Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 1, Part 2

By Holice and Debbie


The City was incorporated by the name of New Amsterdam in 1652, but the municipal institutions did not go into practical operation until February 2, 1653. The charter granted gave nothing but a court of municipal magistrates, with certain judicial and other functions. These officials were a Schout, to be appointed by the company, two Burgomasters, and five Schepens--to be elected by the people. The Burgomasters were intrusted with the general regulation of city improvements. The Magistrates, together, had original jurisdiction of civil and criminal cases arising within the city limits, subject to an appeal to the Director-General. They heard and settled all disputes, tried cases for the recovery of debt, for defamation of character, for breach of promise, and for assault and theft; and even summoned parents and guardians into their presence for withholding their consent to the marriage of their children or wards without sufficient cause. They sentenced, and committed to prison like a Court of Sessions. They met once every two weeks at the Stadt Huys. The citizens of to-day will read with regretful interest that the city fathers, whose title was "My Lords" in these old times, "had a conscientious regard for equity and justice, and set themselves like flint against Sabbath-breaking, drunkenness, and all the popular vices." No grants of franchises or property, however, were made to the Magistrates, out of which a municipal fund could be constructed. The West India Company, as a commercial body, gave away nothing which it thought the stockholders might with advantage keep for themselves.

Of all the officials mentioned, the most important by far was the Schout. The police of the city was chiefly centered in him. It was his duty to personally perambulate the streets; to observe if there were any infractions of the laws and ordinances. When, either from his own observation or he information of others, he became aware of such infractions, it was his duty to present a formal complaint to the Burgomaster and Schepens. It was generally within the power of the magistrates to mitigate the penalties imposed by law; and the records show that they were, a rule, mercifully inclines, though cases were not wanting where punishments were inflicted which to-day would seem excessive.

One of the most noted official under the city magistrates was the bell-ringer. He seems to have been a most versatile and industrious officer. He personally discharged the duties of bell-ringer, court-messenger, grave-digger, chorister, reader, school master, waiter, messenger, and general factotum to the magistrates. He kept the room wherein the magistrates met in order, dusted the furniture, swept the floor, and presumable made the fires and placed the chairs where they belonged in time for each meeting, before he summoned it by ringing the bell.

Wall Street was then the boundary of the city.

The proceedings of the Worshipful Court of "the Schout, Burgomasters and Schepens" were all recorded by their clerk or secretary. In criminal cases, the Schout prosecuted as plaintiff on behalf of the community. Bail was allowed except in cases of murder, rape, arson or treason. There were two modes of trying the prisoner; either publicly upon general evidence, which was the ordinary mode, or by examining him secretly in the presence of two Schepens, in which written interrogatories were propounded to the prisoner, to which he was obliged to return categorical answers. The Dutch laws then adhered to the general policy of extorting confessions by torture.

A war being considered imminent with the New England colonists--1653--it was ordered that the whole body of citizens should keep watch by night, that the fortress be repaired, and that money be raised.

In regard to this watch, the Director-General made the following proclamation: "That the Burghers of this city shall, in a body, keep watch by night in such places as shall be determined on by the Director and Council and Magistrates, yet in the first place at the City Tavern, now the Town hall, to commence at this time." The Watch went into operation that night.

Another warlike resolution of the hour was that the schipper Jan Jansen should be spoken to "privately to fix his sails, to have his piece loaded, and to keep his vessel in readiness on all occasions, whether by day or by night."

The Burghers had become dissatisfied, as much with the nature of their duties as with the parsimony of their employers, and they went on a "strike" in November, 1653. This excited the wrath of the choleric Director-General, who berated them roundly. The controversy thereby precipitated shook the very foundations of Dutch society in New Amsterdam. And it was all on account of the Burgher-watch not being supplied with firewood. Old Peter Stuyvesant told them contemptuously to procure the firewood themselves at their own expense; but this they refused to do. hence the row. The difficulty was finally satisfactorily settled and peace restored.

Whether it was on account of the foregoing episode, or a desire to improve the system, it was now determined to effect a change. With that object in view, an ordinance was passed, on the 29th of April, 1865, looking towards the establishment of a "rattle-watch," of from four to six men, to guard the city by night. "Wherefore all persons who desire to undertake the same, are warned to repair at the aforesaid time, to hear the conditions, and to act accordingly to circumstances." But it was calling spirits from the vasty deep. the ordinance was read with official impressiveness from the steps of the City hall, but no one responding, the formation of the proposed watch was for the time abandoned, but was renewed and put into operation in October, 1658.

The year of 1654 was a notable one in the city's history, for, in reply to a letter of the Director-General, urging the Magistrates to devise some means of raising money for public purposes, they replied that if the excise moneys--an institution of Governor Kieft's, by the way--were made over to them, they would engage to pay the salaried of one minister, one precentor, and one "dog-whipper"--a name then applied to sextons.

Grim old Peter Stuyvesant had little respect or sympathy for the popular pastimes or social failing of his countrymen. On the 31st of December, 1655, an ordinance interdicted the firing of guns and planting of May-poles, from which, as alleged, there had resulted much drunkenness together with lamentable accidents. Beating of the drum, firing, pole-planting. and the sale of liquor were interdicted under a penalty of twelve guilders for t he first offense, twenty-four for the second, and arbitrary correction for the third offense. The fines so imposed were equally divided among the officer, the poor, and the prosecutor.

In 1655, the Burgomaster and Schepens, finding that a better police system was necessary, appointed Dirk Van Schellywne, the notary, the first High Constable (concierge) of New Amsterdam. They furnished him with detailed instruction respecting this duty, as follows:

    1. he shall endeavor to levy all executions in civil matters, on the order of the Burgomaster and Schepens of this City, touching the domain of this City, and that on such allowance as shall, according to circumstances, be found necessary.
    2. Whenever any judgment rendered by the Burgomasters and Schepens of this City shall be placed in his hands, he shall be bound to govern himself according to the tenor thereof, and having received the same, to put in execution according to the custom of the renowned City of Amsterdam in Holland, but with all discretion, according to the circumstances and constitution of the inhabitants here.
    3. He shall not presume to receive, even through the third or fourth hand, any gifts or presents to the injury of the rights of those interested, or to delay execution on pain of deprival of his office.
    4. The High Constable shall receive as salary from all judgments of a hundred guilders and upwards, rendered by the Burgomasters and Schepens, twelve stivers from the successful party on account of said judgment.
    5. From all other judgments below a hundred guilders, the sum of six stivers.
    6. From all interlocutory judgments rendered in writing during trial, six stivers.
    7. From each institution summons or renewal which the High Constable shall serve within the jurisdiction of this City, with particulars thereof, he shall receive four-and-twenty stivers, provided he keep proper register of the particulars, annotated with day and date.
    8. For the sale of distrained goods, six guilders per day, being reckoned from nine and eleven hours or as many hours more or less according to the circumstances.
    9. For making and affixing notices on three places, each notice eight stivers.
    10. For all insinuations, summons, and renewals, extending beyond the jurisdiction of this city to the fresh water, on the Island Manhattan, six and thirty stivers.
    11. For insinuations, summons, and renewals served beyond the North or East Rivers, either at Pavonia or thereabouts, and on Long Island, where there is as yet no bench or justice, he shall receive sixty stivers, good money, it being understood that he shall bring in his account for boat hire and ordinary expenses, and demand the same from his employer.
    12. After sale and receipt of the proceeds of the distrained goods, he shall first deduct his salary (fees) and pay over to the successful party, with all despatch, the moneys to him belonging.
    13. No more of the seized property shall be sold than amounts to the sum entered in the judgment with costs theron.
    14. For the better execution of his office the Schout, Messenger, and servants of justice assist the High constable when necessary.
    15. The Director-General reserves only unto himself to change, enlarge or diminish these, according as circumstances hereafter may demand.

The Burgomasters and Schepens who, in the preceding year, received annual

salaries of $140 and $100 respectively, in 1655 ordered the "Stadt Huys" to be cleared of a quantity of salt with the storage of which it had been encumbered. Various lodgers in the building, too, were ordered to put it in repair and then move out.

In 1656 a Watch, composed of a corporal's guards, was ordered to patrol the city on Sundays, during divine serve.

That ancient and clamorous functionary, to wit, the Town-crier, was invented, if not patented, about this time. He gave notice of all public events by sounding a bell or horn at the corners, and proclaiming them aloud.

In October of this year--1657--the order regulating the tapster's business on Sunday was re-proclamated, the Schouts and Marshal being urged to increased vigilance. In December notice was given to surgeons that when called upon to dress wounds they should ask the patient who wounded him, and give his answer to the Schout for official action. The order prohibiting fighting was re-proclamated. A fine of twenty-five guilders was imposed for one blow, and in case blood was drawn, the fine was increased to one hundred guilders, and a fine double that amount was imposed if the injury was inflicted in the presence of the officer, Burgomaster, or Schepen. Prisoners arrested for debt were taken to the City Hall pending judgment, if they did not wish to pay tavern expenses. The following year the first city Jailer was appointed, and the treasury being empty, the salary of the Town-drummer could not be paid.

On October 4th (1658) a paid Rattle-watch of eight men, to do duty from nine o'clock at night until morning drum-beat, was established, the duty being imposed upon each of the citizens by turns, and each householder was taxed fifteen stivers for it support. The following-named person having offered themselves for this service, were accepted and engaged: Pieter Jansen, Hendrick Van Bommel, Jan Cornlisen Van Vleusburgh, Jan Pietersen, Gerrit Pietersen, Jan Jansen Van Langstraat, Hendrick Ruyter, Jacques Pyrn, Thomas Verdon. The Burgomasters fixed the rate of compensation to be paid each man at "twenty-four stivers every night they watched, it being well understood four and four shall watch each night"; and they are promised "one or two beavers for candles, and two to three hundred pieces of firewood." Ludowyck Post was appointed Captain of this primitive police force.

Another incident of note recorded in this year is theta the Jailer was allowed to lay in beer, free from excise, for the use of prisoners.

The Burgher Provost was also Captain of the Rattle-watch. He had to see that the regular rounds were made.

The following orders wee issued in connection with this Watch:

"All the Watchmen were obliged to come on the Watch at the regular hour, to wit, before the ringing of the bell, on pain of forfeiting six stivers. Whenever any one came on the Watch drunk, was insolent, 'in the square of the City hall,' or in going the rounds, should forfeit each time one guilder. Due attention should be paid by each one to each one of his Watch in going around, and whenever any one was found asleep on the street he should forfeit each time ten stivers. If, by negligence on the part of the Watch, arms were stolen, he could be bound to pay the valuation thereof, and in addition for the first offense one builder, for the second two guilders and for the third at the discretion of the Burgomaster.

"If any one should lie still when people cried out "val, val," or be otherwise disobedient, he should forfeit twenty stivers. A fine of ten stivers was imposed on those of the Watch who swore or blasphemed. For fighting or quarreling on the Watch, two guilders; whoever threatened another forfeited two guilders; for fighting in fact on the Watch, or even in the morning coming from the Watch, the penalty was six guilders; should any one be unwilling to go around, or in any way lose a turn, he should forfeit one guilder; for going away from his Watch on any pretense whatever, without the express consent of the others, two guilders."

Whatever any of the Watch should get form any of the prisoners, whether lock-up money or other fee which those of the Watch should received by consent of the Burgomaster, it should be brought into the house of the Captain for the benefit of the fellow Watchmen, and preserved until it was divided around.

The aforesaid fees should be brought in by each of the Watchmen under the bond of the oath they had taken to the city.

All the fines which accrued, and the profits which in anywise should be realized by insolence, fault, neglect, or otherwise, should be divided four times a year among the members of the Watch, when they, according to an old custom, should each quarter of the year receive their watch money from the city without their holding any drinking meetings thereupon, or keeping any club.

They should be bound ongoing the rounds to callout how late it was at all the corners of the streets, from 9 P. M. until the reveille beat in the morning, for which they should receive each man eighteen guilders per month. The Captain was ordered to pay strict attention that these rules should be observed and obeyed.

The following is the oath taken by the Watch:

"We promise and swear, in the presence of the Most High, that we willfully observe the article read to us, and demean ourselves as faithful Watchmen are bound to do. So truly help us, God Almighty."

The following month the Burgomaster resolved, "that the Provost shall from now, henceforth, according to and by virtue of the following commission, collect and receive from each housekeeper for the support of the rattle-watch fifteen stivers, except those whose husbands are from home, widows, preachers, also such as are in somebody's service, and according to the list thereof given him."

The following is the commission referred to:

"Ludowyck Post, Captain of the rattle-watch, is hereby authorized and qualified by the Burgomaster of the City of New Amsterdam in New Netherland, to collect and receive every month fifteen stivers from everyone according to the list thereof given him, for the support of the rattle-watch."

Then follow "instructions for the Burgher Provost, door-keeper of the council of war, Captain of the rattle-watch and receiver of the watch money," as follows:

"Firstly, The Burgher Provost shall well observe when the companies are under arms who is absent and who behaves badly in the ranks, also in marching according to the order granted them, and yet to be granted, and fully to mark down who commits a fault, to make the same known to the Captain of the company who they are and in what the fault consists.

"Secondly, To inform the court marshal according to order, therefore summon those who are guilty of any fault.

"Thirdly, To attend to the rattle-watch that regularly and at every hour precisely the rounds be made and the hour called from 9 o'clock in the evening to the morning at reveille, according to the instructions given.

"Fourthly, Truly to state who are in fault and to inform on them to the Burgomaster, whereof the Captain shall receive on quarter, and also of profits from fines. He shall also go around every month to collect the money from each house according to order thereof granted and still to be granted, and place the money received in the hands of the Secretary of Burgomaster and Schepens, who shall distribute the same to spare no one, and if there are any not on the list to give in the same in writing tot he Burgomaster, to speak ill of no burgher, and whosoever threatens him to complain of him to the burgomasters, who shall order the case as circumstances of the matter direct.

"Further to observe well that those of the watch impose not on any Burgher in going the rounds or on the watch, also that they steal not any firewood, not any other timber, nor anything else."

On the 8th of July, 1660, the Heer Schout informed the Court of Burgomasters that when he goes around at night and unreasonable hours to make examinations, the dogs make dangerous attacks on him, he requested therefore their honor to take some order on it.

The Burgomasters at the same session resolved to draft a placard prohibiting the hallowing after Indians in Pearl Street, and the cutting of "Koeckies," "which is done by boys."

New Amsterdam has now something like a police system. The magistrates seem to have grown sterner too, for they increased the punishment for theft to whipping with a rod, instead of hoisting by the waistband. Persons charged with theft were now--as had sometimes been the case earlier--examined under torture.

The records of the court proceedings during governor Stuyvesant's administration are the most faithful chronicles of the state of society in those days--particularly that part of society which is most brought in contact with the administration of police and penal enactments, as witness the following:

"Resolveert Waldron, Plaintiff, vs. Jam Jurriaanzen, Defendant.

"Plaintiff says he went the rounds on Sunday evening, the 4th of August, with three soldiers, and oncoming to the defendant's house found three sailors there with a backgammon table and candle before them; he also found at his house on a Sunday during the sermon three sailors, who afterwards came to him and inquired if he had people's. He answered yes. Thereupon entering, he found a party of women. As his wife was in labor in the house, he thereupon reproving him, was treated by him very ill. Demanding the penalty according to the placard.

"Defendant does not deny it, but says the sailors had not any drink.

"The W. Court condemns the defendant Jan Jurriaanzen, in a fine of thirty guilders for that he entertained people after nine o'clock, and tapped during the sermon, to be paid to the office to be applied according to law; and, for having behaved offensively to the officer, in the fine of ten guilders for the poor.

Doe calling the Magistrates fools and simpletons, Walewyn Vander Veen was condemned to repair the injury, "honorably and profitably: honorably, by praying with uncovered head forgiveness of God and Justice; profitably, by paying as a fine the sum of twelve hundred guilders, with costs, and in case of refusals, to go into close confinement."

"The Heer Schout, Pieter Tonneman, Plaintiff, vs. Jan de Witt, Defendant.

"The Heer, plaintiff, says that defendant insulted the Heer Schepen Tymothens Gabry, calling him a bastard. Demanding that he shall repair the injury profitably and honorably, and pay a fee at the descretion of the court.

"Defendant acknowledges he said so, but in jest, not thinking that it should be so taken, and might well have been silent.

"The Schepen Gabry, rising, declared that one evening the clock striking nine, it was not heard by him, the defendant said, if thou can'st not hear that thou must be a bastard.

"And whereas, Jan de Witt answers, that such was spoken by him in jest and not from malice. Burgomasters and Schepens say to Jan de Witt, standing aside, that they forgive him for this turn, but he must take case not to repeat the offence, or that other provision shall be made.

"Neeltjie Pieters and Annetje Minnens, prisoners, appear in court, against whom the Heer officer prosecutes his charge, concluding that Neeljie Pieters shall, for her committed theft (of a few pairs of stockings) be brought to the place where justice is usually executed, and there be bound fast to stake, severely scourged, and banished for ten years from the jurisdiction o this city; and that Annetje Minnens shall, whilst justice is executed, shall be whipped severally within doors, and banished for six years out of this city's jurisdiction, as she was with those from whom the goods were stolen by the above named Neeltjie, given them up the them.

"Mesaack Martenzen, brought forward at the request of the Heer officer, for further interrogation, examined by torture as to how many cabbages, fowls, turkies, and how much butter he had stolen, and who his abettors and co-opeatives have been. Answering; he persists by his reply, as per interrogatories, that he did not steal any butter, fowls, or turkies, nor had any abbettors; being against set loose, the Heer officer produces his demand against the delinquent, concluding that for his committing theft, voluntarily confessed without torture, or chains, he shall be brought to the usual place of criminal justice, well fastened to a stake and severely whipped, and banished from the jurisdiction of this City of Amsterdam for the term of ten years; all with costs.

"Reyer Cornelissen, or the theft of a sack of corn, was sentenced to be 'publically set to a stake, severely scourged, branded, and banished beyond this city's jurisdiction for the term of five-and-twenty years, and further, in the costs and mises of justice.'"

Everything indicates that an era of great improvement and prosperity had set in, but it was destined to be short-lived, at least under Dutch rule. England, on the strength of Cabot's early visit, had always claimed the sovereignty of the New Netherlands and she now took advantage of a war with Holland to enforce her claim. She sent a fleet to seize the country. With the hauling down of the Dutch flag from the fort the reign of the old Dutch Knickerbockers was temporarily brought to an end, and that of the British began.

Cornelis Steenwyck was a native of Holland, ad arrived in New Amsterdam about the year 1652. At the time of the very serious troubles between the Dutch and English, in 1653, when the city wall was built, the tax levied to raise the funds for that purpose rated Steenwyck among the wealthiest of the citizens. His public life commenced about the year 1658, and at various stages he held positions in the civil magistracy; as Schepen in the years 1658 and 1660, and as Burgomaster in the year 1662. In 1663, he was requested by unanimous resolution of the General Provincial Assembly to proceed to the Fatherland, as delegate from the province of New Netherland, to lay the deplorable condition of the province before the Heeren Majores, with petitions for redress; but the pressure of business would not permit him to undertake this mission. When the province passed over to the British, Steenwyck declared that "so long as the country remained in the hands of the English he should be found a willing and obedient subject." He became a member of the Colonial Council, and occupied the position of temporary Governor of the Province during the absence of Governor Lovelace

After the re-conquest of the city by the Dutch, Steenwyck, who was justly recognized as the leading man among the citizens, was called by Benckes and Evertsen into their Councils. He, by request, called the citizens together, with the view to appoint a delegation to confer with the military officers and he headed the list of six citizens who composed the delegation. The citizens who were called on to nominate for Burgomasters and Schepens, sent in the name of Steenwyck at the head of their nominees. He was, however, "slated' for a more important position, and, while Captain Colve was designated by the officers as Governor, citizen Steenwyck was appointed his sole Councilor. His commission read as follows:

"To all that who shall see or hear these read, greeting:

"Whereas, we have deemed it necessary for the promotion of justice and police in this conquest, of New Netherland, under the superintendence and direction of the Honorable Governor General Anthoney Colve, to appoint and commission an expert person as member of Council in this Province: WE, therefore, upon the good report which we have received of the abilities of Cornelis Steenwyck, former Burgomaster oif the city of New Orange, in the time of the West India Company's Government of this country, have commissioned, qualified, and appointed, as we now commission, quality, and appoint the aforesaid Cornelis Steenwyck, Councilor of the aforesaid Province of New Netherland, to assist in the direction of all cases relative to justice and police, and further, in all such military concerns, both by water and by land, in which the governor shall deem proper to ask his advice and assistance, to maintain good order, and to promote the welfare and prosperity of this country, for the service of the Lords Majores; to take all possible care for the security and defense of the forts in these parts; to administer justice both in criminal and in civil cases, to do and execute everything relative to his office that a good Councilor is in duty bound to do, upon the oath which he shall have taken * * *"

"Dated at Fort William Henry, on the day above (12th August, 1673)."

The following spring (1674) the government of England and the Dutch States contracted a treaty of peace, by the terms of which the American provinces finally passed over to the former. The Dutch citizens yielded without opposition to the new power, but a serious misunderstanding existed between them and Governor Andros respecting the rights of the citizens under the new treaty. Governor Andros enforced obedience to his decree by imprisonment of the principal Dutch citizens, among whom was Steenwyck. The prisoners were shortly after released on bail, and no further notice was taken of their alleged mutinous conduct. Steenwyck lived two years subsequent to the second surrender to the English. Among other civic position held by him during this period was that of Mayor of the City.

The cut of Steenwyck given in connection with this sketch is copied from an engraving taken from a portrait in the New York Historical Society collection.



Our Police Protectors, History of the New York Police, Published for the benefit of the Police Pension Fund, by Augustine Costello, Published by Author, 1885.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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