Second Assembly district, was besought by the law-abiding citizens of Cherry Hill to step in and stop the trouble. He brought Eastman and Tung Tung and Yake Yake together and told them to be good. There was peace for almost two months. But within a month, as newspaper readers know, there has started another reign of terror on Cherry Hill. one afternoon in broad daylight, for instance, a man was shot in Yake Yake Brady’s. He said in a moment of carelessness that Yake Yake himself had shot him.
A policeman went after Brady, and Brady snapped a revolver at him twice. Magistrate Breen, who didn’t know Yake Yake as well as he should benevolently discharged him. Then the night fights began. Another mysteriously shot man was taken to Gouveneur Hospital within ten days. Almost every night, on the slope of Cherry street, in Roosevelt street, under the bridge, revolver shots have echoed by twos and threes and by hundreds.
It is told among the members of the gangs that eight or ten men have been hit and have been carried away by their friends. The police are skeptical. They say that the gangs are worse shots than the Spanish navy. They invariably stand up to one another if numbers are anywhere nearly equal and shoot at arm’s length. But they shoot low, and as may be inferred, with habitual inaccuracy.
It is likely that peace has come again to Cherry Hill. Certainly there are few of the Yakie Yakes left to carry on the war. On two different afternoons last week, Rounderman Mulhall took a squad of police to Yake Yake Brady’s and arrested everybody in the place on the broad ground of disorderly conduct. Magistrate Barlow, who is in sympathy with the movement, sent thirteen of the prisoners to Blackwell’s Island for a month. Jim Cassidy, a famous Yakie Yake, was tried for highway robbery in Special Sessions on Friday. Policeman Fallon had caught him in the act of robbing a drunken sailor and had taken two large revolvers from him after arresting him.
The police harassment of Yakey Yake Brady continued throughout 1903. He was finally forced to shutter his Roosevelt Street candy store and took over a cooperage in Jersey City, New Jersey. A year later he died of tuberculosis.
Asbury’s “The Wars of the Tongs” chapter of Gangs of New York is where he delves into the subject of Bowery bums, the professional panhandlers and vagrants who eked a living as able-bodied beggars faking disabilities. Asbury followed the lead of other reporting published during the 1895-1915 era in lumping this class together with “yeggmen,” i.e. unsophisticated crooks who roamed the eastern United States breaking into banks and blowing safes with nitroglycerin. More than once the yeggmen succeeded only in blowing themselves up, which caused the Pinkerton brothers, William and Robert, to shake their heads and nostalgically recall the days when bank thieves were cunning mechanics and patient, clever planners. It does appear to be true that the Bowery bums and yeggmen, if not always one and the same, shared a preference for a select group of lower Manhattan dives.
In Chapter XIV, Section 4, Asbury mentions a specific saloon:
The Dump at No. 9 Bowery, run by Jimmy Lee and Slim Reynolds, was a favorite resort of the panhandlers for many years, and it there that many of their schemes were hatched. Goat Hinch and Whitey Sullivan, who eventually expiated their crimes in the electric chair, were among the noted patrons of the Dump; the former is said to have originated the practice of swallowing a concoction which would make him temporarily ill and so arouse the sympathies of people in the street. Sometimes the Goat chewed a cake of evil-smelling soap, producing fearful symptoms which invariably brought a shower of nickels and dimes. In common with other dives, the Dump provided sleeping quarters, but Reynolds and Lee were more ingenious in their arrangements. They screwed short iron stanchions into the floor about seven feet from the rear wall, and into the wall affixed an iron framework. From the latter to the stanchions was a net of coarse rope, and when a bum passed out from dope or the effects of whiskey and camphor, he was simply tossed into the net to sleep it off.
The saloon at No. 9 Bowery, nicknamed the “Dump,” or the “Morgue,” was indeed a well-known resort for panhandlers and yeggmen. In the mid-1890s, it was operated by Richard Fitzpatrick; followed by Peg Leg Flynn. By the early 1900s, it was owned by Tom (not Jimmy) Lee, the unofficial “Mayor of Chinatown” and head of the On Leong tong.
There’s no documentation outside of Asbury that Goat Hinch (William O’Connor) and James P. “Whitey” Sullivan frequented the dive at No. 9, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest it. The two were part of a gang of six men (led by Hinch) that went to Cobleskill, New York in November of 1900 to rob a bank. During the robbery, a night watchman was shot and killed. For this crime, Sullivan was executed in 1902, followed by Hinch in 1903.
Hinch/O’Connor originally came from Chicago. He had been sent to the Illinois Reformatory in 1888 for two years, and was quickly in trouble again and sent to Joliet for one year in June, 1890. After a brief stint of freedom, he was sent back to Joliet in 1892. By 1895 he had reached the New York area, where he was caught during a burglary in Jersey City, New Jersey. That crime earned him three years at the State Prison in Trenton.
On May 29, 1899, Goat Hinch was celebrating his prison release at Mary Ellen’s saloon at 15 E. Broadway (in Chinatown, just two short blocks from No. 9 Bowery). He didn’t like the style of their black piano player, Fred Chester, and stabbed him to death. However, he wasn’t immediately apprehended for this crime. He was arrested in Dobbs Ferry, New York in January 1901 carrying burglars tools, but only charged with vagrancy. While serving a month for that charge, police identified him as one of the Cobleskill bank robbers.
There is no information outside Asbury that Hinch/O’Connor was a panhandler who made himself sick with soap. The source for this story was likely a September 30, 1922 New York Morning Telegraph article about old panhandlers:
Diamond Dan’s [O’Rourke] backroom was known as a sort of panhandler’s Rotary Club. Tom Lee’s place at number 9 Bowery, not far away, was another headquarters, and Lee spoiled the whole thing by importing several hundred workers from Hinky Dink’s, in Chicago, at his own expense, to work New York. He brought on fit throwers, double-jointers, sore-arm workers, cry-babies, gimps, paralytics, and crutch-walkers…There was a fellow named Papa Johnny in Lee’s crowd that invented the soap trick for making his eyes red around the lids. Just a little soap would do it and the inflammation would last all day and tears would run down his face. He used to say his wife and baby were lying dead out West somewhere and he’d flash a telegram to prove it, telling how his other little girl was all alone with no money. Gee, how Papa mopped up!
The etymology of the words “yegg” and “yeggman” aren’t known with certainty, but the most commonly cited origin is that it came from an old safecracker, John Yegg. This is cited so often that “John Yegg” took on a life of its own, and even criminals started to believe it. The only problem is that there is no evidence that John Yegg ever existed.
Instead, a November 26th, 1895 New York Sun article offers a different explanation in one of the first appearances of the word:
Acting Capt. O’Brien, chief of the Detective Bureau, said today that all of the men arrested in the Orchard street house were members of the Panhandle gang. They hang out at 9 Bowery and along Market street. The call themselves not panhandlers, but Yegdows, or Yegs for short.
Is “Yegdows” the bastardization of a Chinese word?
Generations of readers have been captivated by Herbert Asbury’s descriptions of the violent street gangs of New York, culminating with formation of crime families and syndicates during Prohibition. However, he also devotes a few pages to the network of burglars and shoplifters maintained by the foremost fence operator of the 1860s-1880s, Marm Mandelbaum. In Chapter X, Section 2 of Gangs of New York, he mentions her most notable female proteges: Lena Kleinschmidt, Big Mary, Ellen Clegg, Queen Liz, Little Annie, Old Mother Hubbard, Kid Glove Rosie, and Sophie Lyons.
Several of the above names appear with hyperlinks, which point to companion blog entries created in 2018 as part of a project to re-research the 204 criminal profiles found in the first 1886 edition of Thomas Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America. “Queen Liz” was profiled in Byrnes’s 1895 edition, which wasn’t covered during that blog project.
Like “Black Lena” Kleinschmidt, and Lena’s sister “Black Amelia” Levy, Lizzie Meyer (perhaps not her real name, but the most cited alias) was a first generation immigrant from Germany who made shoplifting her vocation. One article suggested she was the wife of bank thief “Broken-Nose” George Devlin. In the late 1890s (when Devlin’s whereabouts are unknown), she made shoplifting forays accompanied by another veteran thief, George Morgan aka Thomas Martin. Queen Liz certainly had multiple connections to the most adept thieves of her day. Thomas Byrnes summarized her career up to 1895:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1895. Born in Germany. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 165 pounds. Hair, dark, mixed with gray. Brown eyes, Grecian nose, full face, dark complexion. Marks, etc.: Decayed lower front teeth. Meyers has been known to the police of several of the principal cities as a professional shoplifter for nearly twenty years. She has served sentences in the Brooklyn, N.Y., Penitentiary, Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa. She has worked with Amelia Levy, alias Black Amelia (No. 282), “Big Rosie,” and Little Lou Jourdan (wife of Big Tom Biglow, the bank sneak, now dead).
RECORD. LIZZIE MEYERS, under name of Annie Riley, was arrested at Philadelphia, Pa., for shoplifting, and sentenced to one year in the Eastern Penitentiary, October 25, 1886. She was arrested again at Philadelphia, Pa., on June 12, 1888, for shoplifting, and sentenced to six months in the County Prison, on June 28, 1888, by Judge Reed of that city. Arrested again at Cleveland, 0., on December 29, 1888, in company of Amelia Levy, alias Black Amelia (No. 282), and sent back to the city of Buffalo, N.Y., where they were both wanted for the larceny of a diamond bracelet. They were both sentenced to five years in the Erie Co. Penitentiary, on February 16, 1889, for this offense. Their case was appealed, and she was admitted to bail pending a decision of a higher court. On June 14, 1889 (shortly after being admitted to bail at Buffalo, N.Y.), she was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the larceny of a roll of silk from one of the large dry goods stores, on June 28, 1889. She was sentenced to four years in the Kings Co. Penitentiary, by Judge Moore, of the Court of Sessions of that city, under the name of Lizzie Myers, alias Mary Sad. After her time expired in Brooklyn, N. Y., she was arrested and returned to Buffalo on July 6, 1892, where she was wanted with Black Amelia, as above stated. She was transferred from Buffalo to Auburn Prison N. Y., on June 3, 1893.
When Liz was arrested in Brooklyn in 1889, the judge hearing her case recognized her from a crime committed in 1872-1873, which pushes her history back considerably earlier than Byrnes first citation.
Queen Liz used many aliases, including Annie Riley, Caroline Smith, Elizabeth Willis, Lizzie Edwards, Rosa Myers, and Mary Sad. One newspaper suggested she created aliases upon arrest that reflected her current mood: Mary Sad, Eleanor Joy, Mary Merry, and Lucy Dead. If true, her sense of whimsy was one of her better qualities. Her use of “Caroline Smith” invokes the name of another famous shoplifter, about twenty years her senior, Caroline Smith of Milwaukee.
She had three known arrests following 1895: in November 1897, with George Morgan, in Philadelphia; in 1899, as Lizzie Edwards, in Brooklyn, and 1903 in New York City, at age 57.
There may be as yet undetected family connections among Queen Liz and Black Lena, Black Amelia, and the Weir-Reinsch gang of shoplifters in Chicago.
Sleeping potions, i.e. liquid sedatives, date to antiquity, but Herbert Asbury (and, twenty years earlier, the NYPD) would have us believe that their criminal use began in the late nineteenth-century. Asbury (Chapter IX, Section 3) credits one man as the inventor of the idea of drugging and robbing saloon-goers. He states: “…no effective use of drugs for the sole purpose of robbery was made in New York until a California crook, Peter Sawyer, appeared in 1866, and aroused such a furor in police and criminal circles that the former honored him by calling the practitioners of his art peter players.”
There are two likely candidates for being Asbury’s source on Peter Sawyer: Thomas Byrnes’s 1895 edition of Professional Criminals of America and New York newspaper articles appearing in early 1894 citing police detectives. Byrnes, during the time those articles appeared, was the NYPD Superintendent. However, two years earlier, articles had appeared in New York and elsewhere that introduced the term “peter,” referring to the drops used by a crook named Fred Halse. Vials found on Halse were discovered to contain chloral hydrate, which soon was established as the preferred “knockout” drug.
Even earlier, in 1889, three reporters for the New York World published a piece accusing three saloons as being notorious for drugging their customers: the Golden Horn on 13th Street; Tom McKeon’s place on Hester Street; and Jack Pye’s joint on Houston and Thompson Streets. They accused the police of colluding with the dive owners. Indeed, the police department responded to the article by denying that drugging was taking place. The drugs used in this case were not identified, nor was the term “peter” used.
Chloral hydrate was not widely marketed until the 1870s, but quickly became a preferred sedative. It was frequently used in suicides; and also heavily employed in hospitals and asylums. Even so, in the days before prescribed medicines, it could be purchased by the public from any drug store. Given its availability, the only surprise is that it took so long for evidence to appear that it had been discovered by criminals.
There does appear to be indications that drugging drinks was a practice that was refined by thieves in the port cities of California. Before chloral hydrate, the drugs used were laudanum, a tincture of opium with a strong bitter taste; or drops of the more powerful morphine.
Chloral hydrate’s more popular nickname is a “Mickey Finn,” named after the owner of a Chicago dive of the late 1890s and early 1900s. In fact, the credit for making this association goes to none other than Herbert Asbury, who wrote it up in Gem of the Prairie, his 1940 book about Chicago’s underworld history.
As for Peter Sawyer, no criminal by that name appears in New York newspapers or anywhere else. Nor does he appear in any New York prison records. It seems convenient that the NYPD found a out-of-state crook to blame for importing the practice–one that they originally denied existed.
Discerning the intent of some of Herbert Asbury’s nuggets of information in Gangs of New York–such as his comments on the renowned bartender of the Star and Garter saloon, Billy Patterson–is an exercise in futility. Was Asbury trying to prank his readers with a tall-tale he fabricated? Did some fellow scribe prank Asbury by telling him the story? Or did Asbury come across the story from some source and accept it as plausible. First, let’s review what Asbury wrote about the stellar mixologist (in Chapter IX, Section 1):
The Star and Garter enjoyed an immediate success [upon opening in 1878], largely because of the popularity of the head bartender, Billy Patterson, a rotund and jovial genius who was one of the really great drink mixers of the age. It was his boast that he did not have an enemy in the world, and that he could concoct a drink which would make any man his abject admirer; it was considered a great honor to have Billy Patterson, in person, prepare a beverage. When he was finally struck down by a mysterious assailant who attacked him with a slung-shot one night as he left the side door of the Star and Garter, the circumstance caused so much comment throughout Satan’s Circus that it gave rise to the famous query, “Who Struck Billy Patterson?”
The Star and Garter saloon opened at 504 Sixth Avenue in 1878, owned by partners Daniel P. Kerrigan and William C. Rogers. It quickly earned a reputation as a favorite haunt of gamblers, sportsmen and first-rate thieves–but there is no mention of its bar fare or staff as being notable. It was the scene of drunken attacks, including the October, 1880 shooting of bank thief Ned Lyons by the new proprietor of the Star and Garter, Hamilton Brock. A month earlier, bank robber Thomas McCormick had started a drunken brawl there, and was severely beaten. The Star and Garter lost its liquor license in 1881, and was purchased and reopened by Edward Coffee.
The non-sequitur query “Who Struck Billy Patterson?” pre-dated the Star and Garter saloon by at least forty years. It was a nineteenth-century meme, to be uttered in situations where there is great confusion by a newcomer on the scene. The person who poses the question doesn’t expect an answer, they’re just expressing the fact that they have no idea what is going on. Ever since the late 1830s, innumerable explanations for the origin of the phrase have been offered.
The earliest example comes from a source that would warm Herbert Asbury’s heart: an anecdote printed in the wake of Boston’s Broad Street Riot of 1837. Here is a reprint of the story, first printed that same year:
Boston area correspondents to newspapers years afterwards named the imposing fireman who struck Billy Patterson: Ephraim Larkin Snow (1806-1860):
In describing a thuggish associate found in Kit Burns’ place on Water Street, Herbert Asbury quotes a section of James Dabney McCabe’s Secrets of the Great City. [see Chapter III of Gangs of New York]. McCabe in turn was quoting a September 26, 1868 New York World article, “Low Life in New York.” The article describes an encounter with George H. Leese at a prayer meeting that Kit Burns agreed to host in his liquor store:
” ‘That’s what I call singing the bloody gospil. The man that wrote that ballad was no slouch,’ cried out George Leese, alias ‘Snatchem,’ one of the worst scoundrels in New York, who is now in the saving path of grace. As a beastly, obscene ruffian, ‘Snatchem’ never had his equal in America, according to his own account. The writer has seen this fellow at prize fights, with a couple of revolvers in his belt, engaged in the disgusting office of sucking blood from the wild beasts who had ceased to pummel each other for a few seconds. This man, with his bulging, bulbous, watery-blue eyes, bloated red face, and coarse swaggering gait, has been notorious for years in New York. The police are well acquainted with him, and he is proud of his notoriety.
‘Snatchem’ asked our reporter if he ever saw such ‘a-rough-and-tumble-stand-up-to-be-knocked-down son of a gun as he in his life.’ ‘Did you ever see such a kicking-in-the-head-knife-in-a dark-room fellow as I am, eh?’ Our reporter meekly answered ‘no.’ ‘I want a quarter-stretch ticket to go to glory, I do. I can go in harness preaching the bloody gospil against any minister in New York. I know all Watts’ Hymns and Fistiana, and I’d like to be an angel and bite Gabriel’s ear off.’
George H. Leese (abt. 1822-1885) had a bit more character than his cartoonish portrayal in the New York World. He was a skilled boxer, adept with or without gloves; and later trained many others to the extent that the New York Clipper nicknamed him the “Demosthenes of the Ring.”
Leese was born and raised in Birmingham, England. He appeared in several high-stakes matches in his home country in the late 1840s against Joe Douglas, Watson, and Dan Betts. Leese and his brothers were strong supporters of the working-class Chartist movement, loyal to local politician George Muntz. As that movement faltered, Leese emigrated to the United States about 1850 and opened a saloon on West Broadway at the urging of other English expatriates. He married a beautiful Englishwoman named Delia, but they divorced in 1859. [Delia later fell on bad times, and in 1870 was sent to prison for a theft of forty cents. Some blamed her downfall on Leese’s influence.]
On August 16, 1854 the passenger steamer May Queen caught fire near Staten Island. Four hundred people were aboard. The ship drifted into shallows, so no other ships could come alongside to take off the terrified passengers. George Leese was a passenger on a nearby ship, the Norwalk. Leese and four other passengers on the Norwalk lowered its lifeboat and made several trips over the the burning May Queen. They rescued about 150 women and children. Other ships later rescued the other passengers. No one lost their life.
Leese’s saloon soon earned a reputation as a hangout for English burglars and thugs, but advertisements made it sound like a lively place.
Leese continued to take boxing matches against foes such as Phil Clare and Dooney Harris, but by 1860 his age and former bad habits forced him into the role of trainer or referee.
He adopted a temperate lifestyle and became a speaker for that movement. He also followed Stephen A. Douglass around the country in the 1860 elections, offering his support in the campaign against Lincoln.
Leese operated saloons off and on through the 1850s and 1860s, but lost his money at faro games. In the 1870s he moved to Rockaway, taking a job as security officer for a resort hotel there. He died in August, 1885.
More often than not, Wikipedia entries for nineteenth-century gangs and criminals are based on recently published, highly-derivative secondary sources, many of which repeat long-established half-truths and errors. So it is refreshing to see that the Wikipedia entry for Johnny Dolan questions Herbert Asbury’s portrayal of Dolan as a fashion-conscious, original Whyo gang leader, responsible for grisly street-fighting implements designed to gouge out eyes and slice bodies. The article editors cite contemporary newspaper accounts of Dolan, which offer absolutely no basis for Asbury’s comments.
It is intriguing to look at the paragraphs on Dolan in Gangs of New York and compare them to a section of an article that Asbury wrote about gangs in 1919. Here is what Asbury wrote about “Dandy Johnny” for his 1928 book (Chapter XI, Section 1):
Another shining light of the old Whyos, before the time of Driscoll and Lyons, was Dandy Johnny Dolan, who was not only a street brawler of distinction, but a loft burglar and sneak thief of rare talent as well; nothing was too great or too trivial for him to steal. His fellow gangsters regarded him as something of a master mind because he had improved the technique of gouging out eyes; he is said to have invented an apparatus, made of copper and worn on the thumb, which performed this important office with neatness and dispatch. His invention was used by the Whyos with great success in their fights with other gangs. He was also credited with having imbedded sections of sharp axe blade in the soles of his fighting boots, so that when he overthrew and adversary and stamped him, results both gory and final were obtained. But ordinarily Dandy Johnny did not wear his fighting boots. He encased his feet in the finest examples of the shoemaker’s art, for he was the Beau Brummel of the gangland of his time, and was extraordinarily fastidious in his choice of raiment and in the care of his person. Under no circumstances, not even to take part in a brawl or raid that promised to be rich in loot, would he appear in public until his hair had been properly oiled and plastered against his skull, and his forelock tastefully curled and anointed. He had a weakness for handkerchiefs with violent red or blue borders, and for carved canes, especially if the handle of the stick bore the representation of an animal. Of these he owned a great store, to which he added as opportunity offered; he frequently promenaded the Five Points and Mulberry Bend with a vivid kerchief knotted about his throat and others peeping from his pockets, while he jauntily swung a handsome cane.
It was his passion for these adornments that cost him his life. James H. Noe, a brush manufacturer, decided to enlarge his business during the summer of 1875, and began the erection of a new factory at No. 275 Greenwich street. It was his custom to walk to the property each Sunday morning and observe the progress of the work. On Sunday, August 22, 1875, he entered the structure as usual, and climbed the ladders and temporary stairways to the roof. There he came upon Dandy Johnny Dolan, his eye gouger upon his thumb and a blue bordered handkerchief knotted about his throat, ripping away the lead of the gutters. Mr. Noe marched him downstairs, but when they reached the ground floor Dandy Johnny struck the manufacturer on the head with an iron bar, inflicting injuries from which Mr. Noe died in a week. With his victim unconscious, Dandy Johnny proceeded to rob him, taking a small sum of money and a gold watch and chain, and also carrying away Mr. Noe’s cane, which had a metal handle carved in the likeness of a monkey. Then Dandy Johnny very foolishly tied his own handkerchief about the manufacturer’s face. The story goes that the thug appeared in the haunt of the Whyos in Mulberry Bend with one of Mr. Noe’s eyes in his pocket, but the tale is probably apocryphal.
Compare the above with the following lines, taken from a newspaper feature that Asbury had written nine years earlier (“Real Dangerous Gangster Not of Apache Type as Seen in Movies,” Syracuse Post Standard, August 17, 1919, p. 5)
“Dandy Johnny” was one of the shining lights of the Whyos, an old-time gang that flourished in the late ’90s, and which was the ruling power in the old Greenwich Village district…”Dandy Johnny” was as proud of his manly beauty as he was of his ability as a yegg and loft worker. He had a carved cane which he had had made at considerable expense and which was the apple of his eye. He went nowhere without it, even taking it with him when he went to steal and plunder and kill. The police knew he had it, and more than once a detective found it where “Dandy Johnny” had carelessly left it behind him in a loft he had burglarized. But it always found its way into the hands of a friendly politician and soon returned to the gangster, because in those days the Whyos were politically powerful, and “Dandy Johnny” could wield a blackjack on election day with a certainty of effect that endeared him greatly to the politicians. He was fairly safe, no matter what he did, and no matter where he left his cane, so long as he remained in his own territory.
But Dandy Johnny got ambitious, and hearing of a particularly rich loft laden with great booty, he went into another gang’s territory over in Greene street to pull off the job. Unfortunately for him he found it necessary to kill a night watchman, and in the excitement left his cane lying on the floor beside the man’s body. The trail was plain, and so “Dandy Johnny” was hanged, because all the politicians had not influence enough to save him from a murder charge that proved itself. Even the judges knew that nobody but “Dandy Johnny” could have taken that cane there, and although the gangster was well-supplied with alibis they were to no avail.
Between 1919 and 1928, Asbury added the details about Dolan’s gruesome fighting implements; he embellished Dolan’s taste for fashion and meticulous grooming; and asserted that Dolan had acquired a cane collection and sported loud handkerchiefs. But where did Asbury see that Dolan had been a Whyo gang member?
Almost certainly, Asbury was referencing a New York Tribune article, “Picturesque Gangs of Old New York,” published January 4, 1915. When this article appeared, Asbury was likely still working for the Atlanta Georgian newspaper, though he would soon move to New York City to work for the New York Sun.
On the West Side was the Rotten Row gang, active in the 5th and 8th wards; bad men all–dock thieves, wharf rats and river pirates. Among them “Big” Shanahan, “Jack” Frost, and “Bad Dickie” Blake won renown. It was in their territory that “Johnny” Dolan, of the East Side Whyos, came a cropper. Lured by the richness of Rotten Row, “Johnny” crept through the scuttle of Noe’s brush factory, in Greene st., one black midnight.
It happened that Mr. Noe had spent the evening over his books, and “Johnny” met him in the hall. “Dandy Johnny Dolan” had his swagger stick with him even on burglarious expeditions. Being taken by surprise, he used the stick instead of his fist, and the brush manufacturer crumpled to the floor.
“Johnny” took what was in sight and went his way. But the very demon of thoughtlessness must have been in him that night, for, lying beside the body of the manufacturer, he left his stick. It was a curious stick, with a weighted grip concealed by the carved head of a monkey. Wellnigh all the Sixt’ knew that stick for “Johnny” Dolan’s, and it was not long till “Johnny” paid for his carelessness on the gallows.
This 1915 article is the first mention of Dolan by the nickname “Dandy Johnny.” During his life, Dolan was only reported as “John R. Dolan.” The monkey-headed cane was indeed found on the premises of Noe’s brush factory (not next to Noe’s body), and witnesses identified it as Dolan’s. Dolan admitted that he had one cane, given to him as a gift. Other circumstantial evidence pointed to his guilt: he pawned Noe’s watch the day after the robbery; a handkerchief used to bind Noe was linked to Dolan; Dolan was not at his home the night of the murder and appeared the next day with scratches on his face; and Dolan offered conflicting and unconvincing explanations as to how he obtained the watch.
No newspapers noted that Dolan was well-dressed, or careful about his grooming. At the time of the murder, he had been out of jail for just three months, after serving over two years for an earlier burglary. There were no mentions of Dolan being associated with a gang, or armed with street-fighting weapons, or being a thug for Tammany politicians. The weapon used to fatally injure Noe was a metal paint-can opener found by the murderer on the premises, about the size of a small crow-bar. In short, it appears that Noe’s death was the result of a hard blow made in the heat of the moment by an ordinary thief. “Dandy Johnny,” on the other hand, was a character invented in a newsroom forty years later, and further fictionalized by Asbury over many years. Today, scores of texts about the Whyos still cite Dolan as an early member.
All accounts of the pre-Civil War New York neighborhood dubbed the Five Points include a description of the horrific living conditions of its largest structure, the Old Brewery. In the 1830s, the building had been converted to habitation, and quickly earned a reputation as the city’s worst tenement rookery, a place where even authorities feared to enter, sheltering hundreds of destitute residents, most of whom were recent immigrants.
Herbert Asbury, when describing the Old Brewery (Chapter I, Section 4), added a moral caution about the vicissitudes of life with a quick reference to one person:
Many of the inhabitants of the Old Brewery and of the Cow Bay dens had once been men and women of some consequence, but after a few years in the dives they sank to the level of the original inhabitants. The last of the Blennerhassetts, second son of the Harman Blennerhassett who was associated with Aaron Burr in the great conspiracy to found a Western Empire, is said to have died in the Old Brewery, as did others whose families had been of equal prominence.
The mention of Harman Blennerhassett Jr. in this context is in error. Blennerhassett died in August 1854; the Old Brewery had been purchased by the Ladies of the [Five Points] Mission in 1852, evacuated, and demolished in December, 1853. The site was rebuilt as the Five Points Mission house in 1854, but it doesn’t appear that Blennerhassett died there, either; a primary source indicated he was residing in a tenement room located outside the normal range of the visitations of the Ladies Mission.
In a nod to the current public interest in Aaron Burr thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, the Blennerhassetts are worth a quick look. Harman Blennerhassett Sr. was a wealthy English lawyer who migrated to America and established an estate on an island in the Ohio River, in what is today West Virginia. There he built an estate viewed as the most extravagant private residence in America. In 1805-1806, former Vice-President Burr met with Blennerhassett and obtained his full support of an effort to obtain lands further West by force. Burr later claimed he had a lease from the Spanish, but most suspected that he intended to establish a new independent state. Burr was arrested for treason, tried, and acquitted for lack of evidence of his true intentions. Blennerhassett, as a central accomplice, was also placed under arrest; but was later freed after the charges against Burr were dismissed. However, the damage to his reputation reversed his business fortune, and Blennerhassett was forced to retreat to Canada and then England with his young family.
In 1854, the Ladies of the Mission published a book, The Old Brewery, and the New Mission House at the Five Points, which contains a chapter on their encounter with the son, Harman Blennerhassett, Jr.:
One morning, Mr. E., one of the visitors of the Mission, invited a lady to accompany him on a visit to a most interesting old gentleman, whom he had found in the vicinity of the Mission. She immediately complied, and on the way, was informed that his name was Blennerhassett.
They entered a forlorn and comfortless room, and found an interesting looking man, delicate and refined in appearance, even amid the utter poverty which surrounded him; and whose manner and language gave unequivocal evidence that he belonged to a different position in society from that which he then occupied. Ho was attended by a colored woman, whose every look and act betokened the most entire and devoted attachment to her master. Yet, no familiarity of word or manner intimated that she had ever forgotten the relative position which, from his birth, she had maintained towards him.
He received his visitors cordially, but with considerable emotion. He referred to his past history and his present circumstances; and he and the old colored woman wept together, as past scenes of happiness and of misery were described. He referred with much bitterness to those who had crowded around his father in the days of his wealth and prosperity, and who could forget his son amid adversity and sorrow.
“Do you see that black woman?” he exclaimed, as she was about leaving the room, “she has more heart than all the people I have known. She has clung to me amid all my poverty and sorrow, without the slightest prospect of remuneration or reward. My father was the friend of hundreds. He set up merchants and mechanics, he patronized literature and the arts, he was courted and flattered in his days of prosperity, and when splendid fetes were given to Aaron Burr and Blennerhassett, there were enough found to do him homage. But when the storm burst upon his devoted Head, how few were found to rally around him, or to befriend his innocent and suffering family! I am poor. I cannot work. I am too infirm; and this old woman (turning again to his devoted servant) has done for me what all the rest of the world have failed to do—given me a quiet home, and a grateful heart.” Yet, as he spoke, the look of interest was succeeded by one of sad and mournful import.
The visitors relieved his pressing wants, spoke kindly to his attached servant, and left to meet the other claims which were pressing them on every side.
Months rolled away, and the old man removed his residence far beyond the lady’s walks. But he was not forgotten; and again and again he was referred to with interest, and commented on as one of the saddest instances of the reverses of human fortune. A record of this visit was preserved, when again in the most incidental manner, his residence was discovered. Two of the ladies immediately called. It was a decent-looking house, but the hall and stairs, proved that it was only a tenement house, and with sad forebodings, we ascended to the upper story. We knocked at the door, and a faint voice said, “Come in.” We entered. One glance at the desolate-looking room, uncarpeted and unwarmed, at the miserable bed, without a pillow or proper covering. One glance at the pallid face, and shaking form of its invalid occupant, and we sat down, (accustomed as we were to scenes of misery) almost powerless to act or speak. Such a tale of want and woe, of physical and mental suffering, was revealed; such loneliness and seeming neglect; such a contrast with what we knew of the early years and prospects of the unfortunate man, that the heart would swell, and the tears would flow, though the trembling invalid had raised himself upon his arm nervously, yet politely, enquiring who we were, and what we wanted.
“We are friends,” said Mrs. D , advancing towards the cot, “and we have called to see if we could not aid you; if we could not do something to make you more comfortable.” He gazed at her earnestly, and said, “I know your countenance. Who are you?” She mentioned her name, recalled the past to his mind, and then gradually led him to the recital of his own woes and wants.
Many questions were asked and answered, and much information elicited; but in a broken and sometimes incoherent manner on his part, and we could not describe the interview and give it the interest it possessed, for those who saw and listened to the mournful tale in that cold and dreary room. We promised him permanent relief, and assured him that so far as our means and our influence could prevail, he should never again know the destitution from which he had so deeply suffered. We told him God had sent us, and we hoped to benefit his soul and body. We left, and immediately sent him sufficient”bedding and clothing to make him perfectly comfortable. In a subsequent interview, many facts were related. For though weak in body, and occasionally confused in expression, his memory seemed unimpaired, and he gave a continuous account of his past life. To our utter surprise, we found he was but fifty years of age, though we had judged him much older from his appearance.
We sketch his history as narrated by himself. “I was the second son of Harman Blennerhassett, bearing my father’s name; and was born on the Island in the days of my father’s greatest prosperity. My infancy and childhood were guarded by the love of a most devoted mother, and my education during my youth was mostly superintended by my father at home. I afterwards went to school in Canada, and finished my education. Then having a predilection for the law, I entered the office of David Codwise, in New York, and studied three years for that profession. Not being particularly successful, I found my early taste for painting, reviving in all its strength, and resolved to yield to the visions which were forever floating through my brain, banishing all legal details, and unfitting me for the prosecution of that arduous profession. I placed myself under the instruction of Henry Inman, and soon became a proficient in the art, and supported myself comfortably by my labors. During this time, my parents were in Canada and Europe. But in 1831, my father died, and my mother returned to this country. We took a house in Greenwich street, (that colored woman accompanied her) and although straightened in our means, did not suffer from actual poverty. My mother’s health and heart were broken, and she rapidly declined. Watched by that faithful servant and myself, she sank peacefully away, and was interred in Robert Emmet’s vault, by a few faithful and sympathizing friends. It is false,” he exclaimed, with the utmost indignation, “it is false, that her last days were spent with an Irish nurse. It is false, that sisters of charity followed her to the grave. She was a member of the Episcopal Church, and was buried according to their form, in Mr. Emmet’s vault; and the man who wrote that life, knows nothing of my father’s history. For all the authentic documents are in that trunk,” pointing with his finger, “and I only can supply them. I aided Wallace to write his sketch. I lent the papers to Matthew L. Davis, when he wrote the life of Aaron Burr, and I alone can give the proper information for my father’s biography. Why did they not apply to me?
“After my mother’s death, I moved to street, where you first found me; and since then, I have lived here. An old friend paying rent, and a kind Irish woman assists me in my room, &c.; but I am feeble and suffering. I am dreading paralysis, and, ladies, I need attention, and such as you only can give.” And as he spoke, his frame shook with a strong nervous agitation, and he turned imploringly from one to the other, and was only soothed by the promise that they would do what they could to make his declining years comfortable and happy. May there be “light in the evening time I”
The trunk of papers that Harman Jr. had in his room supposedly contained a full account of the intents of the Burr Conspiracy, and had not previously been in the possession of Harman Blennerhassett Sr.’s biographer, William H. Safford. Safford wrote that biography in 1850. After Harman Jr.’s death, the trunk of papers went to his brother Lewis (Harman Jr. was not really the Last of the Blennerhassetts!). Lewis then placed them with a cousin, Richard Blennerhasset of St. Louis. In 1859, Richard’s wife Theresa (according to her letter in the Feb/ 8. 1879 Cincinnati Enquirer) sent them to the biographer, William H. Safford, for subsequent publication in 1861. However, she mentions that Safford never returned the papers, which she gave to him with that understanding.
To what degree Harman Jr.’s downfall was due to his own faults is not known. In the recounting of his life to the Ladies of the Mission, he failed to mention an 1831 marriage to Sarah W. McKinnen, who apparently was still living in 1854.