Isaiah Rynders

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Isaiah Rynders
DiedJanuary 3, 1885(1885-01-03) (aged 80–81)
OccupationPolitical organizer and underworld figure
EmployerTammany Hall
Known forFounder of the Empire Club and ward boss of New York's Sixth Ward during the 1840s and 1850s.
Political partyDemocratic Party
Spouse(s)Phoebe Shotwell

Captain Isaiah Rynders (1804 – January 3, 1885) was an American businessman, sportsman, underworld figure and political organizer for Tammany Hall. Founder of the Empire Club, a powerful political organization in New York during the mid-19th century, his "sluggers" committed voter intimidation and election fraud on behalf of Tammany Hall throughout the 1840s and 1850s before Tammany became an exclusively Irish-dominated institution.

He held considerable influence in Tammany Hall for twenty-five years and was credited for delivering New York to James K. Polk and securing his election as President of the United States. He was similarly successful in the presidential elections of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, the latter appointing him U.S. Marshal of the Southern District of New York. Although Rynders Street (now part of Centre Street) is sometimes said to have been named in his honor,[1] the street name was in use as early as 1794, prior to his birth.[2]

Although nominally loyal to Tammany for the majority of his career, his Empire Cub heading the fight against the nativist Know Nothing movement for over a decade, Rynders aligned himself with the Know Nothings for a brief period during the 1850s. This eventually brought him into conflict with his former protégé John Morrissey who would eventually replace him as political boss of the Sixth Ward.[3]


Born to a German-American father and an Irish Protestant mother,[4] Rynders first appeared in New York City during the mid-1830s, after a brief career as a professional gambler and pistol-and-knife fighter on the Mississippi River, and soon became involved in local politics.[citation needed]

An enthusiastic supporter of Tammany Hall, he established himself as one of the most politically skilled organizers in the city. He was said to have "sometimes permitted his love of the Irish and hatred for the English to upset his judgment", however he also recognized the value of using the numerous street gangs for Tammany Hall. Owner of at least half a dozen green-groceries in Paradise Square, he was able to win the predominantly Irish-American gangs to the cause of Tammany Hall and organize them into a voting block.[3] He later established a network of saloons and gambling parlors which supported his political club and generated revenue for Tammany Hall.[4]

He originally operated from Sweeney's House of Refreshment, an Ann Street tavern popular with volunteer firefighters, before founding the Empire Club in 1843.[5] The Park Row clubhouse quickly became the political hub of the Sixth Ward and, through a heavy campaign of voter intimidation and election fraud, he was credited for securing the presidency of Democratic candidate James K. Polk during the United States presidential election of 1844.[4]

It was also the headquarters from which he directed his lieutenants such as Country McCleester, Edward Z.C. Judson, Paudeen McLaughlin, Jim Turner, Lew Baker and John Morrissey and the Dead Rabbits against the Know Nothings and their Bowery supporters which included the Atlantic Guards and the Bowery Boys. Rynders was alleged to have been involved in instigating the Astor Place Riot in 1849 [3][6] and later made trips to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans where he advised local Democratic leaders on Tammany-style machine politics.[4]

By the end of the decade, he was considered to be the de facto leader of the Five Points street gangs and was often requested by authorities to use his influence to cease rioting and gang-related violence which the police were unable to stop. He was a particularly important figure in civil disturbances against abolitionists during the period encountering such people as Frederick Douglass and Abby Gibbons.[7]

On one occasion, Wendell Phillips was stopped from speaking at the Broadway Tabernacle when Rynders publicly threatened that he and his men would "wreck the building and mob the audience".[why?] Henry Ward Beecher invited Phillips to speak at Plymouth Church and, when a mob led by Rynders followed Phillips, he and his followers were met by a group of well-armed men who defended the building. It was during this meeting that Phillips not only spoke out against slavery but also of the corruption of Tammany Hall.[5]

Rynders was involved in the successful presidential elections of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, during the presidential elections of 1852 and 1856 respectively, and was appointed by Buchanan as U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of New York in 1857.[8]

On June 9, 1854, Rynders married 20-year-old Phoebe Shotwell, the last surviving child of real estate mogul John Shotwell and Phoebe Byron, in Washington, DC.[9] For a brief time during this period, he renamed his political organization the Americus Club and switched his allegiances to the Know Nothings causing a deep rift between him and his Irish supporters, most notably his protégé John Morrissey.[3]

This decision would lead to his downfall as the political boss of the Sixth Ward when, during the Dead Rabbits Riot in 1857, he was attacked and pelted with rocks while attempting to persuade the warring gangsters to cease fighting. His reputation suffered considerably after this point and Morrissey eventually replaced Rynders as head of the Sixth Ward.[4][10]

Rynders remained in politics, attending the 1860 Democratic National Convention as a regular member of the New York delegation [11] and, while a U.S. Marshal, he was in attendance at the execution and Albert W. Hicks and was the arresting officer who took Nathaniel Gordon into custody that same year.[12] In early 1861, he was ordered by Chairman Morris to find William Hepburn Russell and return him to Washington, D.C. but telegraphed the capitol on March 2 that he was unable to locate him. Rynders reported that he had heard rumors that Russell was residing in Philadelphia but that he did not believe the report.[13] He was among several Tammany political leaders who opposed the American Civil War, going so far as to support Mayor Fernando Wood's proposal to take New York City out of the Union, and later fought the federal government over conscription prior to the New York Draft Riots in 1863.[14] While also acting in his capacity as a U.S. marshal, he was responsible for the attempted capture of fellow Tammany operative Isaac Vanderbeck Fowler. Upon entry to the hotel where Fowler was staying, Rynders made such a ruckus that Fowler was able to escape and eventually landed in Mexico.[15]

Rynders was portrayed in the historical novel The Furies (1976) by John Jakes and Lucrecia Mott (1999) by Dorothy Sterling.


  1. ^ Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. (pg. 5) ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  2. ^ 26th Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society to the Legislature of the State of New York. Albany, N.Y, 1921. (pg. 256)
  3. ^ a b c d Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. (pg. 39-40) ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  4. ^ a b c d e English, T.J. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. (pg. 26-28) ISBN 0-06-059002-5
  5. ^ a b Moss, Frank. The American Metropolis from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time. London: The Authors' Syndicate, 1897. (pp. 312-13)
  6. ^ Walling, George W.. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York: Caxton Book Concern, 1887. (pg. 47)
  7. ^ Bacon, Margaret Hope. Abby Hopper Gibbons: Prison Reformer and Social Activist. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. (pg. 64); ISBN 0-7914-4497-X
  8. ^ Blake, E. Vale. History of the Tammany Society or Columbian Order From its Organization to the Present Time. New York: Souvenir Publishing Company, 1901. (pg. 68)
  9. ^ Shotwell, Ambrose M. Annals of Our Colonial Ancestors and Their Descendants, Or, Our Quaker Forefathers and Their Posterity. Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith & Co., 1895. (pp. 145, 151)
  10. ^ Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. (pg. 104-105) ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  11. ^ Brown, Henry James, ed. Letters from a Texas Sheep Ranch: Written in the Years 1860 and 1867. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1959. (pg. 119)
  12. ^ Sutton, Charles; James B. Mix and Samuel A. Mackeever, ed. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of Their Crimes. San Francisco: A. Roman & Co., 1874. (pg. 213-214, 295)
  13. ^ Raymond W. and Mary Lund Settle. Empire on Wheels. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1949. (pg. 112)
  14. ^ Bernstein, Iver. The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. (pg. 49) ISBN 0-19-507130-1
  15. ^ Allen, Oliver E. (1993). The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. pp. 80-100. ISBN 0-201-62463-X.

Further reading[edit]

  • Asbury, Herbert. Sucker's Progress: An Informal History of Gambling in America from the Colonies to Canfield. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1938.
  • Breen, Matthew P. Thirty Years of New York Politics Up-To-Date. New York: Matthew P. Breen, 1899.
  • Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-514049-4
  • Harlow, Alvin F. Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street. New York and London: D. Appleton & Company, 1931.
  • Marcuse, Maxwell F. This Was New York!: A Nostalgic Picture of Gotham in the Gaslight Era. New York: LIM Press, 1969.
  • Morris, Lloyd R. Incredible New York: High Life and Low Life of the Last Hundred Years. New York: Random House, 1951.
  • Mushkat, Jerome. Tammany: The Evolution of a Political Machine, 1789-1865. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1971.
  • Stoddard, Lothrop. Master of Manhattan: The Life of Richard Croker. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1931.

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