Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 7, Part 1

By Holice and Debbie


1857 - 1863

The Law Designating the Mayor, Recorder, and City Judge, Police Commissions, Repealed -- Appointment of Five Commissioners -- The Counties of New York, King, Westchester, and Richmond made to Comprise the New District -- Opposition to the Change -- A Year of Riots and Financial Failures -- The Metropolitan Police District Act Declared to be Constitutional -- The Municipal Police and the metropolitan Police Arrayed in Open Battle -- Intervention of the Military -- The Act Amended by making the District to Consist of the Counties of New York, Kings, Westchester, and Richmond, and the Towns of Newtown, Flushing and Jamaica--The Number of Commissioners Reduced to Three.

Up to the year 1857, with various vicissitudes, as has been set forth in the preceding pages, the city of New York had a Municipal Police force which, on the whole, was inadequate for the duties it was called upon to perform, and did not give general satisfaction. In this year the legislature established the Metropolitan Police District, and for thirteen years the city Police was merged in that body. The charter of 1870 abolished the Metropolitan Police District, and again substituted the Municipal Police, which remained in force until 1873, when the present Police Department was created.

The organization of a Board of Police Commissioners (Act 1853) consisting of the Mayor, Recorder and City Judge, and the extending the tenure of office of the Police during good behavior, were instrumental in bringing about a marked chance for the better in the character and efficiency of the Police. It was, however, found that the judicial duties of the Recorder and City Judge rendered them unable to discharge those duties which devolved on them as Commissioners of Police, and that the power of appointment and dismissal was lodged with the Mayor. The alleged abuse of this power, and the raid increase of population in the cities of New York and Brooklyn, conspired to make a change in the Police organization desirable.

The year 1857 was a disastrous one to New York--a year of mob rule; beginning with civil strife and ending with financial ruin. In the spring of this year the State legislature passed several bills relating to the city, and amended the charter in several important particulars. The charter, and State elections, which ad hitherto been held on the same day, were separated, the first Tuesday in December being fixed as the dale of the former. The most important innovation was the transfer of the Police Department from the city to the State. By the Metropolitan Police Act, a Police District was created, comprising the counties of New York, Kings, Westchester, and Richmond; and a Board of Commissioners was instituted, to be appointed for five years, by the governor of the State, to have the sole control of the appointment, trial, and management of the Police force, which was not to outnumber two thousand, and to appoint the Chief of Police and the minor offices. The Police commissioners were to secure the peace and protection of the city, to insure quiet at the elections, and to look after the public health.

In this instance the changes that were thereby effected were of a radical nature. The Metropolitan Police District included the Counties of New York, Kings, Westchester and Richmond. The Governor, by and with the consent of the Senate, had the appointing of five commissioners of Police; one from the county of Richmond or Westchester, one from Kings County, and three from New York, the Mayors of New York and Brooklyn being ex-officio members of the Board. The officers of the board were a President and a treasurer, the Board being empowered to appoint a chief clerk and six deputy clerks. The Police force was then made to consist of a General superintendent, two Deputy superintendents, five Surgeons, Inspectors and Captains not to exceed forty; Sergeants not to exceed one hundred and fifty; and as many Patrolmen as should be determined upon up the Board of Supervisors of New York, the Common Council of Brooklyn, and the Supervisors of the Counties of Kings, Richmond and Westchester.

The qualifications for appointment on the force were about that same as in the preceding Act, the term of office continuing also during good behavior.

The salaries were as follows: Treasurer of the Board, three thousand dollars per annum; the other commissioners, eight dollars per day, for actual service performed; General Superintendents, three thousand dollars per annum; Deputy Superintendents, two thousand dollars each; Surgeons, one thousand five hundred dollars; Inspectors and Captains, one thousand two hundred dollars each; Sergeants, nine hundred dollars; Patrolmen, eight hundred dollars, and Doormen, seven hundred dollars.

The new Board possessed al the power and authority hitherto conferred by law upon the Board of Police Commissioners of the city of New York, or upon the Mayor, Recorder, and City Judge of said city, as Police Commissioners, or upon the Mayor s of New York and Brooklyn respectively, as the heads therein of the respective Police Departments of those cities, or upon the Aldermen of the city of Brooklyn.

The Chiefs of Police, in the cities of New York and Brooklyn, were designated, respectively, Deputy Superintendents of Police. From and after the passage of the Act, Captains were designated Inspectors and Captains; Lieutenants and Assistant Captains, Sergeants; and Policemen, Patrolmen.

The Police Districts were divided into precincts, without any regard to country of ward boundaries, there being assigned one Inspector, one Captain, and four Sergeants (besides such quota of patrolmen to be thereafter determined) on each precinct. The Board was authorized to establish, from time to time, a station or sub-station in each district for the accommodation of the Police force on duty therein; to detail Police officers to the Police and Criminal Courts, to the public offices of the cities of New York and Brooklyn, the Quarantine and emigration offices, etc., as might be deemed advisable. The board was restrained from suspending member of the force from pay for more than thirty days. All orders and regulations of the Board were promulgated through the General superintendent, who was the head and Chief of the Police force.

The following persons wee first commissioners appointed under this Act:

Simeon Draper,. James Bowen, James W. Nye, Jacob Cholwell and James S. T. Stranahan.

Draper, Nye and Cholwell resigned, and Pelatiah Perit and S. W. Ward were appointed their successors. They in turn resigned, and Thomas B. Stillman, Michael Ulshoffer and Isaac H. Bailey were the next appointees. This resulted in the formation of the following Board of Police:

James Bowen, of Westchester county; James s. T. Stranahan, of Kings county, Thomas B. Stillman, Michael Ulshoffer, and Isaac H. Bailey of New York.

There were three terms of office: one term, for three commissioners, expired on the first day of May, 1858; another term, for two Commissioners, expired on the first of may, 1859. It was determined by lot which commissioners were to serve the long and which the short term. Each commissioner appointed to fill a term succeeding an expiring one, it was provided, should be appointed thereafter for a full term of three years, such appointment to be made from the county in which the vacancy occurred. Any vacancy as Commissioner of Police should be filled by the board of Police for the residue of the unexpired term. The governor possessed the power of removal for cause.

The Police commissioners successively appointed the following as General superintendent: James R. Whitney, Joseph Keene and Welcome R. Beebe, all of whom declined to serve. The board next appointed Frederick A. Tallmadge, who accepted. He served in such capacity from the date of his appointment, May 13, 1857, to April 18, 1859, when Amos Pilsbury was appointed to succeed him, May 20, 1859. Superintendent Pilsbury did not assume the duties of the office until the first of July following, Deputy Superintendent Daniel Carpenter acting as General Superintendent, pro-tem, in the interim. Pilsbury resigned as General superintendent on March 5, 1860.

The Act declared that the Municipal or Local Police of the cities of New York and Brooklyn should be embodied in the Metropolitan force, and that the local authorities should be divested of all control over them after the first meeting of the Board of Commissioners. It had been so confidently asserted by the opponents of the Act that the courts would declare it unconstitutional that doubts were infused into the minds of member of the New York force as to the lawfulness of obeying the orders of the Commissioners. Under these circumstances, and in view of the fact that it was a question of vital importance to the Policemen, the Board refrained from assuming the control of the force until the validity of the law was judicially determined. On the fourth of May, Justice Clerke, of the Supreme Court, affirmed the constitutionally of the Act, and on the twenty-fifth of the month, the Supreme Court, at general term, declared it valid and binding in all parts.

On the rendition of this decision the Commissioners assumed direct control of the Police force. That portion on duty in the city of Brooklyn, with but few exceptions, obeyed the orders of the Board. Of the New York force, fifteen of the captains and about eight hundred of the Patrolmen refused to recognize the authority of the Commissioners, or obey the orders of the General Superintendent. Charges of insubordination were preferred against them, and they were tried and dismissed from the service in conformity with the provisions of the law.

On the fourteenth of May, 1857, in pursuance of a requisition from the Health Officer, Deputy Superintendent Matsell was directed to detail five Patrolmen to guard the public hospitals at the Quarantine from the threatened attacks of incendiaries. He refused to obey the order, and was tried and removed from office for insubordination, and Daniel Carpenter was appointed in his place. Mr. Matsell was soon after restored to duty.

The new Metropolitan Police force, handicapped as they were by the action of the old Municipal body, and legal proceedings, found their hands full in combating public outbreaks and riotous disturbances, as well as quelling the internecine strife that kept two bodies of Policemen in open brawls, to the injury of good government and law and order.

The power exercised by the State Legislature, in respect to the Police, embodied in the Act to establish a Metropolitan Police District, was considered by Mayor wood and his adherents in the light of a usurpation of authority, on the ground that the government of the Police was entrusted to a Board of Commissioners not appointed or selected by those who were taxed for this salaries, and who were immediately affected by the operation of those laws. The Mayor also thought it decidedly objectionable that the State Government, besides creating the Board and appointing its officers, should have also fixed their compensation to be paid out of the city treasury, without a right on the part of the people of the city to regulate or control them in any degree. The Police, the Mayor considered as an army for preserving domestic order in time of peace, just as the regular army protects us from foreign invasion in time of war. "It should be our object," he said, "to elevate the guardians of our lives and property to a position of dignity scarcely inferior to the guardians of national honor." He therefore recommended that the Police, in the designation of its men and officers, and also in their appointment, suspension, trial and removal, should be organized and governed according to like features in our military system, the Mayor to be considered the head of the force. But his arguments proved unavailing, and the Metropolitan district went into operation, fulfilled its mission, and ran its course.

The appointment of the new commissioners was the signal for war. Mayor Wood, who had strenuously opposed the action of the legislature, announced his determination to test the constitutionality of the law to the uttermost, and to resist its execution. He refused to surrender the Police property or to disband the old Police, and for some time the city witnessed the curious spectacle of two departments--the Metropolitan Police under the Commissioners, and the Municipal Police under the Mayor--vying for mastery. After exhausting all the resources of the law to evade obedience to the Act, the Mayor and Municipal government finally caused it to be referred tot he court of appeals. Before the final decision came, blood was spilled. On the sixteenth of June matters were brought to a crisis by the forcible ejection from the City Hall of Daniel D. Conover, who had been appointed Street Commissioner by Governor King, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the former incumbent. The Deputy commissioner meanwhile claimed his right to hold the office, and a third competitor, Charles Delvin, had been appointed by Mayor Wood, who claimed the appointing power. Mr. Conover immediately obtained a warrant from the Recorder to arrest the Mayor on the charge of inciting a riot, and another from Judge Hoffman for the violence offered him personally, and, armed with these documents, and attended by fifty of the Metropolitan Police, returned to the City Hall. Captain Walling (later Superintendent) at first attempted in vain to gain an entrance with one warrant. Mr. Conover followed with the other, but met with no better success. The city Hall was filled with armed Policemen, who attacked the new comers. A fierce affray ensued, during which twelve of the Policemen were severally wounded. The Seventh Regiment happened to be passing down Broadway on its way to take the boat for Boston. It was summoned to the spot, and its presence almost instantly sufficed to quell the riot. Mr. Conover, accompanied by General Sanford, entered the City hall and served the writ on the Mayor, who, seeing further resistance useless, submitted to arrest. The Metropolitan Police Act being declared constitutional by the Court of Appeals, the Mayor seemed disposed to submit, and the disturbance was supposed to be ended.

In the meantime the city had become greatly demoralized. During the civil strife of the Police, the repression of crime had been neglected. Gangs of rowdies had organized, whose purposes wee disorder and plunder. These rival gangs were styled the "Dead Rabbits," and were residents of the Five Points' district; and other was known by the name of the "Atlantic Guard" or "Bowery Boys." These two gangs of rowdies, on the fourth of July and the preceding evening, came into a conflict in Bayard Street, near the Bowery. Sticks, stones, and knives were freely used on both sides, and men, women and children were wounded in the melee. A small body of Policemen, sent to quell the disturbance, was soon repulsed, and several of their number wounded. The rioters erected barricades in the streets, and great consternation prevailed throughout the city. the Seventh Regiment was summoned back from Boston, and the city militia was called out. The riot was not quelled until late in the evening. Six men were killed and over a hundred wounded.

This riot aroused he citizens of the danger of the position, and intensified the prejudice against the Municipal Police, which was accused of abetting the rioters. Vigorous measures were at once taken to organize the Metropolitan Police and secure its efficiency. On the thirteenth and fourteenth of July another outbreak occurred in the Seventeenth Ward. The riot continued for two days, but was finally quelled by the Police.

During the month of November, the apprehension of suffering by persons thrown out of employment because of the commercial reverses, led to the assemblage of turbulent mobs, which menaced the peace of the city, but they were dispersed without resort to extreme measures.

On the seventh of November, Pelatiah Perit, of New York, was elected a commissioner in place of Mr. Draper. Soon after, the board was enjoined from making further appointments, on the allegation that the dismissal of the old force was illegal. The injunction was dissolved on the twenty-eighth of November, 1857, but the opinion of the Judge, delivered with the order of dismissal, in respect to questions which had not been argued before him, admonished the commissioners of the expediency of delaying to fill the vacancies in the force until the rights and duties of the Board were finally determined by a judicial decision. Some parts of the Metropolitan Police District had been seriously disturbed by riotous assemblages, and the necessity of a vigilant Police, extending over the densely populated counties adjacent to and including the city of New York, was strikingly illustrated during the previous summer.

The opponents of the Act resorted to every artifice, which their ingenuity could devise to hinder the commissioners in the performance of their duty. The members of the old force were threatened with instant dismissal by the local authorities if they recognized the orders of the Commissioners. A rival Police was established, called the Day and Night Watch, which patrolled the streets and assumed the duties which devolved exclusively on the Metropolitan Police. Prisoners taken by the latter in the very act of committing crime, were rescued from custody and permitted to escape from justice by the unlawful organized force of the Mayor. The station houses, which by law were transferred to the Commissioners, were withheld; writs issued by the courts were resisted, and were only served when the Police were seconded by men under arms; and in order to destroy the efficiency of the law, the Corporation of New York attempted to reduce the Patrol force to five men.

The station houses were located as follows:

First Precinct

Franklin Market

Second Precinct

No. 49 Beekman Street

Third Precinct

No. 798 Warren Street

Fourth Precinct

No. 9 Oak Street

Fifth Precinct

No. 49 Leonard Street

Sixth Precinct

No. 9 Franklin Street

Seventh Precinct

Gouverneur Market

Eighth Precinct

No. 126 Wooster Street

Ninth Precinct

No. 94 Charles Street

Tenth Precinct

Grand and Ludlow Street

Eleventh Precinct

Union Market

Twelfth Precinct

126th Street near 4th Avenue

Thirteenth Precinct

Delancey and Attorney Streets

Fourteenth Precinct

No. 53 Spring Street

Fifteenth Precinct

No. 220 Mercer Street

Sixteenth precinct

No. 156 W. 20th Street

Seventeenth Precinct

No. 75 Fist Avenue

Eighteenth Precinct

22nd Street near 1st. Avenue

Nineteenth Precinct

59th Street near 2nd Avenue

Twentieth Precinct

No. 212 West Thirty-fifth Street

Twenty-first Precinct

No. 34 East Twenty-ninth Street

Twenty-second Precinct

Corner 8th Avenue & 48th Street




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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