The most ignoble army ever to sally forth from the shores of England has found itself a home. Driven abroad by lethargic indifference to their plight, tossed like fetid refuse upon America’s shores, they have at last found safe harbour. Ushered reluctantly through the golden gates of ‘ole New York’ they have found grudging solace in the only refuge afforded them, that bustling, crumbling, begrimed sanctuary, the sixth ward. Put far away from the well paved streets and gas lit walkways of wealthy Upper Manhattan socialites; they tenant unsanitary conditions, poorly ventilated, and prone to occasional outbreaks of Cholera. As well they might! Having brought neither wealth nor social standing to the banqueting tables of enterprise. A strange and inverted world this is, where the same poverty that reduced Irish farmers to penury can, in this place, and at this time, excite in them a thrilling degree of cunning, propelling some to fame and wealth, and others to infamy….and wealth!
Take Thomas Warne, he whose travels to Calcutta and the Indies came to be most thrillingly reported in the Morning Courier. Orphaned at the tender age of ten, he enlisted upon a packet boat bound for China, and having the good fortune to be abducted by an elderly pirate from Canton, turned ‘privateer’ at the age of twelve. With the money made from his share of ‘privateering’ he purchased his first ship, traversing the waters of China, Cuba, and the Indies. Till at length he was able to set up shop in Manhattan, leaving the running of his ships to others. T’was rumoured that Mr Warne had once been a near-starved Irish emigrant, t’is even said that he sat by his da’s withered corpse for nigh on five days ere he was found. These days who may tell? At thirty he’s as handsome a man as any in New York, one worth $100,000, and the world is his oyster!
To look upon the corpse of a man as one would do a dog is a gift few have been cursed with. Isaiah Wynders is such a one, a Tammany man from the crooked shine of his hob nailed boots, to the brilliantined wave in his jet black hair. Look upon that snaggle-toothed alligator smile ye ladies and despair! If ever a fiend bound for hell were clad in mortal flesh, t’is he! A river boat rat, a gambler, a hard eyed filleter of reckless men, a purveyor of favours and champion of the common man! You doubt me dear reader? Then look upon ole Mother Connor as she clambers gamely out of her rocking chair doffing her bonnet with a shrill,
“God save ye Mr Wynders!” and Mr Wynders halting briefly in his journey turns aside to clasp the frail old widow’s hands and enquire as to how
“Frances is keeping and how the trade suits him?” whereupon Widow Connor’s dull eyes brim with grateful tears,
“The trade suits him jes fine your grace” says she, and with a tremulous shake of his hand she resumes her seat by the front door and he passes on.
“Bless me if it ain’t Mr Wynders!”
This time it is Mrs O’Shea-baby at her hip-who halts his turn into Shadder Avenue, asking after his health and thanking him for the good turn he done her husband (now a docker), and her son (an apprentice carpenter). And so it continues from one avenue to the next, with much tugging of forelocks, shaking of hands and partaking of blessings. Indeed he is so burdened with gratitude and thanks, t’would seem that the path to perdition lies blocked and the gates of heaven beckon, were it not for the iniquitous lure of King Cotton. The virile life’s blood of the southern states, it sparkles and glistens like white gold on New York’s docks. White gold that may only be stored by Tammany porters and packed by Tammany dock men, upon ships which may only dock with the tacit approval of the harbour commissioners-Tammany men everyone. And now t’would seem (through no fault of his!) as though the lucrative flow of commerce-and bribes- were to be put in serious jeopardy.
“Have they shot Lincoln yet?”
“Nope, he got through Virginia in one piece, Maryland too”
“He took Pinkerton agents with him?”
“Ten of em, toting Winchester rifles and packing Colt pistols or so I am tole! The south can be a bottomless terror for them that don’t love er!”
“They mean’t to take him in Baltimore?”
“They failed, for better or worse he’s president now!”
“Has the world gone mad? There wasn’t a working man in alla New York didn’t vote Democrat! I saw to it!”
Isaiah Winders smiled, “There is no denying the service that Tammany has rendered New York. There is no other organization for taking hold of untrained, friendless men and converting them into citizens. Who else in the city would do it? For all that, somebody voted us a Republican president, and now? Half the Southern states have seceded!”
Boss Tweed chuckled, he puffed ruminatively on his cigar for the longest time, then he chuckled some more,
“Where’s Michael Houlihan?” he asked stretching forth a beringed hand that the fearful miner might kiss it,
“Yer Grace!” murmured the man holding the Tammany society ring to his lips as if Boss Tweed were the Pope himself (heaven forfend!). Boss Tweed winked at Isaiah Winders who sizing up the shabby little coal miner wondered what use he could possibly be to the Tammany cause. He did not have to wonder long,
“Just look at him! Ain’t it just good to look at him! Here stands the reason why come hell or tarnation no Republican president will ever defeat the will of the people! Take a seat Mr Houlihan!”
Michael Houlihan sat. Boss Tweed beamed and though the smile should have warmed the very innards of Michael Houlihan’s soul it had the opposite effect. For who had not heard of Tammany Hall? The tiger of the five boroughs devouring all who stood in its path, including him if he wasn’t careful. He shouldn’t have taken that job at ‘The Silver Slipper’ nor the ‘gift’ of 50 dollars but taken he had,now there was the very devil to pay for it.
“Tell Mr Winders what you have told me” and so with a heavy sigh Michael spoke, of an iron clad ship, a brace of vengeful Molly Maguires, two Pinkerton agents and their scandal drenched cargo, the exiled Lord Grid-Iron. Blushing furiously with shame he recounted the manner in which the English aristocrat had been abducted, and of his intended destination, the coal fields of Oklahoma. Boss Tweed looked across at Isaiah Winders whose face was strained with incredulity,
“The abduction of an English minister of the state? He’s lying!”. But Boss Tweed shook his head,
“I telegraphed London two weeks ago, Lord Grid-Iron is missing, believed dead. Just imagine how grateful the English would be if we were to return him…for a price.That iron-clad ship set off from Liverpool harbour over a month ago, it should arrive any day now and when it does? I want you and your men ready and waiting!”