The last pirate of New York A ghost ship, a killer, and the birth of a gangster nation

Rich Cohen

Book - 2019

Documents the story of underworld legend Albert Hicks, chronicling his mid-nineteenth-century crime spree and the plot gone wrong that culminated in an onboard massacre and manhunt in 1860 Coney Island.

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2nd Floor 364.1523/Cohen Checked In
True crime stories
New York : Spiegel & Grau [2019]
First edition
Physical Description
235 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [229]-235).
Main Author
Rich Cohen (author)
  • Once upon a time
  • The ghost ship
  • The shore line
  • The trial
  • The confession
  • The execution
  • Burial and resurrection.
Review by Booklist Review

A notorious nineteenth-century adventurer, Albert Hicks came to Lower Manhattan to make his fortune, and he decided that the quickest route to riches lay in crime. Today, it's hard to picture Manhattan with pirates prowling off Fourteenth Street, but 1860 was still a time when young men were drugged and dragged onto vessels to be literally shanghaied. Using an alias, Hicks, already known as a criminal-for-hire, signed on as an oyster boat's first mate. Hardly had the ship sailed when Hicks slaughtered the captain and crew, dumped their bodies overboard, grabbed the valuables, and escaped in a yawl, leaving the ship adrift in the fog. Eventually captured, Hicks was tried and hanged on Bedloe's Island, once New York City's public execution site, now home to the Statue of Liberty. Cohen skillfully narrates Hicks' background, criminal career, and the rough-and-tumble world of New York City on the eve of the Civil War. True-crime stories rarely get much better than this one.--Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Cohen (Sweet and Low), a self-declared aficionado of gangster stories, delivers a doozy of a tale that no fan of true crime will be able to put down. In 1860, near New York harbor, a ghost sloop, adrift and unmanned, appeared out of the fog, awash in blood with severed fingers lying on its fore deck. The investigation of these shipboard murders (there had been a crew of four) dominated headlines and fascinated New Yorkers, and the culprit, eventually captured by police in Providence, R.I., turned out to be one of the most feared and shadowy figures of the 1800s New York underworld: pirate Albert Hicks. He was responsible for decades of mayhem on the seas, hundreds of murders, and countless robberies. He was convicted of piracy, sentenced to death, and executed by public hanging (but not before P.T. Barnum sent someone to make a premature death mask). Drawing on old newspaper clippings, police reports, and court records, Cohen leads readers through the dank streets of Lower Manhattan when pirates anchored off of 14th street, and argues that Hicks, perhaps the last of the American pirates, may also have been the first of the mobsters who would soon be a New York fixture. This riveting yarn will enthrall fans of Gangs of New York aficionados. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Cohen (The Chicago Cubs) presents the story of New York pirate and gangster Albert Hicks, and the teams who led his capture and execution, in rich detail. Hicks was arrested in 1860 for murdering an oyster ship crew; in his possession were artifacts from crew members and laundered money believed to be his motive for the crime. Hicks had attempted to sink the ship, thereby destroying evidence, only to discover later that the "ghost ship" had drifted into New York harbor, creating a fervor throughout the city. Following his trial, Hicks confessed to a life of crime and becoming hardened by the tough conditions he faced in prison as a young adult. Upon his release, he committed himself to a life of adventure and criminal activity, chasing the California gold rush, robbing and killing gold diggers, as well as pirating throughout Latin and South America and New Orleans before heading back to the East Coast where he started a family. The sensation surrounding Hicks enthralled New York and ensured his infamy as one of the city's leading gangsters. VERDICT A thoroughly researched and engaging tale; recommended as an additional purchase for true crime collections.- Mattie Cook, Flat River Community Lib., MI © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A tale of mid-1800s New York City and "the first gangster, a model for Lansky and Gambino."Though Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone contributor Cohen (The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse, 2017, etc.) claims his latest is about the birth of a gangster nation, the narrative focuses on one horrific multiple murder, the capture of the culprit by a star detective, and the trial. At the center of this book is Albert Hicks (circa 1820-1860), the supposed founding father of the New York underworld. The author delivers an entertaining story, beginning with a picture of New York City just before the Civil War, especially the seedy underbelly surrounding the port. Hicks' childhood was marked by a wild, restless disposition, aversion to labor, and the perpetual need to fight. As a teenager, he served his first prison term, escaped, and was caught and put in solitary confinement for a year. Feeling hopeless and abandoned, he set off for revenge and to make his fortune. Signing on to an oyster sloop, he proved to be a good workeruntil boredom set in or something angered him and he lost his temper. Aboard another ship a few voyages later, he was involved in his first mutiny, an event that, sadly, proved to be his best learning experience. He was a good speaker and persuader and was easily able to draw crews to mutiny, after which they would take the profits from the voyage and blow it all on wine, women, and gambling. It became the template for his life of crime before he was executed by hanging in front of a massive crowd of nearly 20,000.Though not a traditional gangster bookHicks was certainly a pirate and a murderer, but he lacked a loyal gang or specific territorythis is a rollicking, page-turning tale that is "too great and grisly to be anything but true." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.