Category Archives: Politics and Protest

Frederick Douglass and the life saver of Lispenard Street

In the early and mid-nineteenth century, the Underground Railroad secretly escorted tens of thousands of Southern slaves to Northern destinations, where slavery was illegal. The African American publisher David Ruggles was born a freeman in Connecticut and moved to New York to energize the emerging abolitionist move- meant via the New York Vigilance Committee, one of the city’s most influential abolitionist collectives.

And thank goodness David Ruggles was there.

Below: One of the few extant depictions of David Ruggles

At his home at 36 Lispenard Street (in today’s Tribeca neighborhood), Ruggles ran a printing press and reading room for abolitionist literature.  He also sheltered an estimated 600 fugitive slaves here over the years, including in 1838 a man named Frederick Washington Bailey, who had escaped a life of slavery in Maryland.

Under a new name, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass later wrote about how he felt arriving in New York. The following words are from the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882:

“My free life began on the third of September, 1838. On the morning of the fourth of that month, after an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a free man – one more added to the mighty throng which, like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway.

Though dazzled with the wonders which met me on every hand, my thoughts could not be withdrawn from my strange situation.  

I have often been asked how I felt, when first I found myself on free soil; and my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me.  If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life.

In a letter written to a friend soon after reading New York, I said: “I felt as one might feel, upon escape from hungry lions.”

 Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.” 

While the building which sheltered Douglass on Lispenard Street is no longer there, a plaque is affixed to the current structure at that spot, marking Ruggles — and New York’s — contribution to the liberation of Southern slaves.

Columbia University


This is an excerpt from the Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available in bookstores everywhere.



Graft and Greed: Boss Tweed and the Glory Days of Tammany Hall

PODCAST REWIND The tale of America’s most infamous political machine and the rise and fall of its flamboyant William ‘Boss’ Tweed. (Episode #86)

You cannot understand New York without understanding its most corrupt politician — William ‘Boss’ Tweed, a larger than life personality with lofty ambitions to steal millions of dollars from the city.

With the help of his Tweed Ring’ the former chair-maker had complete control over the city — what was being built, how much it would cost and who was being paid.

How do you bring down a corrupt government when it seems almost everybody’s in on it? We reveal the downfall of the Tweed Ring and the end to one of the biggest political scandal in New York history. It begins with a sleigh ride.

ALSO: Find out how Tammany Hall, the dominant political machine of the 19th century, got its start — as a rather innocent social club that required men to dress up and pretend they’re Native Americans.


THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST — Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#85), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed on iTunes or directly from our host page.


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A grand selection of illustrations of William Tweed and his Tweed Ring (in particular Peter Sweeny, New York mayor A. Oakey Hall, New York governor John Hoffman and Richard ‘Slippery Dick’ Connelly), as drawn by Thomas Nast, the Harper’s Weekly cartoonist who is perhaps most responsible for stirring up anger against New York’s corrupt political system.

These represent Nast’s work from between 1870 to 1876.. All are in the public domain and many are drawn directly from the New York Public Library public domain archives.







August 26, 1871




September 16, 1871



September 23, 1871



September 30, 1871




October 21, 1871



“The Tammany democratic tiger. The repudiation democratic tiger. Mr. [Sam] Tilden has consented, and to the end must be the mere “figure-head” of that Democratic tiger.”




November 7, 1871



November 11, 1871


November 25, 1871


January 27, 1872




August 10, 1872


October 7, 1876