Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 4, Part 3

By Holice and Debbie


The message, in pointing out the evils, defects and deficiencies of the Police system, drew attention to the following facts: The system of the criminal department was designed exclusively and only for the arrest, trial and punishment of licentiousness and vices which lead to it. The incumbents were selected for political reasons and not for personal merit or competency to fulfill their duties. Their term of office was uncertain, and often very brief, depending on the change of political parties inmost cases, the incumbent being liable to removal without other cause then the change in the ascendancy of the party. Consequently, they were not as well organized as if their office depended upon good behavior and efficiency.

The message recommended the passage of certain laws for the better government and discipline of the Police. Most of these recommendations were incorporated in an act passed by the legislature the following year, which is treated of in the succeeding chapter.

Mayor Morris conceived the idea of organizing the hundred Police Marshal, who received their appointments from the Mayor, and of dividing them into Watches. The first Watch he proposed to set at sunrise. This Watch was to be relieved through the day, and the last of this Day Police was to continue on duty until sundown, when the night Watch was set. The Marshals were to be allotted among the Wards in numbers according to the requirements of the several Wards. By such an arrangement, Mayor Morris hoped the services of the day and Sunday officers be dispensed with, and the salaries paid to them, and the tome allowed the Marshal would, he said, almost, if not entirely, pay the Day Police. In his message of July 24,1843, he said he had determined to exercise the power invested in him, by putting the foregoing scheme into operation forthwith, which he hoped would meet with the approval of the Board.

The Tombs building was completed in 1838. Five years previously, it was determined by the city authorities to build a prison on a plot of land that was generations ago a lake. After drainage, its site formed part of the Collect Grounds. The style of the new building was decided by the publication of a book much read in those days, "Stevens' Travels," and which contained an illustration of an Egyptian tomb. This grim picture was thought available in plan for the projected structure, the name of which was selected with reference to the preferred form of the building. The building as originally completed had a cupola. This was burned down in November, 1842, with the apt accompaniment of the suicide of a murderer--a bridegroom of four hours--who was at the time being led out to execution.

The Watch district, on September 12, 1843, was declared to include all that portion of the city lying south of the line described as follows:

Commencing at the East River, ninety-eight feet and nine inches north of Twenty-eight Street; running thence westerly and parallel to Twenty-eighth Street, to a point one hundred feet east of the Fourth Avenue; thence northerly, and parallel to the Fourth Avenue, to a point ninety-eight feet nine inches north of Thirtieth Street, to a point one hundred feet eat of the Seventh Avenue; thence Northerly, and parallel to the Seventh Avenue, to a point ninety-eight feet nine inches north of Fortieth Street; thence westerly, and parallel to Fortieth Street to the Hudson River.

By resolution of the Common Council, January 8, 1844, the Mayor was directed to create thirty new additional Watch posts, and for that purpose to appoint one hundred and twenty additional Watchmen. This necessitated an alteration of the Watch posts of the city. All the Watchmen were required to stay upon their posts till within thirty minutes of sunrise. Captains of the Night-watch, in the following month, were empowered to remove and place new men on the rounds attached to their Watches, as they might think best.

The pay of Watchmen in this year was as follows:

Captains, numbering twelve

$2.25 each

Assistant Captains, numbering twenty-four

1.75 each

Men, numbering one thousand and ninety-six

1.25 each.

Besides these, there was a number of Sunday officers and extra Watchmen. Even these were found to be insufficient (inefficient), for new appointments were continually being made,; and the Watch posts increased. If the Watchmen were not sufficiently numerous, there could be no such complaint made as regards criminals, as they seemed to keep on steadily increasing. At this time the creation of a new station house at the Jefferson market was ordered, the old not affording proper accommodation for the officers or their prisoners.


The most noted official connected with the police system in his day and generation was Jacob Hays. The story of his life would read like a thrilling romance. For about forty years subsequent to the beginning of the century he was the head and front, and guiding spirit of the police of this city; in fact, Jacob Hays was the police force all by himself. He, personally and often unaided, ran down criminals, suppressed riots, and in addition to his functions as High Constable, he originated and organized a detective department, of which he himself was the central figure and the one-man power. Nor was this all: Jacob Hays for a number of years was also Sergeant-at-Arms to the Board of Aldermen, and superintended the squad of officers detailed to preserve order in the courts. The term "eternal and universal," so often applied to our own Colonel Bliss, would be inadequate to characterize the unceasing and unflagging energy of the High Constable. But his energy was never wasted by misdirected efforts, nor did it degenerate into fussiness. He had a high appreciation of his duties, and no man worked harder or more faithfully to discharge his obligations to the public.

Jacob Hays was born in May 13, 1772, at Bedford, N. Y. His father was a prominent Whig, and was one of the soldiers serving under Washington in the expedition known as Braddock's defeat. Jacob himself was frequently of service to the Whig cause. His father's name was David Hays. He kept a country store at Bedford, Westchester County. His home was made a place of meeting by General Washington and his officers at the time that the patriot army was stationed thereabouts. Young Jacob, thus early in life, became familiar with General Washington and his officers. He was a stout, sturdy la of eleven yeas, when peace was declared in 1783.

Jacob Hays was first appointed Marshal by Mayor Varick in 1798. In 1802 he was appointed High Constable by Mayor Livingston, and on March 21, 1803, he and Charles Van Orden were appointed Captains of the Third Watch District. It is recorded in the proceedings of an old-fashioned caucus that he was removed from the latter position in the year 1804. From the time he received his first appointment to the position of High Constable up to his death, a period of nearly fifty years, he was re-appointed to that office by each successive Mayor, the office of High constable becoming extinct at his death. He was also Sergeant-at-Arms to the Board of Aldermen for a number of yeas, and acted as Crier of the Court of Sessions. He was, perhaps, the best-known man of his day in the city. The terror of criminals, it was his boast that there was not a rogue in the city whom he did not know. And this fact as borne out by his extraordinary success in arresting and bringing rogues of all degrees to justice. The usual popular cry being, when some bold and mysterious burglary or robbery had been perpetrated, the criminals escaping without leaving a clue as to this identity behind; "Set old Hays on them."

He was the first real detective of this city. he was an honest man, of high moral and religious character, and an attendant of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, in Grand Street. In his line he was a regular autocrat, and held the monopoly of catching thieves. So successful was he as a detective that his fame, spread over the whole civilized world. He was as well known in London as he was in New York. It is said that he could track a rogue by instinct. Fifteen years after his death, letters came from the Chief of Police of London, pertaining to criminals and crime, addressed to "Jacob Hays, High Constable of New York." Following is a fac-simile of his commission as Captain of the Watch.

For years after he ha received his appointment of High Constable he had but a bare handful of men under his command, the number not exceeding half a dozen at the beginning. This fact rendered his achievements in keeping the criminal classes in subjection all the more wonderful. It is said, such was his zeal and activity, that, during the prolonged period of his public service, he did not, on a an average, sleep more then six hours out of twenty-four. Another remarkable fact remains to be recorded" He never carried a concealed weapon; never went armed in nay form; his only protection being his Constable's staff and his own indomitable fearlessness of danger. He was, besides, possessed of great physical strength, and few of the desperadoes of those days cared to cross the private or official path of the determined and sturdy High Constable. He was pre-eminently successful in quelling street brawls and dispersing rioters. Such was his success in this direction that he himself, single-handed, often put down a street fight, in which some of the worst factions were engaged, and that too, without having recourse to any violence whatever. His son, a hale and hearty gentlemen, William H. Hays, who is President of the Eighth Avenue Railroad Company, and a leading down-town broker, well remembers his father's exploits in this and other respects. Whenever the High Constable was made aware that a street brawl was assuming threatening proportions he at once repaired to the scene of disturbance, and, without a moment's hesitation, mingled in the throng of excited wranglers. His great strength was then exerted towards separating the combatants and in driving back the crowd. He did not crack the heads of the brawlers; he usually knocked off their hats with his staff, and while they were in the act of stooping to pick them up, he would shove them forward and throw them down, their prostrate bodies generally serving as a barrier to keep the others back. he would then deal with the principals, and by the time he was re-enforced by his men, the greater part of the trouble was generally over. The secret of his success was that he never (except in very rare and exceptional cases) used violence while dealing with a mob. He left no broken heads or bruised bodies to rankle and call for vengeance. Fearlessness, firmness and forbearance were his predominant traits, and, as he never wantonly maltreated or injured any one, even in the face of great provocation, so, in like manner, brawlers and criminals generally--while they feared and respected the man--rarely offered him personal violence. His great presence of mind and ready tact also stood him in good stead in moments of peril and emergency. It was his habit to make little of these public outbreaks and to declare that such misdeeds were not primarily occasioned by men, but were the work of unruly boys, grown up persons being unwittingly drawn into the trouble. Then his usual method of formulating his mandates to the mob was couched in respectful language to wit: "Now, all good citizens, go home!" an advice which seldom passed unheeded. This rare mixture of forbearance and firmness triumphed over the angry passions of the mob, and rarely failed to produce the desired results. In moments of the greatest public peril he would never consent to invoking the aid of the State Militia, for the reason as he grimly and quaintly put it: "If you send for the militia, they may kill some one, and that will bring trouble; then there will be the trouble of burying them; and that will be the greatest trouble of all."

Only a few of the noted cases in which the High Constable distinguished himself can be referred to here. A citizen informed the High constable that two strange men occupied a room in a certain hotel in the city; that they were much along together in their room; that his fact excited the curiosity of the servant girl, who peered through the key-hole, and saw the men counting money.

Sometime previously (1830) the City Bank of this city has been robbed of two hundred thousand dollars. The High Constable, from the nature of the robbery, suspected who the men were. Upon receiving a description of these men, he concluded that they were the men who had robbed the City Bank. Accompanied by his son, he surprised one of the robbers in the room of the hotel, and arrested him. His name was Smith, an expert bank robber. A large amount of money was found in his trunk. The money was part of the purloined property of the City Bank.

In the meantime the High Constable was busy looking out for Smith's companion, named Murray, who had evaded arrest, and kept away from his former quarters at the hotel. A man named Parkinson, a well-known locksmith, was suspected by the High Constable as also being smith's companion in crime. Going to Parkinson's store, the High constable, made a careful search of the place, without, however, finding anything of a criminatory character. H was about giving up on the search in despair when he happened to pick up a jack-plane, one end of which, it could be seen had been cut off and readjusted. In taking the jack-plane apart, the High constable found in a hollow groove notes of the plundered bank amounting to twenty thousand dollars. Some forty thousand dollars were still short of the amount stolen, and the High Constable concluded that Murray must have it.

He was released, and went to Philadelphia, where the High Constable had him placed under police surveillance, and besides, had him shadowed by a former, "pal," in the hopes thereby of obtaining the remainder of the money stolen from the bank.

At the High Constable's request, John McLean, High Constable of Philadelphia, arrested Murray on the second of May, 1831. Murray, when taken into custody, threw away a number of bills. These were picked up, and they proved to be bills on the Orange County Bank. He was brought to trial and convicted. While in jail, under a promise of pardon he revealed the hiding place of the stolen treasury, which was under a big tree in Independence Square, in Philadelphia. The High constable's son, Hobson, of this city, went to Philadelphia, and after digging for the treasury, at first without success, at length, found it. The money so recovered completed the whole amount stolen from the City Bank.

Many years ago successful forgeries had been committed on a number of banks in this city. Three men, Reed, Stephens, and Hollgate, notorious cracksmen, were suspected of the forgeries, the more so as they kept in hiding from the police. High Constable Hays arrested Reed ("Jack" Reed as he was called) in front of the old City Hotel, the site of the present Boreal Building. Reed made a desperate resistance, in which he was assisted by his confederate, Stephens. Reed drew a dirk on the High Constable, but the latter, using his great strength, pinned Reed to the wall, and held a firm grasp of the had that held the dagger. A crowd gathered, and some of Reed's friends assisted in assaulting the High Constable, hoping thereby to rescue Reed. Fortunately, Major Noah, a well-known citizen, who happened to be passing, went to the High Constable's assistance, and Reed was disarmed. On the way to the watch-house the High Constable and his prisoner were followed by Stephens and others of the gang, who made several attempts to rescue the prisoner.

Stephens' turn came next. The High Constable, having obtained information that Stephens was one of the gang of forgers, accompanied by his son, at an early hour of the morning, went to the house where Stephens was known to live. Upon the latter refusing to open his door in response to the summons of the High Constable, the latter broke it in. Stephens was ready, pistol in hand, to repulse the officers of the law. As he was about firing at the head of the High Constable, young Hays knocked the pistol out of the hand of the forger, he was secured and restrained from inflicting bodily injury on his captors.

The third Man (Hollgate) remained at large. He was subsequently arrested (not by the High Constable), or at least a man who was taken for Hollgate was arrested, and in good time was arraigned for trial. This man's name was Redmond, and he kept a hotel in Pearl Street. His description tallied exactly with the description given of the third forger. Redmond pleaded his innocence. He was, however, fully identified as one of the forgers by a man named Ware and a Mr. Ebbitt, who was cashier and teller of the Union Bank of this city. The case had just been given to the jury, all the evidence pointing to Redmond's guilt, when High constable Hays, who had all along strenuously maintained that Redmond was not the right man, brought into court the real culprit, Hollgate. Hollgate manufactured children's toys, and kept a store in Chatham Street. It was then proven that Redmond was falsely accused, and his innocence being established, he was released. He never recovered from the blow, however; his business was ruined, and he died soon after, it is said of a broken heart. The cashier who swore to Redmond's identity with the forger Hollgate, also took his trouble to heart and his health broke down, and it was long before he recovered it. Hollgate, Reed and Stephens were convicted and sent to State prison. Hollgate was the exact counterpart of the unfortunate prisoner, Redmond.

A brutal murder, accompanied by the robbery of the victim, shocked the community about the year 1820. The man was captain of a sailing vessel. One day he was found dead in Coenties alley, corner Water Street, with a hole in his temple. The identity of the murderer was at first wrapped in mystery. A man named Johnson, who kept a low sailor's boarding-house, and with whom the dead man boarded, was suspected as the guilty party. He was arrested by the High constable, as he (Johnson) was coming out of the Trinity Church. The body of the victim was awaiting burial at the Rotunda in the City hall Park. Thither the High Constable conveyed Johnson. Johnson was brought to the side of the murdered man. Suddenly the cloth was removed, and the High constable exclaimed in the ear of the trembling prisoner: "Look upon the body; have you ever seen that man before?" "Yes, Mr. Hays, I murdered him," was the startling reply. Johnson, who made this statement in the presence of several witnesses, subsequently denied it upon his trial, but on the scaffold he confessed his guilt. The day of his execution was a great holiday, for the populace. The gallows was erected in Twenty-sixth Street, near Cedar Creek.

Mr. R. M. Blatchford, a well-known lawyer of this city, rented a cottage in Bleecker Street. At that time Bleecker Street was beyond the city limits. One morning, when Mr. Blatchford returned home after a brief absence in the country, he found the house in disorder. Thieves had broken in in the night and carried away articles of value. Mr. Blatchford's new suit of clothes had been appropriated; and an old suit (evidently the suit had been discarded by the thief when he donned Mr. Blatchford's clothes) was left on a chair. The robbery was at once reported to High constable Hays. Upon examining the old suit of clothes that had been left behind, the High constable said: I know the man these clothes belong to. He came from Baltimore to this city two weeks age." Following up the declaration, Mr. Hays dais, still addressing himself to Mr. Blatchford: "I have reason to know this man; his hair is as red as blood. If you wait here (In the High Constable's office) for half an hour I'll get him for you." To the astonishment of Mr. Blatchford, the High Constable, who had hastily departed, return within the time mentioned, bringing with him a man whose hair was "as red as blood." The man in question was dressed in Mr. Blatchford's stolen clothes.

The interesting document on the opposite page is a fac-simile of Jacob Hays commission as High Constable, which shows that there was not so much printer's ink or elaboration of detail in the make-up of the official documents in those days.

AS another evidence of the intimate knowledge the High Constable possessed of criminals and their way, and his marvelous memory of faces, the following story will not be found inappropriate:

One Fourth of July, upon the occasion of the usual patriotic assemblage in front of the City hall, while the City Fathers and the Mayor were reviewing the procession, the High Constable surprised Alderman Stillwell (afterwards Lieutenant-governor of the State),. By a request to hold his (the High Constable's) staff. In answer to the puzzled Alderman's inquiring looks, the High constable hastily said: "Please hurry, there is a man out there in the crowd who answers a description I have in my pocket of a man for whose arrest there is offered a reward of five hundred dollars." The High constable then disappeared in the crowd, and in the next moment returned, holing a tight grip on the suspect, whom he marched to the Bridewell. The prisoner proved to be the man for whom the reward of five hundred dollars had been offered.

The late Commodore Vanderbilt used to tell a story of his relations at one time with the sturdy High Constable. Commodore Vanderbilt, in his early career, was captain of a steamboat, the boat being owned by a Mr. Gibbons. The boat was run on the North River in opposition to the regular line, which was operated by the Livingston family, who had a "patent" to run the steamboats on the North River. The Livingston's had procured an order of the Court (corresponding to an injunction) to restrain the Gibbons' boat, as operated by Commodore Vanderbilt. High Constable Hays was entrusted with the service of the order of the court, an d in his usual unruffled manner, told the Commodore that discretion in the present instance, at least, was the better part of valor. "I was mad enough," the commodore was wont to say in later years, "to defy the whole Livingston tribe, old Hays included, but when I got a glimpse of his calm and smiling face, and a twinkle in his eye, which, singularly enough, said as plainly as words could express it; 'If you don't obey the order of the court, and that damn soon, I'll make you do it, by G--," concluded to surrender. I didn't want to back down, however, too hurriedly, and I said that t if they wanted to arrest me, they should carry me of the boat; and don't you know, old Hays took me at my word, and landed me on the dock with a suddenness that took away my breath."

To illustrate the extent to which Mr. Hays' fame had spread, the following may be related:

Colonel James B. Murray while once in London witnessed quite a riot. He got on an eminence, the better to see the conflict between the mob and the police. After a good deal of fighting the tumult was put down, and the ringleaders arrested. Addressing himself to an Englishman, also a spectator, colonel Murray said: "Why, I've come from a city where one man would have put down that riot." "You must have come from New York then," was the response, "as that's the only place where such a thing can be done."

The Common Council, by joint resolution, on April 31, 1836, tendered their thanks to High constable Hays, "for those persevering and efficient services in again securing those notorious and dangerous forgers, Smith and Vandergriff, who recently made their escape from the City Prison."

Mayor Lawrence, in transmitting this resolution to the High Constable, express his sense of appreciation of the services to Mr. hays as follows:

"I will embrace the present opportunity to return to you my thanks for your vigilance in every case which as come under my notice, and for the readiness and alacrity with which you have discharged the duties of your office."

Mr. Hays was equally noted for his benevolence and philanthropy. While he never compromised with felons or law-breakers, he never took any illegitimate or unjust means o secure their conviction. He was firm, but moderate in all things. He was, too, possessed of a high order of intelligence, and was, besides, distinguished for his zeal and incorruptibility. His treatment of criminals was conspicuous by its entire absence of malice, or a desire to serve his own official ambition at the expense of the misfortunes of others. No man hated crime or criminals more than he; no man would go farther to bring guilt home to such criminals, and no man was more unrelenting in the discharge of such duties. On the other hand, when outraged justice had been vindicated by the conviction of a prisoner, should such a prisoner manifest a genuine desire to reform, the stern official was replaced by the humane citizen; and in every way consistent with the ends of justice and his own integrity, he was always willing to stretch forth a helping hand to the fallen, desiring that his erring brother should go in peace and sin no more. But he set his face, like flint, against professional criminals, big and small, and lashed them without pity or mercy, until they were driven from the city, or confined within the walls of a jail.

He died in the seventy-eighth year of this age, full of honors, and his funeral was attended by all the leading city dignitaries. His remains rest in Woodlawn Cemetery.

An oil painting of the High constable, by Shegogue, which was painted in accordance with a resolution of the Common Council, hangs in the Governor's room at the City Hall.



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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