Gangs of New York History vs. Hollywood

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The movie begins in New York, in 1843, with a gang fight. Bill “the butcher” Cutting’s gang of “nativists” have challenged the “dead rabbits” (a gang of mostly Irish immigrants) to a fight to settle once and for all who is the most powerful gang in the area. After an intense battle the “nativists” win by killing the leader of the “dead rabbits”, also Amsterdam’s (the main character’s) father.
Amsterdam is then led into an orphanage where he grows to be a man, all while Bill Cutting runs the Five Points, and most of New York. The Five Points is a district of New York City and obviously the most corrupt. Crime is all to common, and sickness runs rampant in the area.
Although very underdeveloped, Amsterdam has sworn to revenge his father’s death and kill Bill “the Butcher.” When Amsterdam leaves he immediately sets his plan in motion.
He begins by getting on Cutting’s good side, and eventually becoming somewhat of an apprentice to the crime lord. During this time Amsterdam learns the ways of corruption. To keep above the law Bill Cutting becomes partners with William Tweed, arguably the most corrupt politician of all time. Bill gives Tweed the Irish immigrant vote, and Boss Tweed keeps Cutting “high and dry.”
Two subplots develop in the movie also.
First, a love story, between Amsterdam and Jenny Everdeane. A pickpocket by trade Jenny first steals Amsterdam’s necklace. Because the necklace has much sentimental value, he tracks her down and gets it back, he also gets the girl.
Second, the Draft Riots of 1863. The riots began because of the draft, instated because of the Civil War. The public was furious that you could buy your way out for 300 dollars. Also because of the corruption surrounding the draft. It was easy to get sucked into the draft if you were poor or underprivileged and it was easy to get out of the draft if you were wealthy (you could buy your way out for 300 dollars.)
In the end Amsterdam reinvents the “dead rabbits” and schedules a fight with the “nativists” once again. It just so happens that the day they schedule the fight is the day the Draft Riots begin. The Union Army marches on the city and the Union ...

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...citizens, only one was reported as being stabbed.
The film also shows East Asian people living in the Five Points. The Chinese didn’t begin moving to the U.S. until the transcontinental railroad, in the 1890’s. Finally, the Union Navy was ported in New York but never fired a round, as in the movie. Also, the Five Points were not the epicenter of the riots, in fact they were the opposite. William Tweed worked diligently to keep the peace in the area, and only three counts of murder and looting were reported over the four days the riots took place.
I can only hope that this movie inspires viewers to discover the actual history. It’s extremely interesting stuff. The gangs of the Five Points established the model for the alliance of Irishmen, Jews, and Italians who created the more commonly known mobs during the 1920’s and prohibition. A path was established between the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Bowery B’hoys that continues today with the Latin Kings, the Crips, and the Bloods.
The true tale is a gruesome part of history, but an essential part none the less.
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