Limerick Roughs: John McDevitt, Vagabond of 8th Ward

In 1855, a simple gardener in Baltimore found it necessary to take space in the Baltimore Sun advertising his innocence of what the neighborhood gossips were spreading:

“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN.—Mr. & Mrs. McDevitt, arrested July 20th, for assaulting and beating each other, is not John McDevitt, Gardener of Old Town.  It is hoped that this notice will satisfy a certain portion of the community who have spoken in an insulting way of said arrest.” (Baltimore Sun, 30 July 1855, p. 2)

In 1850, the gardener John McDevitt’s family resides in the 6th Ward, another resides in 8th Ward: an extended family with three John McDevitts (born 1842, 1833, and 1820) in a motley household of family and boarders. It is difficult to tell which John or if several John McDevitts committed the crimes listed here, but he came from the 8th Ward and I think it likely that it was John McDevitt born 1842 because of the 1870 census showing him in the penitentiary. [Of curious note the Gardener John McDevitt mentioned above had a son, James Aloysius McDevitt, who would achieve considerable renown as a Washington D. C. detective; including, being the first detective called to investigate Lincoln’s assassination.]

John McDevitt intimidated police and committed arson (common crimes committed by the rival Know-Nothings and other gangs); he also drunkenly stumbled into a variety of beatings and thefts making his  relationship to the political gang of the 8th Ward, the “Limericks,” difficult to fully establish. The strongest evidence for partisanship during the Natives’ violence is his arrest for the attempt to kill officer William Kid during the 1857 Election Riot.

Election Riot

On the same day that Jackson Hall faced Police and the Natives, a few blocks down, near the 8th Ward Polls, an officer was viciously attacked:

“In the eighth ward all was very quiet during the forenoon and up to half-past four in the afternoon. At that time police officer Wm. Kidd was passing the polls and when he reached the corner of Eager street turned and again started down Ensor street.  A young man of his acquaintance was sitting on the cellar door near the window where the judges received the votes. To him Mr. Kidd spoke and they started down the street together. They had proceeded as far as the corner of Webb street, when there was a cry to rally, and immediately an assault was made on the officer and he was badly beaten on the head and face with revolvers, and one of the skirts of his coat was torn off.  In the melee he was knocked down, and while he was on the ground a young man ran up, placed a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger. The cap snapped, and before he had the opportunity to make a second attempt the weapon was wrested from him by a citizen who was present. Mr. Kidd then got up and ran for the open door of a house in Webb street, but the inmates became alarmed and closed the door against him.  At that moment a pistol was fired at him, which entered his clothing in the back without touching his person.  A second shot was then fired, when Kidd put his hand on his back and staggered forward. He then ran down Ensor street as far as Chew, one of his assailants hanging on to him. There he fell, and was taken up and carried to a house near by, where Dr. Damman attended to his injuries. It was found that the ball had penetrated the spinal region and touched the kidneys. The charge from the first pistol, a large slug, was found on the removal of his clothing. His condition is said to be critical.”  (Baltimore Sun, 15 October 1857, p 1).

A few days later, Kidd would be in an improving condition. Police arrested Edward Keelan and John Millen on the charge of shooting Kidd. Police gathered John McDevitt, along with Patrick Ready and Michael Murphy on the night of 17 October 1857, and charged them with participating. Patrick Ready, already a veteran club rough, had a scar on his face from a bullet wound received in the 1856 riots. (Baltimore Sun, 15 September 1856, p. 1; 16 October 1857, p. 1; 19 October 1857, p. 1)

The Fires

Charge of Arson—Watchmen Eccleston and Hackett arrested on Saturday night last Albert Clark and John McDevitt upon the charge of setting fire to the stable of Mr. Riley, on the Bel-air commons.  The fire was timely discovered by the neighbors and extinguished without causing an alarm.  Justice Mearis committed them to await further examination.” (Baltimore Sun, 21 April 1856, 4).

“John McDevitt, indicted (together with Peddicord, Graham and others,) for arson, in the alleged setting fire to a house of Mary Ann Lankford, on the 1st of May, was put on trial. […]

Officer Hoover, on Saturday night, the first of May, about 8 ½ o’clock, saw Peddicord at the corner of Bond and Eager streets; he was dressed in dark clothes, with his cap down over his eyes, and passed the officer down Bond street.  The officer followed, thinking something was going on.  Heard the alarm of fire and ran down to the corner of Bond and Abbot Streets, and found the fire in a house on Abbot street.  Amelia Miller gave the alarm first to witness.  They broke open the door and put it out; it had been kindled with spirits of turpentine.  When witness went into the house he saw a person he supposed to be John McDevitt getting over the back fence.  About five minutes after the discovery of the fire Peddicord came into the house in his shirt sleeves, and assisted in putting out the fire.  Did not see any one in the house when he got there, and all he saw Peddicord do was to assist in putting out the fire.

Amelia Miller saw John Gordon, John McDevitt, Andrew Peddicord and John Graham in the second yard from the yard of the house fired, about three o’clock in the afternoon–they were standing there talking.  No one lived in the house to which the yard is attached where they were.  The fire was about 8 ½ o’clock– the house was unoccupied.” (Baltimore Sun, 2 June 1858, p. 1).

They were found not guilty.  Peddicord testified they were in the yard, ,”to quietly drink a half-pint of whisky” (Baltimore Sun, 8 June 1858, 1).

Petty Rogue

McDevitt gained enough of a reputation to be charged on that alone: “John McDevitt, charged with being a rogue and vagabond, was released on $700 bail” (Baltimore Sun, 3 October 1856, 1).

“John McDevitt and Joseph Solder were arrested last night by officers Scarff and Griffin, of the night police.  On the charge of robbing Samuel Folts on the 4 ½ street bridge.  They were held to bail to answer for the charge at court.” (Baltimore Sun, 11 November 1858, 4).

After the Natives

After Nativism faded from the political field, the roughs who waged the political riots found less direction in their drunken sprees, and subsequently the motives for their crimes became mundane.

Charged with Larceny.—George Connolly and John McDevitt were arrested on Wednesday night by policemen Thomas E. Roe, White and Bouldin, charged with the larceny of a silver watch, valued at $7, and 35 cents in money, the property of John W. Jackson, colored, corner of Calvert and Monument streets.  Justice Robinson committed them for the action of the grand jury.  John Ragan, charged with being accessory to the robbery, was arrested at the same time, and committed by the same justice.” (Baltimore Sun, 20 March 1868, 1).

“John Regan, John McDevitt and Geo Connelly, indicted for robbing John W. Jackson, colored, of a watch, &c, at the corner of Monument and Calvert streets, at 2 o’clock in the morning.  McDevitt was tried before a jury and found guilty; Connelly was tried before a jury and found guilty; Connelly was tried before the court and case held sub curia and Regan’s case was postponed.” (Baltimore Sun, 24 April 1868, 4.)

If John served jail time it wasn’t long: “John McDevitt, assaulting John W. Kinnear, fined $20 and costs.” (Baltimore Sun, 9 November 1868, 4).

Charged with Assaulting a Policeman.—John McDevitt, charged with snapping a pistol at, with intent to shoot and kill, policeman John R. Merrick, and Samuel Donahue, charged with being accessory to the assault, were arrested on Tuesday evening by policemen McKewen, Raymo, and Staylor, and, after an examination before Justice Hagerty, were committed in default of security to await the action of the grand jury.— The assault, it is alleged, took place on Gay street, near Exeter, between three and four o’clock in the afternoon.  The officer was on his return from the middle district station, and was followed up Gay street by the accused, one of whom (McDevitt) pointed at his head a pistol, the cap of which fortunately snapped, the other having his hand on the shoulder of the officer, who heard the click of the weapon, without being aware at the time of his dangerous situation.— On subsequently receiving information from witnesses of the occurrence, he had the parties arrested.” (Baltimore Sun, 2 December 1869, 1; 21 January 1870, 4).

The following year McDevitt and Donohue were found not guilty.(Baltimore Sun, 21 January 1870, 4).

In 1870 McDevitt sits in the City jail in the 8th Ward and unfortunately decided to assault its officers as well and sentenced to an additional six months (Baltimore Sun, 21 March 1870, 4).

“John McDevitt, Henry Burns and Wm Stack, larceny of brushes, &c $1.83, from J. McMahon, Burns pleaded guilty, one year in the penitentiary, McDevitt three months in jail, and Stack not guilty” (Baltimore Sun, 25 September 1877, 5).

The criminal, John McDevitt disappears from “Page 4” after 1877.