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.