In Chapter VI, Section 1 of The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury inserted an anecdote he copied from George W. Walling’s 1887 book, Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. Though Walling often cribbed accounts he found in newspapers, his remarks on the Honeymoon gang were drawn from his personal experience:

The same year [1853] I was promoted to be captain of police in the Eighteenth Ward. The station was on Twenty-ninth Street, between Madison and Fourth avenues. “Squatters” [street corner rowdies] were plentiful in this locality. Fights were of frequent occurrence, and the precinct was by no means as orderly as it is now. There was one especially notorious party of ruffians, known as the “Honeymoon Gang.” It was named after its leader. For a long time the members of this gang had everything their own way, and I determined to clear them out of the ward. Taking five or six of my best men, all in citizen’s dress, I began hunting the ruffians, and in a few weeks, by dint of some pretty hard “licks,” judiciously administered, the ward was cleared. At this time there was no regular surgeon attached to the force to care for prisoners, and we had to frequently call upon one who lived near the station to dress their wounds. His fee was $1.00 for attending to a single cut. Not infrequently one head would be worth as much as $5.00 to him.

Asbury named Walling’s enforcers a “strong-arm squad,” but that term was not used until the early 20th Century. The use is apt, though, because the city’s newspapers, as early as the 1840s, opined that the problem of street rowdies needed to be solved by the “strong arm of the law.”

The leader of the Honeymoon Gang was Patrick Honneyman (the spelling used in his funeral notice; newspapers called him Honeyman). The uncommon name may sound familiar to aficionados of American criminal history: James Honeyman was one of the first bank robbers (1831) in the country’s annals of crime. However, Patrick Honneyman, born in Ireland in 1833, arrived alone in New York City in 1849, so its unlikely he was related.

The Honeymoon Gang, also known as the First Avenue Regulators, was one of the gangs of “rowdies” that plagued the street corners of many city wards, comprised of idle young men. There was often a heavy overlap between these gangs and the companies of volunteer fire companies; Honeyman appears to have been allied with Engine Company No. 46, particularly during its running battles with Engine Company No. 30.

Walling might have temporarily moved the Honeymoon Gang off the street corners of the Eighteenth Ward, but by no means did he break them up. In March 1854, the gang was involved in a riot among three fire companies: 30, 46, and 48 on the borders of the Twenty-first and Eighteenth Wards. Honeyman was arrested and sent to the Tombs, his bail set at $5000–a tremendous sum.

In November 1857, Honeyman and his pals were arrested for a polling place riot in the Twenty-Second Ward. The police chased them off, but they left a trail of ransacked stores and saloons in their wake. Honeyman was nabbed again and had his bail set at $1000.

In November 1859, a group of self-professed “workingmen” nominated Honeyman for Alderman of the Fourteenth Ward, but most people in that ward seemed totally unfamiliar with who he was, and he garnered only a few votes. A couple of weeks later, in the last week of November, Honeyman was accused of passing counterfeit bills by another young Irishman, Patrick Fannan. This led to an altercation that was broken up by their respective friends, but they vowed to settle the matter in a more formal ring fight. They met at the foot of Twenty-Eight Street on the East River, and battled several rounds. Fannan got the best of the fight, and threw himself down on Honeyman several times. Ultimately, it was broken up. Honeyman first appeared to have no serious injuries, but over the next few days his condition worserned. He died on December 9, 1859, and with him died the Honeymoon Gang, aka the First Avenue Regulators.

Asbury used a broad brush when describing “gangs,” but the city-dwellers of the nineteenth-century made more nuanced distinctions. The Honeymoon Gang were the definitive “rowdies.” A New York Herald article from August 31, 1879 entitled “The New York Rowdy: His Gradual Surrender of Old Haunts and Habits” helps us understand:

The Traditional New York rowdy, the terror of suburban watering places and excursion parties, and the street-corner scarecrow of belated and unprotected females–ay, and of many males as well–appears to be gradually passing away. Time was, not many years ago, that he flourished without restraint or interruption, made whole neighborhoods impassible for decent people, and turned the summer resorts convenient to the city into scenes of howling riot. His appearance was a familiar one on the street corners. He seldom allowed more hair on his face than a mustache, usually died black, with traces of its original color appearing half an inch from the roots, but as a rile he went beardless, wore a soft felt hat with the brim bent down in front and bent up behind; pegged boots, with high resounding heels; a long black coat and the loudest style of lavender or fancy pantaloons tight above the knees. In summer he dispensed with shirt collars, and seldom troubled himself with the encumbrance of a pocket handkerchief. He was accustomed to chew great quantities of fine-cut tobacco, and as he stood on corner to spit halfway across the street, just in front of a passing lady. When he smoked he held his cigar at an upward slant of forty-five degrees. His face had usually a florid color, and his breath impregnated the air around him with the odor of unrectified whiskey. His laugh and voice were both loud and metallic, and his every other link in the chain of his conversation was either a profane or obscene epithet. His daring and ferocity were never properly developed except acting with a gang, for on his own hook he was sneaking and spiritless. The day had no enjoyment for him when he and his companions failed to wreck a bar, to make away with whiskey and beer without payment, pound the barkeeper to a jelly, and scare the women and children almost to death…

…Sergeant Haggerty, of the Seventeenth precinct, who was ten years in the Volunteer Fire Department and has been twenty years on the police force in the most densely populated wards of the east side, said: “The Eighth, Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth wards are not near so bad as they used to be. In times past the rowdy element was recruited from the volunteer fire and target companies. Now there are no volunteer fire and very few target companies [local militia clubs]. Corner loafing is pretty well abolished. When I first went on the force the rowdies would monopolize almost every corner. They belonged to different gangs that have no existence now. Around Eleventh street was the Dry Dock Gang; in Thirteenth street, the Comrade Guards; around Avenue B, the Atlantic Blues, about Fifteenth Street, the Honeymoon Guards, and then there was the First Avenue Regulators and the Gotham Guards. They’d congregate on a corner and then one gang would likely stray off and get licked by a different one, and at such times it was dangerous for a man to notice any of them; but all that element has disappeared. Of course, they still gather on corners, but they have to do it stealthily, for the police have orders to keep the corners clear, and they fly for their lives when a policeman makes his appearance, but in old times they had no fear like that.

“What has become of the former rowdies?”

“I know lots of former rowdies who are settled down in business, married and living respectably, and some who are holding high positions in the city government.”

“What was their object in collecting on corners?”

“Their object was fighting, and the great point was to find out which crowd would fight the longest and sustain the greatest punishment. Men used to take pride in showing the scars they received and in relating how nearly beaten to death they were. These men would never tolerate a thief in their society. One might do anything else, from pitch and toss to manslaughter, but a thief was something they couldn’t abide.”

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