Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 5, Part 3

By Holice and Debbie


The battery is an open space at the southwestern extremity of the city, situated between State Street and the bay. It is so called because part of its space was, in the early settlement of the city, occupied by Fort James, and much of the remainder was a battery to strength the fort on the water side. Military parades were frequently held here. In former days, when the Battery was a fashionable pleasure ground, on the fourth of July, and other national holidays, there was usually a martial and brilliant exhibition of the regiments of artillery, and the other uniform troops, upon the ground. The walk was open to all citizens. Here they might enjoy the fresh breezes from the bay and the shade of the trees every afternoon of the summer, and receive refreshments. In still earlier time, Battery park was a favorite resort for the old Dutch settlers and their families.

Says Washington Irving: "The old Dutch burghers would repair of an afternoon to smoke their pipes under the shade of their branches, contemplating the golden sun as he gradually would sink in the west, while the young men and the damsels of the town would take many a moonlight stroll among these favorite haunts, watching the chaste Cynthia tremble along the calm bosom of the bay, or light up the white sail of some gliding bark, and interchanging the honest vows of constant affection. Such was the origin of the renowned walk, the Battery, which, though ostensibly devoted to the purposes of war, has ever been consecrated to the sweet delights of peace."

Nor was the enchantment of this scene continued to the time of the Knickerbockers. As represented by the accompanying engraving, from a rare old print, the Battery, in comparatively modern times, drew within its precincts, by a more irresistible attraction, the young men and maidens of a by-gone generation. "The favorite walk of declining age; the healthful resort of the feeble invalid; the Sunday refreshment of the dusty tradesmen; the scene of many a boyish gambol; the rendezvous of many a tender assignation; the comfort of the citizen; the ornament of New York, and the pride of the lovely island of Manhattan,"--such was the encomium bestowed upon it by an enthusiastic writer. In view of the present uses of Battery Park, this is very melancholy reading; it sounds like an obituary.

Mayor Brady, in his annual message, May 11, 1847, stated that the new Police system had "failed to met the just expectations of the community," and recommended to the Common Council the propriety of memorializing the legislature to abolish the then Police Force, "which affords so little protection to citizens and their property, more especially at night," and suggested the advisability of the establishment of a Night-Watch to consist of one thousand two hundred men, or a virtual return to the old Watch system. He estimated that, allowing to the Night-watch the sum of one dollar and twenty-five cents per night, the expense of maintaining such an establishment would be less annually by upwards of one hundred thousand dollars, while additional security at night would be insured from the increased number of men on duty, "and all the duties of Day police would be as efficiently performed as now."

The Chief of Police reported to the Board of Aldermen that although the nominal force of the Police, under his control, comprised nine hundred men, there were but six hundred and fifty fit for ordinary duty, and that during the three months ending January 31, 1847, the actual loss of service of Policemen from sickness and suspensions amounted to six thousand one hundred and seventy-two days, being an average of sixty-seven men each day; and as there were forty-two me on day stations who did not perform duty during the night, the number actually available for night service could only be five hundred and sixty-one men, but on-half of whom were on duty at a time. This system, notwithstanding was supported at an annual expense of four hundred and seventy-nine thousand dollars for salaries only.

The change did not seem to work well. There were still grumblings and discontent. The force at this time, it was admitted on all hands, was a long way from being "the finest in the world." An opinion prevailed that it would have been far better for the public at large to have left things as they had been. In fact there was a cry for a return to the old Watch system. Chief Matsell came to the front in vindication of his command, and by a comparison of the systems, tried t make it appear hat the one of which he was at the head was by far the superior of the two. He quoted figures to prove that while the old Night-Watch employed more men, they did not afford as good Police protection as the force hat had succeeded it. But this did not diminish the popular discontent, and the cry continued for a change in the law.

Mayor Havemeyer, in his annual message, stated that "the defect which was most prominent in the system was the appointment of Policemen for a single year." Their term of office being the same as that of the Aldermen, Assistants and Assessors, who appointed them, there was danger, the Mayor thought, that the whole system would be involved in the incessant strifes and annual changes of parties, and its agents precluded from the experience and independence which were indispensable to their usefulness. "this evil, if I were to continue, constituted," the Mayor said, "a strong objection to the plan, but might be remedied by the legislature extending the time of application."

Acting upon the Mayor's suggestions, the committee on Police, etc., recommended that application, in the usual form, be made to the legislature for the passage of an Act amending the Police Acts, passed May, 1844, and 1846.

As opposed to this attack on the new regime, a minority report of the Committee on Police, Watch and Prisons, undertook to vindicate the existing Police force, and denounced the effort that was being made to restore the old Watch Department, together with Day Policemen and Marshals. "If we adopt the Watch Department as recommended," (quoting from the minority report aforesaid) "we virtually re-establish the old system, with all its objectionable features of fees, inefficiency and corruption.. We sacrifice all the advantages of experience concentrated in the Police, and which had been attained by close, constant and long continued application; we invite, again, the disorder, riot and crime, hat formerly prevailed here, and which still disgrace the cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia. The influence which now restrain the young from the commission of crime, and detect the hardened offender, will be withdrawn, and scenes of personal violence and outrage, in the several Wards of the city, remain unrebuked and unpunished." For these reason it was concluded that the unconditional repeal of the law would be "replete with danger to the best interests of society, and in violation of enlightened public opinion."

The Franklin House, one of the finest residences in the city, stood on the corner of Cherry Street and Franklin Square. The dwelling was selected as the official residence of President Washington, in 1790. The engraving represents this historic mansion as it appeared in 1850.

Provision was made, on July 16, 1847, for placing cots in station houses for the accommodation of lost children. On the seventh of September following, three rooms were set apart for the occupancy of persons not committed for a criminal offense. In November the pay of Doormen was increased from seven dollars a week to one dollar and twenty-five cents per day. On the thirteenth of January of the succeeding year the Common Council directed that two physicians e employed at a salary of one hundred dollars each per year. One of these physicians was stationed at Essex Market, and the other at Jefferson Market

The expense of cleaning the city prison, and the employment of persons for that purpose, while prisoners were idling their time in cells, aroused the indignation of the city fathers, and they directed that the keepers of the prison should select five inmates daily, and compel them to do the chores.

The law was changed by act of the legislature (march 30, 1848) "in relation to Justices and Police Courts in the City of New York," by a division of the city into six Judicial Districts, a Justice to be elected I each district, the abolishment of the office of Assistant and special Justices, and the election of six Police Justices to serve for four years.

The ordinances which divided the city into three district (June 16, 1845) was amended on may 6, 1848, by the addition of a Fourth District, as follows:

First District--First, Second, third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Wards.
Second District--Eighth, Ninth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Wards.
Third District--Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Wards.
Fourth District--Twelfth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Wards.

In each of the foregoing district there were established a police Court and office,. The business of the Police officers already established in the Halls of Justice, Centre Street, at Jefferson Market and at Essex Market, continued to be conducted there, until otherwise directed by the Common Council. The Police office for the Fourth District, newly created, was located at the Police station house in the Eighteenth Ward.

A squad of nine Policemen was detailed at Chief Matsell's office in the basement of the City hall, to act as Inspectors of Stages, of Carts, of Hacks, Junk-shops, and Pawnbrokers.

Day stations of Policemen were designated "where citizens in the neighborhood of the stations who require the services of a Policemen, can always find one on duty, from sunrise to sunset." One such station was established in each Ward. Fourteen Policemen were detailed as Bell-ringers at the several district fire alarm bells, while others were detailed for special duty at the various Courts, superior Courts, and Marine Court. Others again were detailed as Street Inspectors and Dock Masters.

The station houses were located at the following places:

First Ward

Franklin Market-up-stairs

Whole force


Second Ward

60 Gold St.



Third Ward

38 Robinson St.



Fourth Ward

31 Roosevelt St.



Fifth Ward

48 Leonard St.



Sixth Ward

Station house (Tombs)



Seventh Ward

Pike and South Sts.



Eighth Ward

Prince and Wooster Sts.



Ninth Ward

Jefferson Market



Tenth Ward

Essex Market



Eleventh Ward

Union Market



Twelfth Ward

House of Detention, Harlem, Bloomingdale and Yorkville



Thirteenth Ward

Attorney and Delancey Sts.



Fourteenth Ward

Centre Market



Fifteenth Ward

220 Mercer St.



Sixteenth Ward

Twentieth St., between Seventh & Eighth Aves.



Seventeenth Ward

Third ST. & Bowery



Eighteenth Ward

Twenty-ninth St., between Fourth & Fifth Aves.



A squad of Police were detailed as Bell-ringers at the several district fire alarm bells, namely, City Hall Cupola, three men; Central Market, nine men; Jefferson Market Cupola, three men; Eighth District Station House Cupola, two men; Tenth District Station House Cupola, three men. Besides these there were the following details: two Scriveners at the office of Chief of Police; two Inspectors of Stages; two Inspectors Hacks; one Inspector of Pawnbrokers; on Inspector of Junk-shops and Second-hands; one man to the office of the Commission of the Alms House; and one Physician, who was also appointed a Policeman. There were also other details, as follows: Nine Policemen to the Courts of General and Special Sessions; Four to the Circuit court; five to the Common Pleas; five to the Supreme Court; one to the Marine Court. Policemen were detailed as Street Inspectors of the various Wards, and one Policeman as Dock Master, for each of the following Wards: First, third, fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth.

The set of printed rules and regulations issued to the force was in September, 1848. They were drafted by Chief Matsell and William McKellar, who was Matsell's chief clerk, and, generally speaking, "guide, philosopher and friend." These rules and regulations made up a handy little book of about ninety pages. When issued, it was received with amazement and alarm by the men. The inscription on the fly-leaf of one of these books, now in the possession of Captain Bennett, and evidently written by the particular Policeman to whom it originally belonged, is as follows: "A Policeman would not live one year if he acted up to these regulations." This sentiment voices the opinion of the whole force whom the book was designed to instruct in their duty. And yet this little primer looks very simple and east contrasted with the complicated, voluminous, and formidable digest of the laws contained in the present manual.

Mayor Havemeyer, in a preface to this book of rules and regulations, says: To this department, the most important of our city government, is entrusted the interest of the whole community--the safety of their persons, the security their property, and the peace and good order of the city."

The instructions cannot be mentioned but quite briefly. Each member of the department was obliged to wear the emblem of his office on the outside of the outermost garment over the left breast. Members of the force should, when on duty, conspicuously display their star (shield) or emblem of office. The Captain of each Patrol District divided the Policemen of his district into two equal parts, to be known as the first and second platoon, which were commanded respectively by the first and second Assistant Captains. The Captains also divided his district into night and day beats, and designated the Policemen who were to patrol the same; and, in like manner, established two or more day stations, in order that citizens might at all times during the day obtain the aid of Policemen when needed. The beats and stations were numbered. At any alarm of fire it was the duty of Captains nearest the scene of the conflagration forthwith to proceed to the same with one half of the number of their Policemen off duty, and to diligent in preserving order and protecting property. A similar course should be adopted by the Captains in case of riot, which he should use vigilance in suppressing.

The prevention of crime being the most important object in view, a Policeman's exertions, the rule maintained, should be constantly used to accomplish that end; and by his vigilance, to render it extremely difficult for any one to commit crime on his beat.

In 1848 an amended charter was granted to the city, by which the day of the charter election was change from the second Tuesday in April to the day of the general election in November, the term of office to the commerce on the first Monday of the ensuing January. By the provisions of this charter, which was to take effect on the first of June, the Mayor and Aldermen were to hold their offices for two years, while the Assistant Aldermen were to be elected annually as before. The city at this time consisted of eighteen Wards, an addition one having been created in 1845. Another was added in 1851, and the number was increased to twenty during the course of the following year.

The Act of May 13, 1846, was amended on April 11, 1849, but the changes thereby effected were not a radical nature. The tenure of office of the Chief of Police was made the same as that of the Mayor, and for thirty days thereafter. The tenure of office of Captains, Assistant Captains, and Policemen, was changed from two years to four years, from the date of their appointment. The section which referred to the compensation of Policemen was not affected by the amendment further than that their pay should not be increased or diminished during the time for which they were appointed.

The Astor Place Riot, in this year, grew out of the rivalries and jealousies of two tragedians of different nationalities: Edwin Forrest an American, and James Macready, an Englishman. Each actor was filling a short engagement at different theatres in the city. to protect Mr. Macready, who was threatened with mob violence, a strong force of Police was stationed within the Astor Place Opera house, and another force of Police and Military were put on guard outside. The destruction of the building was threatened, and the lives of those within were consequently endangered. The audience and Police alike were hemmed in and could not get out. The mob was growing in numbers and desperation rapidly. In this emergency the military guard delivered their first volley of shotted musketry into the mob, killing twenty-two and wounding forty.

Chief Matsell in his quarterly report, April, 1849, gave utterance to this sentiment:

"It affords me pleasure to be able to state that the discipline of the department has been steadily improving during the past year; and it may be fairly anticipated that , under the operations of the amended law, the department will become what its original projectors intended it would be--an efficient organization for the prevention and detection of crime."



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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