Rosanna Peers was a grocery store owner, saloon keeper and an early criminal fence to the thieves and gangsters of the old sixth ward during the early to mid 1800’s. Rosanna’s was used as a base of operations for the earliest known gangs of New York, the Forty Thieves and the Kerryonians. Rosanna Peers is the earliest known business owner to deal with the citys criminal element.
Located on Center Street, just south of Anthony Street, which is now Foley Square, the establishment was describe as an early sort of speakeasy where piles of decaying vegetables were on display in racks outside, while in the back there was a room “in which she sold the fiery liquor of the period at lower prices than it could be obtained in the recognized saloons”.
Based in Rosanna Peers store, the Forty Thieves were formed by Edward Coleman in the 1825. Edward Coleman, who by all accounts was a towering thug, was the first criminal to be executed at the newly constructed Tombs Prison in New York City. He was in control of a gang of pickpockets, muggers and stick up artists and issued with strict quotas.
Gang members would meet at Peer’s grocery store to be given assignments and expect to share out everything they get, those who came back with a light bag or suspected of holding back would be thrown out. This led to disputes between members and in the long term Coleman was unable to maintain internal discipline. Outcast members were usually disposed of or would join other gangs that were forming around the city.
Rosanna Peers was also home to another gang of toughs, the Kerryonians, made up entirely of recently arrived immigrants from Kerry, Ireland, historically the majority of Irish Immigration took place from three counties in Ireland, Cork, Kerry & Sligo all on the West or South coast of Ireland. Although they werent a criminal gang in the true sense, they were known for their violence and fighting with other groups from around the Five Points, ost notably a group called the Pelters.
They are most known however for disrupting British actor William Charles Macready’s performance at Astor Place around 1825. The Kerryonians were eventually absorbed into the growing street gangs of Five Points such as the Dead Rabbits, Roach Guards, and Chichesters.
Its not clear what happened to Rosanna Peers or her store but her success paved the way for others to open similar establishments along Anthony, Orange and Cross Streets catering to the New York underworld.
Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928.