If you were a boy hoodlum in “Bed-Stuy” back in 1899, then it is a good bet that you conducted your “outrages” along that stretch of Howard Avenue between Halsey and Hancock Streets.

For it was there that a “small reign of terror” was “inaugurated” during this period, as small gangs of boys “armed with sticks and stones” prowled about the area with determined mal intent.


“The irrepressible and unregenerate young generation of boys in the vicinity of Howard avenue and Halsey street are making existence a heavy load to the law abiding population of that community,” railed the Brooklyn Eagle.

Bklyn Daily Eagle, Sun., 3 September 1899.
Bklyn Daily Eagle, Sun., 3 September 1899.
“The choicest lot of hoodlums in the city have banded themselves together,” the paper continued “and use that block as a fixed center, from which they conduct a campaign of well planned outrages for a radius of many blocks around.”


Two boys, in particular, were reported to the police after having assaulted a “little 10 year old boy who was going to the grocery store for his mother.”

The boys, a 14-year-old member of the Earle family living at at 73 Howard Avenue and a boy named Goldstein, living at 96 Howard Avenue, “led the charge upon the youngster, who was utterly unable to cope with such overwhelming odds, there being at least twenty boys under the leadership of the principals.”

In the end, the boy was “knocked down, cuffed, kicked and beaten.”

When this fact was mentioned to the police, a sergeant at the local precinct said that “he could do nothing” and that the “father would have to get warrants for the malefactors if he wanted them punished.”

It is likely that the police saw such activity from underage boys as hardly criminal. There was also the perception amongst the locals that the sons of the more well-to-do youths were being allowed, because of their parents’ influence, to run wild in the streets.


Saratoga Avenue between Macon and Halsey streets - showing possibly some of the boys of the Hancock Street gang.
Saratoga between Macon and Halsey Streets – showing possibly some of the boys of the Hancock Street gang.
When an Eagle reporter visited the area to see for himself first-hand the situation on that block he discovered “a dozen of the boys” who “lined the curbstone on Howard Avenue, near Hancock.” The boys were “armed with clubs and stones and were patiently waiting for prey.”

As the reporter approached, he was “closely scanned by the boys, but as it was quite early in the evening and a policeman was near there was no attack.”

The boys, however, showed no fear and assaulted the reporter vocally. The reporter, as was practice of the time, reported the words of the boys using their local dialect and speech.

“Say, mister! Gimme er match,” one of the boys shouted in a “screaky voice,” as he “rose from the curb stone and stopped the news gatherer.”

The reporter did not provide the requested match and so the boy “gave vent volubly to his disappointment.” At this point the reporter asked the boys “what they were doing with such a miscellaneous collection of sticks and brickbats.”

“They’s to help the fellows move on faster. We don’t help ‘low none er there gang from further down to stay ’round this yere diggin’s, an’ w’en ther slick fellows come chasin’ ther goils we fix um so they keeps at home ther nex’ time.”

“Ain’t we feared er there pleece? Pshaw! Ther ain’t er cop in this yere town whut can ketch any er us. We’d make you hustle yerself ef it was er little later,” concluded the young man “with admirable frankness.”

The stronghold of the Howard Avenue gang - a vacant lot on Hancock Street near Howard Avenue.
The stronghold of the Howard Avenue gang – a vacant lot on Hancock Street near Howard Avenue.
While the boys refused to talk about “their misdoings,” they boasted of the “great spot” they make every night “making the strangers hustle for home.”

They pointed out a vacant lot on Hancock Street, near the corner of Howard avenue, which they said was their “stonghold.” There on the lot were hundreds of barrels and boxes piled up waiting to be burned on election night.”

“Peach trees were a favorite prey for the “gang of incorrigibles,” noted the paper, continuing that the boys have “stripped all the fruit trees within that vicinity and have slaughtered every chicken and cat in sight.”

Once a Halsey street woman remonstrated with several who were robbing her fruit trees and they called her vile names and threatened to “bust” her face with bricks. The nervous people of the area, as a result, “wear pale and woeful countenances and are in constant dread of assault.”

While some citizens have “repeatedly drubbed the 16 year old lawbreakers,” others “are not bold enough to try this method of administering justice. The citizens have considered the matter and if the police do not stop the disturbances,” the paper continued, “concerted action will be taken to end the small reign of terror.”

It is probable that the reign continued unabated for years.


The Brownstone Detectives

book_comp_flat_lowThe story you have just read was composed from extensive historical research conducted by The Brownstone Detectives. We perform in-depth investigations on the historic homes of our clients, and produce for them their very own House History Books. Our hardbound books include an illustrated and colorful narrative timeline that will bring the history of any house to life. Contact us today to begin discovering the history of your home.

Post Categories: 1890-1900, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights
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