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The Five Points Settlement 

New York, 1855.

"Coming up Chatham Street and bending your course to the left, you turn into Baxter Street, a dark, damp, muddy street, forming one of the Five Points. On each side of the way are stores of old clothes and heterogeneous articles, kept by Polish and German Jews.

Numerous 'Unredeemed Goods for Sale,' in the shape of coats, vests, and other unmentionable garments, are suspended on wooden stands in front of the doorways.

There are also junk-stores, rags, bones, and old metal depots, and two Italian groceries, one opposite the other.

Advancing farther, you reach the centre of the Five Points, synonymous of whatever is degraded and degrading, loathsome and criminal.

Hero Park Street runs parallel to Chatham Street and crosses Baxter Street at right angles, thus forming four of the Five Points.

The fifth point is formed by the junction of Worth Street, leading from this common centre in a northerly direction. This locality is very dimly lighted, and the few lamps scattered around only add to the repulsive nature of the place.

The pestiferous exhalations of the filthy streets, and not less filthy shanties, inhabited by the lowest and most disreputable characters, are disgusting beyond any description.

Scattered over this neighborhood, densely settled by the most depraved classes of all nationalities, there lived, and still live, some fifteen hundred of the poorest class of Italians, who traditionally cling to that locality. They are generally from the Ligurian coasts, which are over-populated.

When the farms require working, the inhabitants usually have something to do; but, at some seasons, want of employment compels them to turn elsewhere. Men, women, and lads went in ordinary times to the largest cities of Northern Italy for temporary occupation, leaving behind their children to the care of relatives or acquaintances, who, owing to their business, inability, or carelessness, neglected in most cases to exercise over them parental duties. 

When the hand-organ came into vogue, they found it the easiest way to employ their unoccupied time. Seeing, afterward, that they could realize more by the organ than by the shovel, they went grinding all the year, and spread all over Italy at first, then over Europe and America. Some of the children left were sent for, while others were hired out to those who proposed a grinding-tour to America. Those who arrived here first having done well, others followed, and the tide of the organ-grinding emigration set in on a gradual rise. 
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The failure of the Revolutionary movements of 1848 and 1849 having impoverished, to a greater or smaller extent, the several Italian provinces, gave a great impetus to this emigration, and it was not long before the Five Points were crowded to overflowing. 
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Accustomed as they were to agricultural pursuits and out of the reach of better social influences, and totally ignorant of the language, they formed a separate colony, associating only with those of their own country in the Five Points. 
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Had they displayed the vices or criminal inclinations which prevail to a deplorable extent among the low classes of other nationalities, they would soon have been brought to public notice and taken care of by our benevolent and religious societies; but they cannot be reproached with intoxication, prostitution, quarreling, stealing, etc; and thus, escaping the unenviable notoriety of the criminal, they fell into a privacy that deprived them of the advantages of American benevolence; and there is no instance of any visitor having ever been appointed to explore this fruitful field of operation.
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Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years' Work Among Them, 1872
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see also:

MORAL IMPROVEMENT