On March 29, 1855, a hundred sixty five years ago, a bunch of rowdies got arrested, and a German grocery store owner lost a finger. Among the rowdies was a man named George Whitney, and another man named Thomas Riley. The criminals were all confined to the Tombs, New York City’s infamous 19th century jail.
This is interesting because it’s a little bit action-packed and violent, and also because it really happened, at a verified date and place, to real people who have now been dead and completely forgotten for many, many years.
Back then, Germans were called “Dutchmen.”
The actual news report from the New York Times follows:
“When Dutch meet Dutch,
Then flows the Lager Bier!”
Yesterday afternoon, an exciting scene occurred at he Lower Police Court, before Justice Connolly, in relation to a bloody battle at the lager bier and grocery establishment of a German named John G. Teitgen, corner of Fifty-second-street and Tenth-avenue.
It appears from the evidence of the proprietor that a gang of up-town bullies entered his premises for the purpose of adjusting matters concerning a challenge for a prize fight between Peter Ferguson and Dominick Carroll.
The proceedings did not exactly suit Tietgen, and he exclaimed, in broken English, “You damn sporters, vot for you cum in my shop to raise de tevil for? I vant you to go out or I get von officer.”
To this command, the rowdies replied, “Shut up, you [expletive], or we’ll storm yer shanty; we won’t do nothin’ else.”
The Dutchman became greatly excited, and when about to take measures to remove his obnoxious customers, the “boys” were true to their word, and sure enough stormed the castle with great violence. Decanters and bottles were hurled in all directions, oil cans were upset, gin and whisky casks damaged, and entire window sashes were smashed.
During the affray, the poor Dutchman received several cuts and stabs in his face and was minus a finger that some of the outlaws severed with a beef knife.
Upon this state of facts becoming known, Justice Connolly acted with commendable promptness and committed eight of the desperadoes to the Tombs in default of $300 bail each.
They gave their names as Dominick Carroll, Thomas Riley, William Travis (an ex-policeman), Peter Ferguson, John Nichols, Thomas O’Donnell, John Stewart and George Whitney.
Illustration: New York’s prison, known as the Tombs, circa 1870.