The Legend of Sadie, the Goat – Hudson River Pirate

from Herbert Asbury's Gangs of New York, 1929

Recently the New York Times on its “Answers to Readers’ Questions About New York” blog was asked, “Can you tell me anything about a Hudson River pirate named Sadie the Goat?”  Sadie’s tale is worth retelling, whether or not she ever existed.

Sadie Farrell began her career as a thief in New York’s Bloody Fourth Ward in the late 1860s.  She earned her nickname, Sadie the Goat, for head butting her victims in the stomach.   She apparently had a running feud with Gallus Mag, the 6-foot bouncer of a Water Street dive called the Hole-in-the-Wall, who had raised ear-biting to a fine art.  Gallus would drag troublemakers out to the street by one ear clenched in her teeth.  In a fight with Gallus Mag, Sadie had one ear bitten off.  Galllus kept the trophy in a pickling jar.

Missing an ear and  driven from the Fourth Ward, Sadie shifted to the West side docks where she hijacked a sloop and lead a group of pirates attacking ships on the Hudson and Harlem Rivers.  They also raided small villages, robbed farm houses and riverside mansions and occasionally kidnapped  men, woman and children for ransom.  After a short but profitable run, Sadie returned to the Bloody Fourth and made peace with Gallus Mag,  who retrieved Sally’s ear from the pickling jar and graciously returned it to her.  Sally wore the ear on a chain around her neck for the rest of her life.

One unanswered question about Sadie the Goat is whether she existed at all.  She was described in Herbert Asbury’s famous book , The Gangs of New York published in 1928.   She does not however appear in any other records from that period.  If she was a famous pirate, the news never made it to the newspapers of the day nor to police records.   Regardless of whether she existed or not, her legend lives on in at least four novels,  J.T. Edson’s Law of the Gun (1968), Tom Murphy’s Lily Cigar(1979), Bart Sheldon’s Ruby Sweetwater and the Ringo Kid (1981) and Thomas J. Fleming’s A Passionate Girl (2003) and, of course, on a myriad of websites.

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11 Responses to The Legend of Sadie, the Goat – Hudson River Pirate

  1. Irwin Bryan says:

    Excellent re-telling of a legend I’d never heard.

    Perhaps she never made it into official records since no one wanted to admit she “got their goat”!

  2. Sadie Moore says:

    is this realllllllll

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  5. jen says:


  6. Pingback: Sadie Farrell : HerStorie | Women of the World

  7. AnimeTomboy says:

    I cant find her death records and how she died! How?

  8. AnimeTomboy says:


  9. Rick Spilman says:

    As the post noted:”One unanswered question about Sadie the Goat is whether she existed at all.”

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  11. David Paul Thorpe says:

    I recently acquired a 1968 40 ft Santa Barbara Trawler with the name Sadie J. Whether Sadie the Goat existed or not, it appears I may have the beginnings of a marvelous backstory about the legend and the naming of the boat. If there are any old salts or story tellers who may have any tidbits they “remember” and wish to assist in the embellishment….i mean historical reconstruction of the fabled past of the infamous Sadie J, id welcome it! and thanks to the person who posted the blog.