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

By Holice and Debbie


1664 - 1783

Obe Hendrick, First Constable under the English--Lighting the City by Night (1668) -- Watchmen ordered to provide themselves with "a Lantern and a Stick of Firewood" -- A Strict Police established throughout the City -- Orders to be observed by the Constables' Watch, etc. -- Rules governing the Watch -- New Police Regulations (1684) -- Dongan's Charter (1686) -- First uniformed Policeman -- Appointment of a Civil Watch -- New City Hall, Wall Street -- Modes of Punishment Inflicted on Criminals -- Montgomeries Charter (1730) --" Insurrection and the Plot of Slaves" -- Quakers exempt from serving on the Watch -- Petitioning against a Military Watch -- The Old jail – Bridewell -- Occupation of the city by the British -- Evacuation.

The first of the great political changes that New York has undergone in the course of its history was its transfer from Dutch to British rulership. It was marked, as might be expected, by a general change of system in the administration of public affairs; the police arrangements and regulations, like all the rest, undergoing radical alteration.

When, in 1664, the British fist seized the Dutch possessions in America, the population of the New Netherlands had increased to "full ten thousand,' and New Amsterdam contained fifteen hundred inhabitants, and "wore an appearance of great prosperity." Colonel Nicolls, who took possession of the colony in the name of the Duke of York, proceeded at the earliest possible moment to make its government conform to the English system. In 1665 he granted a charter of incorporation to the inhabitants, under the administration of a Mayor, Aldermen and Sheriff. These officials went to work promptly, for in the same year they ordered "that six burghers do every night keep the watch with the city."

At a meeting of the city fathers, November 18, 1665, we learn that the deputy Mayor stated that the Heer-General had proposed to him to allow the burghers to watch anew, and, as the least expensive plan to the city, it was proposed 'that each bring on his watch two sticks of firewood, and the two one lantern."

The Worshipful Court demurred, and thought it better still to continue the two night watch, "and therefore Resolve to agree civilly with them, together with two other volunteers, who should then undertake the watch on the other nights."

During this year Obe Hendrick was appointed the first Constable under the English

The law required that every town was to provide a pair of stocks and a pound; and a pillory was to be erected in each place where the courts of sessions were held.

The city fathers, in on of their sessions, adopted a series of resolutions, from the minutes of which the following paragraphs are extracted:

"Further, Class van Elsland and Pieter Schaafbank were also contd (Continued) in their offices as Town Sergeants, receivers for wages as much as they heretofore have received out of this city's revenue.

"Further, Resolved to send for the Court of Haarlem and the Constable Recolverd Waldron by letter to come hither by Saturday next."

Happily a copy of this letter is still extant. It is about as odd an official document as can be found in the annals of any country. Here it is:


"These serve only that your Honors hold yourselves ready to appear here in this city on Saturday next, being 17th June, old style, with resolverd Waldron, and to receive all order as shall be communicated, whereunto confiding, we commend your Honors after cordial salutation unto God's protection."

The end of this episode is no less farcical than the beginning. The public record of the matter reads:

"Resolveert Waldron, entering is notified that he is elected constable of N. Haarlem, which undertaking he accompanied hath taken the proper oath, and the Magistrates who accompanied him are informed that they are discharged from their office; authorizing the aforesaid Constable to select three or four persons who shall have to decide any differences or disputes to the extent of five pounds sterling * * * * and no higher, and the party who shall not be contend with the decision of those elected as aforesaid shall be bound to pay to him, the constable, the sum of six stivers, and further to bear the costs of proceeding before his bench of Justice."

Truly this was a notable state of things, when the Constable appointed the Magistrates. However, many curious things happened in those days. The oath administered to the Constable is also worthy of attention. It is given in this form in the old records:

"Whereas you are chosen Constable of this Cittye of New York under the jurisdiction of Mayor and Aldermen; you do sweare by the Almighty God that you will endeavor the preserving of the peace, and the discovering, and preventing all attempts against the same, and that you will faithfully and truthfully execute such warrants as you shall from time to time receive from this Court, and in case you shall absent yourself you shall make choice of some able man for your deputy, and in all things demeane yourself as a Constable ought to. So help you God."

In 1668 the system of lighting the city by night was introduced. The method adopted was a very primitive one, as appears from the language of the ordinance: "Every seventh house in all the streets shall, in the dark time of the moon, cause a lantern and candle to be hung out on a pole, the charge to be defrayed equally by the inhabitants of the said seven houses." Upon very dark nights every inhabitant was required to have a lighted candle in his window. At this time, too, a regular night-watch was employed, composed of men who were paid for their services by the city. The Watch was set at nine o'clock in the evening (when the city gates were shut and locked), and was kept up until daybreak. It was maintained, however, only during the winter months--that is, from the beginning of November to the end of March, that being the period when the greatest danger from fire was apprehended. Every Watchman was ordered to being with him, when he went on duty, "his lantern and a stick of firewood."

On a fresh outbreak of war in Europe, however, New York, as New Amsterdam was now called, received a summons to capitulate to a Dutch squadron which appeared in the port in 1673. The town surrendered and remained a dependency of Holland until February of the succeeding year. In the interim its rulers were far more concerned with military than with civil affairs, and a curious mixture of the two elements will be found in all the proceedings of the time. A calm piety, we are told, mingled with the deliberations of the Magistrates. The Schout, Burgomasters, and Schepens opened their sessions daily at the City hall with prayer. The governor, and his Council at the fort, instituted a rigid supervision over the morals of the soldiery. A strict police was established throughout the city. the place was guarded day and night at every available point, the sentinels at the fort mounting on the ramparts, and watching by the gate. Subaltern officers made rounds during the night, visiting the walls, passing the watchword, and changing the sentinels each half hour. the Mayor or Burgomaster proceeded every morning with a guard of armed soldiers to the fort, where he received the keys of the city from the Governor. Then, accompanied by his guard, he opened the gates. He closed them again in the evening, and having stationed the citizens' guard, or Burgher-wacht, he returned the keys to the Governor.

The following orders regarding the policing of the city were issued in December of this year:

"Whereas the fortifications of this city, New Orange, have at great and excessive expense, trouble and labor of the burgher and inhabitants, been almost completed, and it is therefore necessary for the preservation of the same and better security of this city that some orders be made; the Honbl H'r Governor Gener'll of new Netherland doth therefore consider it necessary to enact and by publication make know the following orders to the burgher:

"Firstly, from now, henceforward, the burgher watch of this city shall be set and commenced at drumbeat, about half an hour before sundown, when the trainbands of this city, then on the watch, shall parade before the City hall of this city, under the penalty previously affixed thereunto.

"Item, the city gate shall be closed at sundown by the Mayor and his attendant trainbands, and in like manner opened at sunrise.

"Item, the burgher, and inhabitants of this city, and all others of what quality soever they may be, the Watch alone excepted, are strictly interdicted and forbid to attempt coming from sunset to sunrise on the bulwarks, bastion, or batteries of this city, on pain of bodily correction.

"Item, It is strictly forbidden and prohibited that any person, be he who he may, presume to land within the city, or quit the same in any other manner, way or means, than through the ordinary city ate, on pain of death. And, finally, as it is found that the hogs which are kept within this city in multitudes along the public streets have from time to time committed great damage on the earthen fortifications * * * * it is therefore ordered that persons take care that their hogs shall not come to, in, or on the bulwarks, bastions, gardens, or batteries, under forfeiture of said hogs, and double the value thereof to be applied, the on-half for the informer, the other half for the officer who shall put this in execution."

In December, a proclamation was made, too, forbidding the exportation of provisions from the city, and charging all good citizens to lay in a supply for eight months. Evidently preparation were in progress for a siege.

The Dutch government plainly did not contemplate an easy surrender of the New Netherlands, but made laws looking towards a long stay. One of these ordered that all matters pertaining to the "police, security and peace of the inhabitants" of New Orange, or, to justice between man and man, should be finally determined by the Schout, Burgomaster, and Schepens, unless the amount involved exceeded fifty beavers, when a appeal "to the Heer Governor-General and Council" was allowed. All criminal offences committed in the city were amenable to the jurisdiction of the city officials who had power to judge, and pass even sentences of death; but no sentence of corporal punishment could be carried out until approved by the governor or Council.

But when, on February 9, 1674, the treaty of peace between the States-General and England was signed, the New Netherlands passed definitively into the possession of the latter country. Then the old government by Burgomasters and Schepens disappeared for good, and the modern officials of Mayor and aldermen took up a permanent position in the public system. In March of this year (1674) sixteen persons were employed to keep watch every night for one year. the compensation allowed them (£32 each) will serve as an indication of the value of money in the colony at that period. Eight men were also selected to watch every second night' they were paid £16. The following year, a committee, appointed by the Board of Aldermen to draw up orders to be observed by the Constables' Watch and the Citizens-Soldiers, were then issued, copies being delivered to the Captain of the Watch for their guidance:

"That the watch bee sett every night by eight of the clock, immediately after ringing of the bell.

"That the citty gates be locked up by the constable or Deputy before nine of the clock, and opened in the morning presently after daylight, and at the dismissing of the watch, and if any person goes from, or absent himself without consent, he or they shall forfeit for every such Default Tenn Guilders.

"That the constable or his Deputy (the City Gates being shut) be upon the Watch by nine of the clock, and by his Roole, call over all the names of those who are to give their attendance there that night, and the faylers to be marked to pay their fines, which is to be as formerly, four guilders, pr every default. And if anyone comes to the Watch after the Roole is called over, he shall pay half the fine aforesaid.

"That whosoever shall come upon ye Watch, that is overcharged with drinke, hee or they shall pay halfe the aforementioned fine; but if abusive or Quite Drunke, the whole fine to be paid as if absent and secured upon the Watch all Night.

"That whosoever shall presume to make any quarrel upon the Watch, upon the account of being different nations or any other pretense whatsoever, hee or they shall pay a while fine and be liable to such farther sensure as the merit of the cause shall require.

"That no Centinall shall presume to come off his duty until hee bee reliefed under a severe sensure, which is to be at least twenty guilders for a fine, and three days imprisonment. For the time the officer upon ye Watch is to take care, that is to be equally proportioned, and not to exceed one hour at a time.

"That frequently rounds be made about the city; And especially towards the Bridge; and not less than three times every night.

"Upon complaint made unto the Court It is Ordered, that no cursings or Swearings shall be suffered upon the Wattch, for any gaminge at Dice or Cards, nor any exercise of Drinkage upon the Penalty of four guilders for every such offence.

"If any disorders are committed upon the Watch contrary to the tenure of this Order, the constable or his Deputy shall give an account thereof the following morning to the Mayor or Deputy Mayor.

"That a list of the fines be brought by the Provost to the Mayor or Deputy Mayor every month, after which there shall be power granted to levye the fines by distress; if not otherwise satisfied.

'The Sergeant belonging to every Watch, shall come with Halbert and see that every night one of the Wattch being his armes, that is to say his sword and good halfe Pike on the Penalty of four guilders for every offense.

"All Citizens are hereby ordered to have in readiness in their houses for every head one good muskett or Firelock with Powder and ball, with 6 charges of Powder &c, 6 of call at least upon the penalty of four guilders for the first offence, double for ye second, and treaple for the third offence. And the officers of each Company are required to make, or cause to be made, a due search for the same as often as they shall see cause, and at least four times every year. "It is also Ordered that the Citizens Soulders upon all occasions shall appear with good armes before their Captaines Coullers at the first beating of their drums on the penalty of thirty guilders for every default. And for not appearing with good and sufficient armes, for every default tenn guilders."

On December 6th, 1675, the inhabitants, to protect themselves against the Indians, raised the following guard, which was divided into four Corporalships, each consisting of seven persons.:

"First:--Adolph Meyer (Corporal); Meyendert L. Journey; David Des Marets; Danl. Tourneur; Nicholas DeVaux; Isaac Kip; and John Hendrikse.

"Second:--John Nagel (Corporal); Joost Van Obliuis; Jno. Hendrickse Kyckuyt; Jan de la Maistre; Johannis Vermilie; Jean LeRoy; and Isaac Le Maistre.

"Third:--Simeon Courrier (Corporal); Cornelius Jansen; Daniel Demarest; Lawrence Jansen; William Palmer; Isaac El Voce; and --------Rademaker.

"Fourth:--Robert Halles (Corporal); Resolverd Waldron; Arent Harmanse; Conrad Hendrickse; David Demarest; Cornelius Lenses; and Isaac Cil, Jr.

The following rules, by which the Watch were to be governed, were issued in connection with the above:

"1. Either the whole or half of the corporalship, according to turns, shall at 8 o'clock in the evening at the beating of the drum, appear at the watch-house and place their sentinels and take their necessary rounds, and not retire before the morning reveille shall be beaten, in the penalty of three guilders.

"2. Whoever shall neglect the watch without a lawful excuse, or the corporal's permission, shall be fined for every offense six guilders.

"3. The watchmen shall come tot he watch with suitable side and hand arms, with sufficient powder and lead, under the penalty of three guilders.

"4. The watch is to be kept quietly without much noise of clamor, in the penalty of three guilders.

"5. And the fines that occur in the premise shall be reported and collected."

In 1676, a fresh set of regulations were promulgated, by which the watch was ordered to be set at eight o'clock in the evening "immediately after the ringing of the bell." The gates, as before, were to be locked before nine o'clock, and opened in the morning "presently after daylight, at the dismission of the watch." Should any one come upon the watch overcharged with drink the penalty imposed for such offense was two guilders. The rule about quarreling among persons of different nationalities is renewed, and a fine of twenty guilders is to be imposed on my "centinel" who leaves his post. "No cursing or swearing," it is ordained, "shall be allowed upon the watch, nor any gamings at dice or cards, now any evidence of drinkings upon the penalty of four guilders." A list of fines is to submitted from time to time by the provost to the Mayor. There are other rules similar in character, and almost in the same words as those already quoted.

At the meeting of the Common Council held on the tenth day of July, the Recorder acquainted them that the occasion of their meeting was to consider a way most suitable for establishing a Watch in the city, "itt being thought convenient that the military officers and troopers be excused therefrom, and proposes a rate for the same on each house." It was then ordered that the Constables in the five Wards of the South side of the Fresh Water should watch by turns successively on each night and should provide for this assistance on the Watch eight persons, "the hyre for whole service shall be paid to each twelve pence per night and out of the City Treasury."

The succeeding year three constables were appointed for the city. Resolved Waldron was sworn in as constable for Harlem, October 14, 1678.

That all these regulations were not made for the mere sake of form, may be inferred from a document, still extent, being date of December 18, 1678. It is addressed by Peter Jacobs, "Marius" or Mayor, to the Provost. "forasmuch as I am informed," says His Honor," that several persons do refuse or neglect to watch or to pay for ye same, and that several others do not conforme themselves according to the orders sett up in the watch-house in ye Citty Hall. These are therefore to charge and command you that you forwith levy of all and every person and persons so neglecting and offending, all and every such time and times summe and summes of Money as in and by the said orders is mentioned and expressed (yet unpaid)." Arreares are to be collected, and if necessary, the offenders' goods are to sold. Finally a return of all the offences and the sums collected is to be made to the Mayor as soon as possible.

On February 10, 1678, Mr. Jacobs signed, in company with Jacob D. Hay and Garret Van Tricht, another characteristic document, which reads thus:--"This is to certify all it may concerne that ye Elders and Deacons with this government have been excused from the Citty Watch."

In 1681, A. Brockhotts being Mayor, orders for the regulation of the military watch were drawn up. The most important features of the earlier regulations are repeated, and it is enacted that "the Captain or other Commission officer doe cause frequent rounds to be made about the City through all the streets and lanes, and the Grand rounds by him or themselves" if there be need. Good order is to be kept in all "publick houses," and persons are not be allowed to tipple in those places after "tenn of the clock." The officer of the watch was empowered to open and search any houses which he may suspect, and if he "finde any loose vagrant or disorderly persons that cannot give a good account of their lives and converscons, and of their occasions abroad or up in night." he may cause such persons to be secured in the watch-house, and brought before the Mayor in the morning. According to this ordinance, a list of forfeits for non-performance of duty is to be made up every third night, and turned over to the marshal, who is to make an immediate effort to collect the fines.

Detailed orders to be observed by the military watch were issued in 1682. Each company of the militia were ordered to take their guns for the watch and guard. The city was divided into three divisions, each commissioned officer taking command of his division on the watch successively. The watch was set every night by the Captain or other commissioned officer at eight o'clock. The city gates were locked by the Captain, and opened in the morning after daylight at the dismissal of the watch, and other like rules and regulations were established.

Governor Andros was superseded by governor Dongan, who arrived in the city on August 25, 1683. He is described a having been a man of broad and intelligent views upon all subjects of general interest, and moreover, as being an accomplished politician. He gave the colony its first legislative assembly, which met in New York on October 17, and consisted of the Governor himself, ten councillors appointed by him, and seventeen representatives elected by the people. He very early divided the city into six wards, and the inhabitants of each were empowered to elect an Alderman annually to represent them in the City Council. Shortly after his arrival, the municipality addressed a memorial to him on the subject of the administration of civic affairs. He and his council asked for some further information on obscure points. The result was the following document, which is valuable, not only for the light it throws on the prevailing system, but also for its quaintness as an old-time colonial document:

"An explanation of several heads contained in ye petition lately presented to his honour ye governor by ye Mayor, Aldermen and commonalty of ye Citty of New Yorke, pursuant to he desire of the Governor and Councill.

"Humbly presented to his honour's ffurther consideration.

"The towne of Harlem is a village within and belonging to this Citty, and Corporation, and ffor more easy administration and despatch of justice, officers have been annually appointed by ye Mayor and Aldermen to hold courts and determine matters not exceeding 40s., both att Harlem and the Bowery, and shall do ye like ffor ye future, and is entended to be one of ye six wards.

"A marshall is an under officer assistant to ye sheriff in serving writs, summoneing jurors, looking after prisners and attending ye courts, and that office and ye Cryer hath hitherto been one person.

"Peculiar laws are laws and ordinance made by ye Mayor, Aldermen and Common council ffor ye well and good government of this Citty and Corporation, and to extend as far as the limits thereof.

"Court of judicature is a court to heare and determine all causes and matters whatsoever brought before them, both civil and criminall, not extending to life or member, and had jurisdiction over all ye inhabitants within the citty and Corporation, and over ye Harbours and all Bayes, Coves, Creeks, and Inlets belonging to ye same.

"The whole Island being one Corporation, ye inhabitants are all members of one body and conceive no need of distinction, the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council having ye care and charge to make all things as easy and convenient ffor ye inhabitants as possible, and will have ye same regard thereto as fformerly.

"A Watter Bailiff is an officer belonging to a corporation, and ye sheriff of this Citty hath usually exersed ye office belonging to a corporation, and ye Sheriff of harbours, bayes, coves, creeks, and inlets belonging to this Citty and corporation by warrants ffrom ye Mayor, Sheriffe, or others his superiors to him directed as Sheriffe and Watter Bayliffe, as well in civil as criminall matters what belongeth to ye Gourvernor or prerogative think not ffit to meddle with or any ways restraine."

The City Council established by Governor Dongan issued new police regulations in 1684, including a new code for the government of the City Watch. Concerning this code, it is only important to note that it contained in one digest all scattered regulations previously adjusted. The only changes are changes of spelling, but as spelling in those days was very free from rule or regulation of any sort, the variations do not call for detailed record.

On February 15, however, some important rules were adopted for the general guidance of the citizens. Both as illustrating the life of the period, and the sort of offences that the guardians of the peace of that day had to take account of, these ordinance will repay perusal. Summarized, they were as follows:--

"ORDERED, that no manner of servile work be done on the Lord's day; penalty 10s., and double for each repetition.

"That no "youths, maydes, or other persons" meet together in the streets or places "for sporte or play;" penalty 1s., and double for each repetition.

"That no publick house sell an liquor on that day during divine service, unless to travelers.

"That no Negro or Indian slaves, above the number of four, do assemble or meet together on the Lord's day, or at any other time, at any place from their master's service, within the liberties of the city.

"That noe such slave doe goe armed att any time with guns, swords, clubs, staves, or any kind of weapons whatever, under the penalty of being whipped at the publique whipping post, tenn lashes, unless the master or owner of such slaves will pay 6s. to excuse the same."



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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