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

By Holice and Debbie


It was further ordered--and here we have in real earnest a foreshadowing of the modern police system--that a Constable with his staff should walk about the city during time of divine service to see that the laws were obeyed, and further, that the constable of each ward should keep note, and make a return of all strangers who came to reside in the ward. Penalties were established for neglect of duty. Besides, the "master of publick houses" were required under penalty of ten shillings to report the name of all who came to stop at their houses, and they were forbidden to harbor any person, male or female, who was "suspected of evil name." The constables, too, were to see that no liquor was sold during the hours of Divine service. Twenty cartmen were appointed, "and no more," under certain regulations, and a public chimney-sweep was nominated, who was to go about the streets announcing his approach by crying out. He was to cleanse all chimneys at the rate of one shilling or eighteen pence according to the height of the house. There were also twenty-four bakers appointed, divided into six classes, one for each working day of the week.

At a meeting of the Common Council held at the City hall on October 13, of the same year, it was ordered :that any persons chosen to serve in any of the offices following, and shall refuse to serve, shall pay the fine hereinafter expressed, viz:

A Constable


An Assessor


A Common Councilman

7 10s

An Alderman


The Mayor


"The fines to be paid to the City Treasurers for the publique use of the Citty."

The Common Council, on July 10, 1684, convened "to consider of a way more suitable for establishing a Watch in this Citty, it being thought convenient that the military officers and troopers be excused there from, and proposes a rate for the same on each house." The constables in the five wards were ordered to watch by turns successively one each night and to provide for their assistance on the Watch eight persons as they should think fit to hire, for whose service each was to receive twelve pence per night out of the City Treasury.

In 1686, a new seal was granted to the city, of which the accompanying cut is a faithful reproduction. Here are depicted millsails in saltire; a bearer in chief and base, and a flour barrel, proper, on each side, surmounted by a coronet. Supporters, two Indian chiefs proper; the on the dexter side holds a war-club in his right hand; the one on the sinister holds in his left hand a bow. In the dexter corner over the Indian's head is a cross patriarchal, as emblematic of the gospel to which his is subject. One the scroll, Sigill Civitat: Nov: Eborac. The whole is surrounded by a wreath of laurel.

On April 22 the Charter commonly known as Dongan's Charter was granted to the City. By this instrument--which is regarded as one of the most liberal ever decreed to a colonial city--the ancient municipal privileges of the corporation were confirmed, and other important franchises were added. This document still forms the basis of the city's rights and privilege. It provided that "for the better government of the said city, liberties and precincts thereof, there shall be forever hereafter within the said city" a Mayor, and recorder, Town Clerk and six Aldermen, and six Assistants; also one Chamberlain or Treasurer, one Sheriff, one Coroner, one Clerk of the Market, one High constable, seven sub-Constables, and one marshal or Sergeant-at-Mace. The Governor retained the appointment of the Mayor, Recorder, Sheriff, Coroner, High Constable, Town Clerk, and Clerk of the Markets, in his own hands, leaving the Aldermen, assistants, and petty Constables to be chosen by the people in annual election. The Charter contained various regulations similar to those already given.

It is interesting to note that at this time the annual cost of the City Watch was about £150, while the salaries of the Clerk, Sergeant-at-Mace, and Public Whipper aggregated to about £30.

Leisler, who assumed control of the Government after the removal of Governor Dongan, issued a proclamation on the fourteenth of October, 1689, in which, among other officials, he appointed the following: Nicholas Blanck, constable for the West Ward; Edward Brinckmaster, Constable for the Dock Ward; John Thomas, Constable for South Ward; John Ewiorts, Constable for the North Ward; Daniel Brevoort, Constable for the East Ward; Frederick Lymouse, constable for the Out Ward; and John Brevoort, Constable for Harlem division.

AS illustrative of the penal institutions of the times, it may be mentioned that on February 4, 1691, it was ordered that there be a pillory, cage, and ducking-stock forthwith built.

Perhaps the first uniformed policeman was the particular bellman mentioned in the proceedings of the Common Council of July 8, 1683, who, it was ordered by the Mayor, should be provided with "a coat of ye citty livery, with a badge of ye citty, shoes and stockings, and charge itt to ye account of the citty." It was also ordered "that the Treasurer pay to Mr. Smith, Thirty-six shillings to buy wood for the watch." The Captains of the Watch, too, were instructed to "disburse money for candles," and bring in their accounts quarterly to receive orders on the Treasurer. The Overseers made a report recommending that £50 be raised for furnishing the "Night Guard of the City" with fire and candles for a year. The suggestion was approved, and ordered to be carried out. But the next year the Captains had to find supplies again, for the Council ordered the Mayor to Draw a warrant on the Treasurer for the payment to each Captain of the Watch seven pounds, fourteen shillings and nine pence, current money of the province, "for supplying ye Night guard of this City with fire and candles until the first day of August last, and that they be paid out of the Tax raised to defray the same" Whatever fell short in the tax, the Treasurer was authorized to make good out of ordinary revenue.

For the enforcement of the law and the punishment of offenders there had already been erected (1693) a pillory, cage, whipping-post and ducking-stool, on the wharf in front of the City Hall. Hither were brought all vagrants, slanderers, pilferers, and truant children, to be exposed to the public gaze, and to receive such punishment as their offences might warrant. It may be fully understood that such punsihments were meted out with no lenient hand.

Subsequently it was ordered that payment be made to Captain Brandrt Schuyler, Captain Ebenezer Willson, Captain John Marrott, Captain John De Bruyer, Captain John De Royster, Captain John Kip, and Captain John Tudor, "each ye sum of nine pounds, current money, of New York, itt being money by them disbursed for fire-wood and candles for ye night guards," from first August, 1696, to first August, 1697

There was a complete revolution in the system of public protection at this time. This was brought about by an order of his excellency, the governor, abolishing the city militia from duty as Night guards, (a Military Watch) provided the officers or Magistrates appointed a bellman and other Civil Watch, to g round the city in the night time to prevent irregularities, etc. Therefore, it was ordered by the board that four sober, honest men be appointed to keep watch in the City every night until the twenty-fifth of March, following, and that they hourly go through the several Wards of the City during the said time, in order to prevent irregularities, fire, etc. It was further resolved that the persons so appointed Bellmen and Watchmen should give security in the sum of £500 that they would well and truly execute the said offices according to such directions.

On October 17, 1698, the Mayor was again admonished to appoint four "good and honest householders," to watch from 9 P. M. to sunrise, until March 25 following. The four worthies were paid £60 a year each. They were supposed to make a round every hour, and to "proclaim the season of the weather and the hour of the night." If they met any disturbers of the peace, or persons lurking about other people's houses, they were to secure such persons until next morning, "that they may be examined by the Mayor or some of the Magistrates, and dealt with as the law directs." The Constables were at the same time ordered to give all the aid they could to the Watchmen. The Mayor, on November 2, appointed three Bellmen at a salary of $60 a year each.

This action was repeated up to October 26, 1700, when the Mayor was ordered to appoint a Constables' Watch, to consist of a Constable and twelve able men, to be the Watch of the city, "to take care, and keep, and preserve the peace, etc., and that the constables of each ward do take their guns, and that the High Constable take care that the said Watch be duly set and kept, and that the Mayor provide fire and wood for the same."

Two years subsequently it was ordered that all persons summoned to do duty on the Constables' Watch who should neglect or refuse to serve, for every such offence should forfeit the sum of six shillings.

The old "Stadt Huys" at Coentis Slip had become so dilapidated that the Mayor and Corporation--finding it impossible to meet there any longer--were compelled to remove to the house of George Reparreck, next door, it was therefore, resolved to sell this rickety structure and to build a new Stadt Huys.

The principal event, it is averred, which settled the character of Wall Street as the centre of interest in the city, and which brought about it the leading men of business and professional life, was the erection (1699) of the City hall, opposite Broad Street, which building became afterward the Capitol of the United States, and the site of which is still in use for public purposes. The upper end of Broad Street was considerably elevated, and there was no continuation of the street beyond the City wall (Wall Street). although a lane had been marked out on the present line of Nassau Street, which, being afterwards improved, was designated as "the street that runs by the pie-woman's." The design of the proposed building, by John Evetts, architect, was submitted in 1698, and the pan was approved. The foundation was laid in the fall of 1699, and the building was finished in the following year. The City hall remained in use for the objects for which it was erected for about a century, and was demolished in 1812, when the present City Hall was built. It is thus described: "The first floor was entered by a flight of steps in front, which led into a corridor more then half the building in width, extending through to the rear. On the west side of hall there was a room in the front appropriated to the fire engine of the City, and a dungeon in the rear for criminals. On the opposite side was a branch of the hall opening into the keeper's room in the rear, and in front into a stairway to the second story. This story was occupied in the centre above the hall by the court room, having on the east side--above the engine-house--the jury-room. The opposite side was mostly taken up by the stairway, except the Common Council room, which was in the northeast corner. The garret was used as the debtor's prison." As one of the adjuncts of the seat of justice, a cage, pillory and stocks were set up in the public thoroughfare on the opposite side of the street. After the revolutionary war this building received additional historic interest as the Capitol of the nation and the first place of meeting of the Congress of 1789.

In 1702 a proclamation was made, warning all persons to do duty on the constables' Watch, under penalty of six shillings fine for every instance of negligence. On October 26, f this year, Aldermen Corbett and Smith and Messrs. Leroux and Cooper were appointed to agree with four or five "able citizens to be the Watch and bellmen of this Citty to April 1, following." This committee reported on December 1, as follows:

"Pursuant to an order of the Common Council, made the 26th day of this Instant Month of October, we have agreed with Robert Drummond, Richard Yearsley, Edmund Thomas, and John Vanderbeeck, four able-bodies Cittizens of this Citty to be the Watch and Bellmen of this Citty from the 1st of November next ensuing until the 1st day of April, then next following, which service they are duly and diligently to attend by going every hour in the night through the several streets of this Citty and publishing the time of night, and also to apprehend all disturbers of the peace, felons, &c., also to take care that no damage is done in the Citty by fire or any other casualties as much as in them lies; for which service they are to have the sum of forty-five pounds, current money of New York, six pounds whereof to be paid them in six weeks, and the remainder at the expiration of the time; and that a Lanthorn, Bell, and hour-glass be provided them att the Citty's charge."

The method of procedure in case of fire is worth recording. The Watchman who discovered it gave the alarm wit his rattle, and knock at the doors of the houses as he sped past, shouting to the occupants to throw out their buckets. The ringing of the bell at the fort spread the alarm further. It may be inferred that these methods made it lively for the resident population whenever a fire broke out after bedtime. When the buckets were thrown out they were picked up by whoever was the first to pass on the way to the fire. it was the custom for nearly every householders to render assistance to extinguish fires, whether by night or day. When they were extinguished, the buckets were taken in a wagon to the City hall, where they were restored to their owners.

A new duty was imposed on the Constables of the several wards. This was to visit every house, and see whether the inhabitants kept the number of fire buckets required by law. Those who had not the proper number were to be warned to obtain them under paid of prosecution. It was the duty of the Aldermen to instruct the Constables in their several wards to "search for all inmates of the houses," they visited, "and to return the names thereof to the Mayor or the Aldermen." The constables were required to "make a presentment of all such persons as shall neglect or refuse to clean their streets, and of all such as in any way break the Holy Sabbath, or commit other misdemeanors." The Aldermen were called upon to see that the Constables did this duty, and were to present the names of delinquents to the Mayor or court of Quarter Sessions for punishment. A resolution was also adopted, providing for the erection of a cage, whipping-post, pillory, and stocks before the City hall, the expense to be defrayed "out of the surplusage of the three hundred pounds raised in this City, which is not yet appropriated."

The annual expenditure in 1710 was £277 4s. among the items of expenditures were; Bellmen's salaries, £36; lanterns and hour glasses, £3; and fire and candles for Constables, £3.

The old records of this time abound in items characteristic of the manners and ideas of the time, and the condition of the city. thus we find in 1710 the total income of the city was £294.7s. 6d., and the annual expenditures £277.4s. Among the items making up the latter total were: Bellmen's salaries, £36; lanterns and hour-glasses, £3; and candles for the Constable's Watch, £3. The streets were still in the primitive fashion adopted in the end of the preceding century (1697), a lantern being set up on a pole in front of every seventh house, the inhabitants of the other six contributing to the cost of maintenance.

In 1712 several fires of supposed incendiary origin took place in New York and great alarm prevailed among the inhabitants. Many arrests were made, and nineteen negroes and one white man were executed.

The ideas which prevailed in this period regarding the treatment of criminal were neither enlightened not humane. The modes of punishment inflicted arrest the eye with wonder. A few instances must suffice:

"Clause, Robin, Quaco and Sam, negro slaves" say the old records, "were convicted in this year of the murder of Adiran Hoghlandt, in the eleventh year of the reign of our Sovereign Lady Anne,' and sentenced in the following terms:

"It is considered by the Court that the aforesaid Clause be broke alive upon a wheel, and so to continue languishing until he be dead; and his head and Quarters to be at the Queen's disposal. That the aforesaid Robin be hung up in chains alive, and so to continue without any sustenance , until he be dead. That the aforesaid Quaco be burnt with fire until he be dead and consumed. And that the aforesaid Sam be hanged by the neck until he be dead."

Mars, a negro slave was tried in 1708 "att a Court of General Sessions of the Peace at the City Hall on the first Tuesday in may, in the sixth year of the reign of our sovereign Lady Anne." The record of the court proceedings says:

Itt is presented that a negro man, commonly called mars, a slave of Jacob Rognier of the City of New York, with force and arms, in and upon Ephraim Pierson, then Constable of the Watch of the said City of New York, did make an assault, and did beat, wound, with evil intent, so that his life he did despair, and other harms to him did, to the grevious damage of the said Ephraim Pierson * * * *

therefore it is considered by the Court that the said negro, Mars, on the 6th day of August aforesaid, in the year aforesaid, between the hours of ten and twelve in the forenoon of the same day, be stripped from the middle upwards, and tyed to the tail of a cart, at the City Hall aforesaid, and be drawn from thence to the Broadway in the said city, and from thence to the Custom House, thence to Wall Street, and from thence to the City Hall again, and that he be whipped upon his naked back ten lashes att the Corner of Every street he shall pass, and that he afterwards be discharged from his Imprisonment, pay his fees, &c."

The punishment of whipping was more generally inflicted at the whipping post than in the manner here indicated, and that instrument of correction had been removed in 1710 from Coentis Slip to Broad Street near the City Hall.

Another characteristic sentence was imposed in 1712 by "a court held for the tryal of Negro and Indian slaves, at the Citty Hall of the City of New York, on Tuesday the 15th of April." "Tom, the slave of Nicholas Rosevelt, was the culprit in this case. He was sentenced to be "carryed from hence to the place whence he came, and from thence to the place of execution; and there to be burned with a slow fire, that he may continue in torment for Eight or ten hours, and continue burning in the said fire until he be dead, and Consumed to ashes."

Mrs. Johanna Christiana Young, and another female, her associate from Philadelphia, "being found guilty of grand larceny, at the Mayor's Court, are to be set on two chairs exalted on a cart, wit their heads uncovered, and to be carted from the City Hall to that part of Broadway near the old English church, from thence down Maiden Lane, then down the Fly to the White hall, thence to the church aforesaid, and then to the whipping-post, where each of them is to receive thirty-nine lashes, to remain in jail for one week, and then to depart the city."

Nor are these cases of an exceptional character; such sentences were common enough in those days.

Something by way of explanation of the instruments and methods by which criminals were punished, may be mentioned at this part of our narrative, supplementary to what has already been said on the same subject. The early annals of New York, as we have seen, make frequent mention of these instruments of torture. They were, in fact, a part (and by no means an insignificant part ) of the correctional institutions of the city. Mention has been made of the cage, stocks, pillory, whipping-post, and ducking-stool--all parts of the established plan "to hold the wicked and to punish guilt." They stood in front of the City hall, and were kept in good repair. That they were not there for any idle show we have evidence in abundance. The first instruments of the kind mentioned, as has been pointed out, stood in front of the old City Hall, at Coentis Slip. When the new City Hall was built at the head of Broad Street, on Wall Street, these appliances were removed thither. They are, some ten year later (1710), removed to the upper end of Broad Street, a little below the City Hall. The law was no respector of sex, and females were subjected to this form of punishment quite frequently, the following being by no means an exceptional case: "A woman was whipped at the whipping-post, and afforded much amusement to the spectators by her resistance." The extract is taken from a newspaper of the time. Also" "James Gain, pursuant to sentence, stood in the pillory, near the City Hall, and was most severely pelted by great numbers of spectators; a lad was also branded in the hand." These modes of punishment (barbarous in the extreme) were derived from Holland and England, which is also true of the forms of law, the judiciary systems, and all that pertained tot he administration of justice. The public whipper, in early times, was a familiar functionary. In 1713 Richard Cooper was appointed to his office, at a salary of £5. The practice of whipping and the appliances of the whipping post were introduced into all the American colonies. In all of the New England towns the whipping post was the recognized adjunct of the courts, and flagellation was constantly resorted to for all forms of offences, whether religious, social or political. In the State of Delaware the knout survives, and the whipping post still stands a silent but more suggestive satire upon nineteenth century civilization.

In 1730 the celebrated Montgomerie Charter was granted to the city. this is the second in the series of documents on which the municipal rights still rest. It ordained that there should forever be "one Mayor, one Recorder, seven Aldermen, seven Assistants, one Sheriff, one coroner, one common Clerk, one Chamberlain, one High Constable, sixteen Assessors, seven Collectors, sixteen Constables, and one Marshal," to compose the City Government. The Charter appointed Edmund Peers, High Constable; John Scott, Constable for the South Ward; Christopher Nicholson, Constable for the Dock Ward; Timothy Bontecon, Constable for the North Ward; John Abrahamson, Constable for the East Ward, and Arent Bussing, constable for the Harlem Division of the Out Ward.

The instrument also provided that within forty days after date of its publication, the freemen of the city should assemble, and by a plurality of voices, choose from the inhabitants of the several wards one additional Constable for each ward, except the Out Ward, which was to have three more, two for the Bowery Division, and one more for Harlem. It was further ordered that on the festival of St. Michael, the Archangel, every year, the freeholders of the several wards should meet, as appointed by the Aldermen, and elect for each ward, except the Out Ward, one Alderman, one Assistant, two Assessors, two Collectors, and four Constables. The Mayor, on the same day, it was arranged, should appoint a High constable. The appointment of the Mayor himself, and of the Sheriff and Coroner, still rested with the governor and his Council.

During the twenty years subsequent to the granting of Montgomeries Charter, the city advanced considerably in its municipal affairs. A poor-house and watch-house were built, fire engines were imported, and a Fire Department was permanently established.

Those who find fault with the alleged unsanitary condition of our thoroughfares, should feel comforted upon perusal of this presentment by the Grand Jury, a reduced fac-simile of the original.



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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