Plug Uglies: The Gang with Their Own City

By Nick Dupree (, 4/11/2012)

“…The Plug Uglies grew and grew to be the most powerful and feared club of nativist thugs in history, the term “plug ugly” itself becoming genericized to mean any such stovepipe hat-wearing street tough. While the Bowery Boys cornered the market on crime in one neighborhood, the Plug Uglies ran an entire city, sometimes even nearing power in all of Maryland.

Controlling the streets and only allowing wards to vote for American Party (know nothing) candidates was their path to power.

One way they steered elections was especially extraordinary: they would “coop” any vulnerable immigrants, homeless people and men weaker than them in basements or shacks, 40-90 men to a shack, then herd them to vote over and over again in different wards wearing different clothes.

Edgar Allan Poe was slipped a mickey and “cooped” by Plug Uglies right before his death, and was seen at different polling places in unfamiliar clothes. Poe experts still speculate about the poet’s death.

For her part, Poe’s cousin’s daughter and important Poe scholar Elisabeth Ellicott Poe, placed blame squarely on the Plug Uglies’ shoulders, writing a piece marking the centennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth and recounting his history, that ‘On the night of October 4, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe arrived in Baltimore from Richmond. He was going North to be married, and was last seen to alight from the Richmond train in Baltimore and go into a near-by saloon. What happened after that, in brief, was this: His drink was drugged under direction of a gang of plug-uglies and he was voted about the city next day in the elections as a repeater while still drugged. The plug-uglies were members of a secret political organization, and their lips were sealed. But a certain Passano of that society, in after years said that Edgar Poe was kept in his coop that night. After the plug-uglies had finished with the unfortunate man he was thrown carelessly into the street, left to die if he willed. …he never recovered sufficiently to give the details of his dreadful plight.’”

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This entry was posted in 1840s, 1850s, Baltimore Babylon, Baltimorons, Crime, Deaths, Edgar Allan Poe and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Plug Uglies: The Gang with Their Own City

  1. John T. Everett says:

    Mr. Dupree,
    Thank you for the interesting article. I have done a bit of my own research on the Plug Ugly social club in connection with a novel that is due out this November through Baltimore Bookworks. In that connection, I found what has to be the definitive historical work on the subject:
    Melton, Tracy Matthew. Hanging Henry Gambrill: The Violent Career of Baltimore’s Plug Uglies, 1854-1860. Baltimore, MD: The Press at the Maryland Historical Society, 2005.

    I highly recommend the work for both its superb research and its readability. It might change your opinion on a couple of points: 1) that Baltimore was run primarily by the Plug Uglies in the late 1850’s, and 2) the genesis of the gangs was political.

    Thanks again for the interesting article.


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