Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 2, Part 3

By Holice and Debbie


It was resolved (July 9, 1731), "to build a watch-house forthwith," on the south side of the cage in Broad street, and a committee of Aldermen was appointed to effect the necessary preliminary arrangements. On the twenty-sixth of the following month the committee submitted their report, which was adopted. Their report set forth that the said watch-house "ought to be twenty-eight feet long and eighteen feet broad, with two rooms, one of them eighteen feet long and the other ten feet, with a fire place in each room, with two door to the southeast corner thereof and to the south, and the other to the east side of the said corner, with three lights in the large room, and one small ditto in the small room." The entire expense of which, according to computation, was to amount to about £60.

This watch-house stood until 1789, when it became so dilapidated that its removal became necessary, and a new one was erected.

Robert Crannoll, Marshal for the city, was appointed Supervisor of the Watch on December 14, 1731. He was required to perform all the duties of that office, to provide fire and candle for the Watch, to keep the key of the watch-house, to keep the watch-house clean, and take care that the chimney thereof be swept and cleaned as often as there should be occasion. For which services he was allowed a salary of £20 per annum.

At a meeting of the Common Council, held on the same date, a law remodeling the system of night watching was three times read and approved. It was then ordered that "the same be forthwith printed and published, and the same, after the ringing of three bells, was published accordingly." This law opened with along preamble, setting forth, that all inhabitants of the city, "south of Fresh Water," whether "freemen of the city" or mere residents, provided they were physically able, ought by reason of their habitation to keep watch for the "preservation of the King's peace, and for the arresting and apprehending of all night-walkers, malefactors, and suspected persons, which shall be found passing, wandering and misbehaving themselves." The preamble further set forth that the functions of the Constable extended not only to the ward in which he was appointed, but also, to the whole city. It was declared, too, that "there is now, and of late year hath been, by reason of great numbers of people privately coming into the said city from all parts, some whereof are suspected to be convict felons, transported from Great Britain." For this reason it was set forth that the need for a strong and efficient watch was very great.

After this formidable opening, the "Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen assembled," went onto ordain that each one of the Constables of the six wards on the south side of Fresh Water, in turn, together with eight able-bodies Watchmen (or as may more as the Mayor and three Aldermen might from time to time direct), should keep watch every night at the public ware-house, or such other point as might be selected, from April 1 until Michaelmas Day, from nine o'clock in the evening until four o'clock in the morning; and from Michaelmas Day to April 1, from eight o'clock in the evening until six o'clock in the morning. It appears that the Aldermen and assistants had lately taken "an exact survey" of the six wards, and made a list of all the inhabitants and housekeepers in them, who were able to watch or find Watchmen. From this it appeared that some of the wards were much larger than others, and ought therefore to furnish a greater number of men to the Watch. In order to equalize the burden, therefore, it was ordained that all the citizens dwelling south of Fresh Water should watch according to the following arrangements:

Inhabitants of the East Ward for seventeen nights, beginning December 2.

The Inhabitants of the Dock Ward next in order for twelve nights, from December 19; and when it came to their turn again, for thirteen nights.

The inhabitants of the North Ward for twelve nights, from and including December 31.

The inhabitants of the South Ward for ten nights, beginnings January 12.

The inhabitants of the West Ward for eight nights, from January 22 inclusive to the end of the month.

The inhabitants of the Montgomerie Ward for eight nights, from January 30 to February 7.

When all had performed duty in this manner, the East Ward was to begin again, and so on. The Aldermen and Assistant of each ward were to detail the constables in their turn to "have the rule, care, and oversight of the Watch," and were also to choose from among the inhabitants the necessary number of watch with the Constable. They were instructed to "begin at one certain place" in detailing the citizens, and "proceed and go forward in an orderly manner," until the whole ward had watched, whereupon, they were to begin again. Citizens who did not choose to take their regular turns were obliged to find substitutes.

The Constable whose turn I was had to go to give the citizens a day's notice of their tour of duty, waiting on the Aldermen or Assistant in advance to obtain the list of names. The notice of watch duty was either to be personal, or else in writing, left at the house of the person to be notified. A list of these persons was then to be delivered to the Constable whose turn it was to command the Watch. "And if any person," the ordinance proceeds, " appointed and warned to watch or to find an able and fit person to watch in his, her, (woman's rights seem to have been practically recognized, as she was eligible to d service on the Watch or find a substitute) or their stead and room, as aforesaid, make default in not watching and performing the duty of a Watchman as aforesaid, or being drunk on the aid Watch, leaving the Watch before the time of watching be expired, or otherwise misbehaving, (it is ordered) that then every such person so refusing, leaving, the Watch, misbehaving himself, or making default as aforesaid, and not having just and reasonable cause for such his default as shall be allowed of by the Mayor of the said City or the Aldermen of that ward for the time being, shall forfeit and pay for every such default the sum of eight shillings, current money, aforesaid."

The city fathers provided for the appointment of a Supervisor of the Watch "to take care and oversee that the Watch and watches within the said city henceforth be duly kept," or else that the forfeits be paid. Boys, apprentices, or servants, were not to be permitted to serve on the Watch, but only "able and sober men of good reputation." A long paragraph is devoted to defining the duties of the Supervisor. It is a mere amplification of the phrase that he is to see the Watch "duly kept." At the same meeting at which this enactment was made Mr. Robert Crannell was appointed Marshal of the City, and the Mayor issued his warrant to Edward Brewen, the Public Whipper, for the sum of £2 for a quarter year's salary.

The system thus elaborated does not appear to have survived lone, for, in 1734, an ordinance went into operation providing that twelve persons, including two Constables, should be hired to be the City Watch during the winter. One of the constables was to be on duty with five men every alternate night, and the Watch was to be called the Constable's Watch,. And was to be at the orders of the Mayor or other officials. The corporation supplied fire and light, and paid each man £5,10s, for service from December 4 to May 1 following, each of the Constables "for this encouragement," receiving 20s. additional.

In 1735 six Watchmen were appointed to serve for two months. At a meeting of the Common Council, held on October 21, 1735, Paul Richard being Mayor, it was agreed to appeal to the General Assembly to levy £300 on the real and personal estate of the city to defray the expense.

In October, 1738, twelve Watchmen were appointed to serve till the first of May, "who, together with the Constables in their turns, are to be the Constable and Night-Watch." The number was reduced in the next year to three. In October, 1741, the deputy clerk of the Board of Aldermen brought in a draft of a bill for a Night-Watch, which was ordered to be carried to the General Assembly.

In 1740 occurred that celebrated scare known in history as the Negro Plot.

Whether any conspiracy existed against the lives and property of the colonies, is a question that can never be set at rest now. There can be no doubt, however, that several unfortunates suffered death, just as if they had been actual conspirators, and that the entire community was stricken with terror at the prospect of pillage and assassination. One result of the affair was the appointment, in 1741 of thirty-six night watchmen, including three overseers. They were divided into three reliefs of eleven men each, and these took regular turns in guarding the city. The hours of duty were from an hour after sunset to the beating of the reveille next morning. The expense of this Watch was defrayed from a tax of £5741, 2s., which the Municipality was authorized to raise by a special Act of the General Assembly

About the year 1714 the paupers were beginning to be both numerous and troublesome, and it was proposed, instead of maintaining them by weekly pittances, as had hither to been done, to provide a house where they could be cared for at the public expense, and be made to contribute somewhat towards their livelihood, the scheme, however, was not carried into effect until 1734, when a commodious house was erected on the commons, in the rear of the present City hall, and on the site of the future "old Alms House." The building was forty-six feet long, twenty-four feet wide, and two stories high, with a cellar; and was furnished with implements of labor to the use of the inmates. The churchwardens were appointed as overseers of the Poor, and all paupers were required to work under penalty of receiving "moderate" correction. As the building as also a house of correction it was used as a sort of calaboose for unruly slaves, their masters having permission to send them thither for punishment. A number of police regulations were adopted in August, 1742. One of these ordered that twelve men, with a Constable, constantly watch every Sunday "from sunrise to sunset, and that such Watch be continued in turn as the Night-watch are." Another provided that n every Sunday morning from daylight to the time of the setting of the military guard, and from five o'clock P. M.--when the guard was dismissed--until the evening Watch came on, means be adopted 'to prevent the irregularities lately so much practices by negroes, children, and others on the Sabbath Day." the method was for one Alderman, one petty Constable, and four firemen to walk around the city during the hours indicated, while on alternate Sundays the Assistant Alderman, the High Constable or Marshal, one petty constable, and three firemen should serve.

The rules of 1741 regarding the Night-watch were in effect renewed, the ground being states that of recent years great numbers of convicts had come into the city, and it was necessary to provide against "insurrections and the plots of slaves." Constables who failed in their duties were to be fined ten shillings; no boys or apprentices were allowed on the Watch; and the Constable in charge was to send out the first rounds precisely an hour after sunset, and immediately on the return of the first rounds should send out another. The rounds consisted of four Watchmen, and their duty was to walk the streets, lane, wharves, and alleys, and they were not to return to the watch-house in less than an hour, except upon extraordinary occasions. Upon the return of the second round, the Constable in charge was obliged to g out himself with the remaining three Watchmen and so just as his predecessors. The process was then repeated, and in the morning the Constable called the roll to see that all his men had done full duty. The actual expense of the Watch department was thereby increased from about £50 to £448.

In this year, Robert Bowne, a Quaker, being elected Constable for Montgomerie Ward, refused to serve, on the ground that Quakers were, by law, exempt from such duty. The case being carried to the Chief Justice it was decided in favor of the Quaker, and a new election was therefore ordered.

In 1746 the Recorder proposed to the Common Council, on the part of a joint committee of the Assembly and Council that the latter body should have a small Watch-house built near the Powder House. The committee proposed to supply Watchmen until a proper magazine could be erected within the stockades. The proposal was approved by the common council, and the committee charged with enlarging the Poor House was intrusted to build the Watch-house. The military watch that the troublous times rendered needful was a sore burden to the New Yorkers.

On June 3, 1747, a committee of five Aldermen were appointed to prepare a draft of an address and petition to his Excellency, the Governor, to ease the city of the burden of keeping a military watch. This committee, under instructions, reported the following day.

The petition represented that many of the inhabitants "have three or four sons and as many servants or apprentices, who are obliged to watch in their turns, the consequence of which is a loss of about forty shillings to every such inhabitant." The petition concludes by asking his Excellency to order down "one of the Independent Companies now at Albany, or one of the companies of the new levies now also there, or such part of either of them"

The Common Council, it is quite plain from the records, had an inordinate love of detail. Instances of this have been seen already; another is to be found in the minutes of December 20, 1750. The manner in which the six Watchmen were ordered to perform their rounds is as follows: Two of them were to go out first, one of them to carry a bell, and the other his staff. The bell was to be run :in the most public places,; and the time of night was to be proclaimed. The other four Watchmen were to set out soon after the first two, and take a different route, all meeting together at places appointed by the person having charge of the Watch.

These Watchmen, or Bellmen as they were sometimes called, or among the Dutch, "Kloppermannen," carried with them a kind of bell, a lantern, and an hour-glass. At every house, with loud clattering of the "Klopper," they cried out "the time of the night, and the season of the weather." They were employed only during the winter tine, or from first of November to the twenty-fifth of March, and received £15 each. They furnished their own fire and light. The expense of the Watch varied from £ 60 to £36, or £9 per man, during winter season.

It is with a sigh of profound relief that one turns to consider the nocturnal habits of "The Finest" after reading the following account of the proceedings of the Watch in bygone days: "At the ringing of the bell of the Fort"--it seems as if out forefathers could not nothing without ringing a bell--"at nine o'clock, a Sergeant-Major, with his halberd, proceeded, following by the Watch, to each of the city gates, which he locked for the night. He then stationed each man at his particular post, and to secure the vigilant discharge of his duty, each Watchman was required to go, once every hour, through that part of the city which was allotted to him, and with a bell to proclaim the time of the night and the state of the weather--a regulation which, no doubt, secured a vigilant discharge of the Watchmen's duty. But it must have been disturbing to all but sound sleepers to have had their slumbers broken at regular intervals by the loud ringing of a bell, and a hoarse voice announcing such information as, "Past two o'clock, and a dark and cloudy morning."

The English Watchmen, in no essential particular, differed from his Dutch predecessor. Both went about performing their duties in the most lugubrious fashion--carrying their bells, hour-glasses, lantern and staffs--like some protean character of the stage who is equipped to represent Diogenes, the man with the Scythe, a grave digger and a dustman.

The practice of the Watch calling out the time of night at regular intervals was borrowed from Germany, where, in the burghs or towns, it was at first the custom to station guardians of the night in the steeples of churches or other elevated place; and, a security against their going to sleep, to require them every hour to proclaim the hour of the night. When this was changed to a regular patrolling of the streets, the custom of calling the house was continued probably for the same reason. The German Watchmen, who, like the generality of his countrymen, was of a musical turn of mind, accompanied the calling of the time of the night by singing a verse of a religious son, inculcating some precept of Christian doctrine, the words being so arranged or varied as to be applicable to a particular time of the night. Following is a translation of a verse of one of the Watchmen's songs:

"Hark ye, neighbors, and hear me tell
Ten now strikes on the belfry bell,
Ten was the holy commandment given
To man below, by God in heaven.
Human watch from harm can't ward us;
Yet God will watch and guide and guard us.
May he, through his heavenly might,
Give us all a blessed night."

The old jail was built in 1758 on what was then known as "the fields," the City Hall Park of the present day. it was a small stone building, nearly square, three stories in height, having its main entrance on the south side. The old Jail continued to e the prison of the city until 1775, when the new Bridewell was erected, and on the occupation of the city by the British they were both turned into military prisons. The Jail was then known as the "Prevost," or "Prevo," and became famous under the control of Captain William Cunningham, Provost Marshall, who, by the appointment of General Gage, was at the head of the police of the city.

In 1758 there was another change of system, back to the Citizens' Watch. Under the new rules, the inhabitants of the West Ward were to do duty for nine nights successively; those of the South Ward for five nights; of the Dock Ward for five nights; of the East Ward for ten nights; of the North Ward for eight night; and of the Montgomerie Ward for eleven nights. When all had watched they were to begin over again, and so on. In 1761, however, we find once more a return to paid watchers, for n December 28, Mr. Stoutenburgh, presumably a member of the Common Council, was authorized by that body to advertise for me to "light the lamps speedily to be erected," and to watch the city. the cost after the system became established, say for the second year, 1763, was found to be about £200 per annum. Four years subsequently the expense of lighting and watching the city had increased to £1,400 per annum.

The year 1764 was marked in the police annals by the erection of a new pillory with a large wooden cage behind it, between the new Jail (the present Hall of Records) and the Work-house, which occupied the site of the present City Hall. The cage was for the punishment of disorderly boys who "publically" broke the Sabbath.

The system showed signs of considerable progress and development about this time. In 1767 the Mayor was requested by the Common Council to apply to the General Assembly for power to raise £1,400 for defraying the expenses of maintaining Watchmen, and of lighting and supplying the lamps.

A similar application was made in 1772 for leave to bring in a bill for raising the sum of £1,800 to defray the expense attending the public lamps and watching the city. In July, 1773, a resolution was passed, allowing the Marshals and Constables two shillings for every vagrant they arrested. In 1774, sixteen men were employed to watch and to light the street lamps every night. Their annual salary was fixed at £32., there were also employed eight Watchmen, to do duty on alternate nights, receiving a salary of £16 per annum each. This Watch was set from March 10 to September 10 at nine o'clock P. M., and remained on duty to four o'clock next morning. During the other six months the hours were form ten in the evening to six the next morning.

In June, 1775, the committee appointed to draw up some necessary orders and regulations respecting the City Watch, presented the same, which were approved, and it was ordered that copies be delivered to the Captains of the Watch for their guidance. These orders and regulations are not inserted in the record. The Watchmen, on May 1, 1776, were reduced I number to a Captain and three men.

The old Bridewell formerly stood in City Hall Park, between the City Hall and Broadway. It was erected in 1775, and as demolished in 1838. The corner stone was paid with due ceremony by Mayor Hicks. The building was built of dark grey stone, two stories high, besides the basement, with a pediment in the front and in the rear, which was carried up a story higher. The centre apartments were allotted to the keeper and his deputies. On the first floor on the right, there was an apartment called the Long Room, and on the left a similar apartment; on the second floor there were two wards, the one called the Upper Hall, and the other side the Chain Room. The upper hall was appropriated to the higher class of convicts.

The old Bridewell derives its principal interest from its being used by the British, during the Revolution, as a place of confinement of American soldiers who were so unfortunate as to be taken prisoners here, as in all other places, used for that purpose in this city, cruelty, misery, and starvation agonized its helpless victims.

The first Bridewell in New York was built as early as 1734, and it continued to be occupied for many years as a house of corrections.

The City Hospital, between Duane and Anthony streets, upon the west side of Broadway, was commenced in the year 1771, and completed before the war of Independence, when it was converted into a barrack for the reception of troops. It was not until January 3, 1791, that it was opened for the admission of patients. This hospital was the scene of "the Doctor's riot." The public mind had been excited over rumors that the cemeteries had been rifled of dead bodies by the students for anatomical subjects. On Sunday morning, April 13, 1788, a mischievous boy had climbed onto a ladder to one of the hospital windows, and his curiosity to know what was going on inside was gratified by having an arm flourished in his face. The arm aforesaid was wielded by a student, but the member was not his own--it was part of a subject on the dissecting table. The boy, aghast with horror, ran home and spread the news that the students were cutting up dead bodies. The hospital was soon surrounded by an infuriated mob, who burst I the doors. The doctors took refuge in the jail, where they were with difficulty protected. The mob, bent on wrecking vengeance on all the doctors in the city, started for the house of Dr. Cochrane, which they ransacked from cellar to garret in search of the doctor and anatomical subjects. The house of Sir John Temple narrowly escaped destruction. Noticing the name the mob mistook, "Sir John" for surgeon, and that tiled personage came near being reduced to the mutilated condition of one of the surgeons' dissecting subjects. While endeavoring to disperse the mob, Secretary Jay and Baron Steuben were severely wounded. Mayor Duane and Governor Clinton then gave the order to the military to fire, and five persons were killed and seven or eight badly wounded. The crowd then fled.

We have not arrived at the troublous period of the Revolution, when the military officers usurped the functions of government, and the citizens lay at the mercy of an unscrupulous soldiery. Everything was then done in compliance with orders from the commanders of the British troops, and the interests of the King were the foremost consideration.

The defeat of the Patriot army in the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, led to the occupation of the city by the British a fortnight later. Very shortly after, the whole western side of the city from Bowling Green to the present line of Vesey Street was swept by fire, Trinity Church being among the edifices destroyed. Immediately after this disaster, Mayor-General James Robertson, one of the British commanders, issued the proclamation of which the following is a literal copy:

"Whereas, there is ground to believe that the Rebels, not satisfied with the Destruction of part of the City, entertain Designs of burning the Rest; And it is thought that a Watch to inspect all Parts of the City, to apprehend Incendiaries, and to stifle Fires before they rise to a dangerous height, might be a necessary and proper means to prevent such a calamity; Many of the principal Inhabitants have applied to me to form such a Watch, and have all offered to watch in person.

I do therefore require and direct That all Persons may take a Part in this Matter, and turnout to Watch when called for. A sense of duty and Interest will lead all good subjects and Citizens cheerfully to give their Attendance; And any who refuses to take Part in preserving the City will be judged unworthy to inhabit it. I have appointed persons to summon and Superintend the Watch of each Ward, and the number of Men to be given by each is subjoined.


Major-General, Commander in New York.

The Out Ward to furnish fourteen men each night. Montgomerie Ward to furnish fifteen men each night, North Ward to furnish fifteen men each night. These to meet at the Guard Room near Cuyler's Sugar House.

West Ward to furnish six men each night. South Ward to furnish four men each night. Dock Ward to furnish ten men each night. East Ward to furnish sixteen men each night. These to meet at the Guard House in Hanover Square.

It will be noticed that the foreign troops are more exigent than the regular City government had ever been. It is doubtful, however, if they were as well or a cheerfully served. The following year (1777), Major-General Robert Pigot commanding in the city, issued a supplementary proclamation, as follows:

Whereas, by a Proclamation issued by Major-General James Robertson, who lately commanded in New York, a City Watch was established, and all persons, Inhabitants of said City, were thereby ordered to take their turn in Watching, when called on for that purpose:

And Whereas, the Necessity of Keeping up the said Watch, and a punctual attendance thereto, must appear evident to every good Citizen; and it having been represented unto me, that several persons, Inhabitants of the City, although warned to take their Turn in Watching, have, notwithstanding, either neglected or refused to give Their Attendance:

I have, therefore, thought fit to issue this Proclamation, hereby requiring all Person, residing in the City of New York, to take a part in a matter, so necessary for the Preservation of this City, hereby informing all such persons as refuse or neglect to give their attendance, that they will be judged unworthy Inhabitants, and will be ordered to remove accordingly. And I do hereby requite the persons heretofore appointed to Superintend the said Watch that they make return to me of all person who shall hereafter refuse or neglect to watch when called upon for that purpose in order that they may be dealt with accordingly.


It was not easy work to keep the citizens up to watching in the interest of the King, and every year brought a fresh proclamation. Major-General Daniel Jones, "Commanding His Majesty's Forces on the Inland of New York, Long Island Staten island, and the Posts depending," issued one on May 4, 1778, the body of which ran as follows:

"Whereas, it is thought expedient, in order to give the necessary Assistance tot he Commandant of the City, that a Superintendent-General of the Police should be appointed: I do hereby appoint Andrew Elliot, Esq., Superintendent-General of the Police of the city of New York, and its Dependencies, with powers and Authorities to issue such orders and Regulations from Time to Time as may most effectually tend to the Suppression of Vice and Licentiousness; the Support of the Poor; the Direction of the nightly Watch; the Regulation of Markets and Ferries; and all other Matters, in which the Economy, Peace, and good Order of the City of New York, and its Environs are concerned. The Superintendent-General will be assisted in the Administration of the Police by David Matthews, Esq., Mayor of this City; and I so hereby enjoin and require all persons whatever, to pay due obedience to the Superintendent-General, the Mayor, and all others acting in authority under them, in the Execution of their Duty; and all Military officers commanding Guards, to assist them when it shall be found necessary."

Mr. Elliot used his powers for very little purpose except the annoyance of patriotically inclined persons. The next document in order bears the date of June 18, 1778. It is an order issued by Charles Rooke, an Aide-de-Camp, who opens by speaking of he great service which the City Watch "established soon after his Majesty's Troops took possession of New York," had done in preserving the "Safety and good Order of the City.' "The cheerfulness and Alacrity with which this duty has been performed,' he says, " does Honour to the Inhabitants. The General," he says, "recommends a steady Perseverance in this essential public service. That it may be the less burdensome to the good Citizens, he shall grant as few exemptions as possible." He orders that the inferior officers, artificers, and laborers employed in the King's service are to take a share in the City Watch when their duties will permit it.

The following document is wroth quoting, as developing the military use of the Police:


The Commandant hereby appoints Jeronymus Alstyne and John Armory, Directors of the City Watch, under the order of the Police.

The Police are to order such nightly watch and make such disposition of them as the security of the City may require.

The former regulations of the Commandant are to continue in force and the neglects of duty are to be punished according to those regulations, which the Police are to see duly executed.

The fines arising from such neglects are to be paid to Mr. Smith, Treasurer of the City funds, and applied to pay such expenses as this establishment may incur.

By order of Commandant,

ANDREW ELLIOT, Superintendent-General
PETER DU BOIS, Magistrate of Police.

New York, May 21, 1779.

But the knell of England's power in America had already rung. Disaster had met her forces in the field. The result of the war was easily foreseen. The energies of the New York garrison were now directed mainly to persecuting the patriot residents, so many thousands of whom died in the extemporized prisons in city and harbor.

The Watchmen were allowed from 1780, one shilling a night additional to their pay for services during the months of January, February, and March.

But slight progress was made in the system of policing the city under British rule. The chapter of English rule in New York closes here.



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

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