Scotchmen. Scottsmen. Both those names came up in my research of a gang in Harlem. Two of the three times they were called Scotchmen, so that is probably their true name. I assumed they were a white gang based on the name, but this wasn’t true; they were a black gang. Controlling a turf on East 129th Street between Park and Madison and the nearby Lincoln Houses which butted up against Harlem River, a detective from the 25th Squad described them as an aggressive and war-like group of boys. Although technically in East Harlem, they were at the north end of East Harlem, and closer to Central Harlem which was predominantly black. Further south in East Harlem were mostly Puerto Rican gangs and some Italian gangs as well.
A fairly large gang, the Scotchmen loitered on the streets until all hours of the night, drinking alcohol, and battling enemy gangs. Like many gangs of the day, the Scotchmen had a President, Prime Minister and War Counselor (black gangs were especially highly stratified). Many Scotchmen lived in the 15-story high Lincoln Houses which were built in 1948, replacing the tenements in the area. Over 3,000 people lived in the Lincoln Houses. For the Scotchmen that lived around the Lincoln Houses, the buildings were dilapidated and run-down, (by 1960 half of the buildings were considered deteriorated) and most of the residents were very poor, living on social assistance.
One of the gangs that the Scotchmen fought were the Assassins. There were two branches of Assassins gangs in Harlem, one near the Scotchmen and another in West Harlem. The gang in West Harlem was involved in a gang murder in the summer of 1959, but they were too far from the Scotchmen up by East 129th Street. But their Assassin counter-parts from close to East 129th Street were close enough and thus found themselves getting in rumbles with the Scotchmen. One former Assassin I talked to remembered the Scotchmen having a tight grip on their turf and to venture into the Lincoln Houses was madness because they had to contend with the “the project folks.” If the Assassins had the guts to go into the Lincoln Houses, they had to be in full force. The best way was to pick them off outside of the Lincoln Houses. He explained to me what happened when the Assassins did go into the Lincoln Houses to fight the Scotchmen:
It was in the projects uptown on 134th street and Madison avenue, The Lincoln houses, an area that was filled with Scotchmen Lords, they ruled that turf along with the Assassins. We were tots on Halloween looking for a rumble with any body. A group of us went into the projects to pull a knock on a guy named Cherry,he had stomped lil Dutch the week before. O.k. here it is, we enter his building, 10 or maybe more of us to catch this punk. To our surprise there was Scotchmen all inside of the place; shit hit the fan and some one pulled a real 22 pistol and started shooting at us. Lil Freddie got hit in the shoulder and some other guy in the leg. We fought our asses off, I was wounded in the head by a bottle, and Ace my right hand man was stabbed in the back. He was placed in Harlem hospital for a month, he was f__ed up. That was one fight that took away my love for bopping.
The Assassins didn’t have any brother clubs to rely on and had to contend with many other Harlem gangs from the area such as the Desolation Lords, Enchanters, Cobras and Imperial Knights. I was able to uncover some information on some gang fights in 1958 and 1959 (besides the one recounted above) between the Assassins and Scotchmen that resulted in serious injury. More on that soon…