Gangs of New York

The film Gangs of New York (2002) tells the story of perhaps the world’s most notorious slum, the Five Points. Located in the heart of lower Manhattan, the Five Points became a safe haven for the poorest souls in New York. Comprised of mostly Irish immigrants escaping the devastation of the Great Potato Famine of 1847, the area quickly became considered the most density populated in the world. Directed by Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York highlights a turbulent time and some might say over looked aspect of American History. Loosely based of Herbert Ashbury’s novel of the same name, Director Martin Scorsese tells the story of not only racial and economic tension but also the immense amount of historical hostility between Catholics and Protestants in the mid-19th century.

The film opens in 1846 with a series of Irish Catholics being lead into battle against the native born Protestants. The notorious NYC street gang, the Dead Rabbits, is led by Priest Vallon, played by Liam Neeson. Vallon is the leader of the not only the dead rabbits but also represents every Irish Catholic in the scene. He faces off against Daniel Day Lewis who depicts William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, the leader of Bowery Boys and represents the all native born protestants. These groups fight to determine “who holds sway over the Five Points,”[2] and ends with the Priest dying under Cutting’s knife.

In the next scene it’s 1863 and lower Manhattan is overrun by immigrants and gangs. Amsterdam Vallon (Priest’s son) returns to the Five Points to seek vengeance against the Protestant and Know Nothing gangland kingpin Bill the Butcher who murdered his father years ago. Having seen his father killed in a major gang fight in New York, young Amsterdam Vallon is sent away for his own safety. He returns to find the controlling Protestant gang and perhaps most powerful of the Native gangs is headed by Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. He believes that America should belong to native-born Americans only and opposes the waves of immigrants, universally Irish, entering the city. With an eager pickpocket Jenny by his side and an emerging Irish army, Amsterdam Vallon fights his way to seek vengeance on the Butcher and restore peace in the area. Underscoring this tempest is the strife of Civil War and forced conscription due to the Union running low on soldiers. This sets the stage for perhaps the worst riot in US history, the New York City Draft Riots. It is in this backdrop; Cutting (protestants), Vallon  (Catholics), the Civil War and emergence of Tammany Hall that a new, New York and America emerges.


I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.~ Allison O’Connor


Photo Credits

[1] Header Photos

[2] Gangs of New York Trailer