American Mobsters – The Forty Thieves Street Gang


Based on “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” the Forty Thieves was considered to be the first organized gang in New York City. In 1825, the gang was formed at a produce store located on Centre Street, just south of Anthony, now Worth Street, in an area called The Five Points. The proprietor of the store was Rosanna Peers, who sold rotting vegetables out front, and ran an illegal speakeasy in the back, that sold rotgut liquor at prices much cheaper than licensed establishments. Soon the joint became a haven for pickpockets, murderers, robbers and thieves, and a dour gentleman named Edward Coleman arose as their leader.

Coleman gave out strict assignments to his men, with quotas on which and how many crimes he expected each man to commit. If after a period of time, a man did not meet his quota, he would be banished from the gang, and sometimes even killed, as a message to others about the importance of meeting quotas.

Coleman’s downfall was precipitated by one of the gang’s few legal ventures, the Hot Corn Girls. Coleman would send out scores of young pretty girls onto the streets, carrying baskets filled with hot roasted ears of corn. The Hot Corn Girl, dressed in spotted calico and wearing a plaid shawl, would walk barefooted in the streets, singing; “Hot Corn! Hot Corn! Here’s your lily white corn. All you that’s got money. Poor me that’s got none. Come buy my lily hot corn. And let me go home.” The Hot Corn Girls were not allowed off the streets by Coleman until every single ear of corn in their basket was sold.

All the Hot Corn Girls were fairly attractive, and the prettiest ones were fought over by the amorous young men mingling on the streets. The best looking one of the lot was called “The Pretty Hot Corn Girl” and Coleman fell for her hard. After fighting off several other suitors, Coleman married her, then he put he back out on the streets selling corn. But after she consistently did not meet her quotas, Coleman felt, in order to save face and be consistent in his orders, he had no other choice but to kill her, which he did. As a result, Coleman was arrested and convicted of murder. On January 12, 1839, Coleman became the first man to be hanged at the newly constructed Tombs Prison.

After Coleman’s death, the men in the gang drifted into other street gangs, like The Plug Uglies, the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys. In the early 1850’s, a juvenile street gang sprung up in the Five Points called the Forty Little Thieves, which consisted of homeless children of both sexes from the ages of eight to twelve, who emulated the escapades of their former members. They were led by Wild Maggie Carson, only twelve years-old herself. Like their forefathers, The Forty Little Thieves soon outgrew their gang and became assimilated into the older, more famous gangs.

Except for Little Maggie Carson, who was adopted off the streets at fifteen by an honorable family, eventually married a well-do-do gentlemen, and lived happily ever after. Or so they say.


Source by Joseph Bruno