Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pirates of New York City

Pirates today are generally associated with Captain Morgan, Jack Sparrow, or for the more serious, the Horn of Africa.

The fascinating blog Ephemeral New York tells us of a time when it could be associated with the rivers of New York City. This should be early history-- maybe the 1600s -- but it's long after my usual dividing line, the invention and use of railways:

That’s one type of criminal New Yorkers don’t worry about these days: river pirates. But from the city’s beginning through the 19th century, ships loaded with valuables were constantly coming in and out of New York Harbor—easy prey for river pirates.

Police were unable, or unwilling, to stop the piracy, reports an 1876 New York Times article.

A detective added: “River thieves are the men who have not the brains to be burglars, but who do not hesitate to murder in order to steal a coil of rope.”

Most notorious of the river pirates in the 1860s and 1870s was the Patsy Conroy gang. Conroy helmed a band of lowlifes who trolled the dockyards of the East River.

Another murderous group known for hijacking and robbing ships was the Hook Gang, named for Corlears’ Hook on the East River waterfront.

Finally law enforcement got serious about ridding the rivers of pirates. The NYPD formed the “Steamboat Squad” in the 1870s, which drove out most of the gangs by the 20th century.

Plenty more good stuff where that came from

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Blogger andrewjameslowry said...

Steamboat Squad, using similar technology as the railways, helps to get rid of the pirates. Fits into your railway dividing line.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Judith Weingarten said...

Isn't piracy by definition restricted to extra-territorial crimes, once just on the high seas (now in the air as well), or raiders from the sea, but essentially crimes outside of any state's jurisdiction? So, I'm afraid the cop was right: these were just river thieves.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

You do get the feeling that this might be oversold -- that the "pirates" hung around at dockside bars and occasionally rowed boats out to vulnerable boats.

12:32 PM  

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