Historical sketch of the police service of Hartford, from 1636 to 1901, from authoritative sources. Illustrating and describing the economy, equipment and effectiveness of the police force of to-day. With reminiscences of the past, including some notes of important cases online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryUnknownHistorical sketch of the police service of Hartford, from 1636 to 1901, from authoritative sources. Illustrating and describing the economy, equipment and effectiveness of the police force of to-day. With reminiscences of the past, including some notes of important cases → online text (page 1 of 11)
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Police Service of Hartford

From 1636 to 1901






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Samuel Wakeman, Constable, the First Police Officer — Duty, Caring
for Lost Animals and Lying Children — First Prison House Built
for Ten Pounds — Protection Against Indians and Wild Animals.

The pioneers of Hartford, under the lead of the Rev. Thomas
Hooker, were on the ground and beginning preparations for the
coming winter, November 9, 1635. The little group of settlers
were God-fearing men and women, brought into the wilderness
of those days expressly to lead the sort of religious life they
chose, and such a community did not feel the need of a police
officer. So it happened that there was no officer of the law in
Hartford until April 26, 1^36, not quite six months after the
settlement. Then it was that, in connection with other officers
of the new settlement, Samuel Wakeman was chosen con-
stable, and he was the first man to do police duty in Hartford.
His duties were not largely connected with caring for the crim-
inal class, for there was none, but in viewing fences, in carry-
ing out orders of the Selectmen, and in seeing that public wor-
ship was not disturbed either on Sundays or *' lecture '" days he
was kept fairly busy. The office was by no means deemed to
be of small importance, and the oath he took before entering
upon his official duties was most solemn and impressive. It
read :

" In the Great and Dreadful Name of the Everliving God,
1 hereby solemnly swear to preserve the Publyke Peace of this
said place and Commonwealth and will doe my best endeavour
to see all watches and wards executed and to obey and execute


History at Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 7

all lawful commands or warrants that may come from any mag-
istrate or court, so help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ."

It was not possible, however, for Samuel Wakeman to pre-
serve order among Indians, and during the very year he was
appointed constable a vote was passed to this effect:

" It is ordered that there shall be a guard of men to attend
with arms fixed and two shots of powder and shot at every
public meeting for religious use with two serfants to see over
the same."

Tims it was that the forefathers protected themselves from
outride interference by Indians, while Samuel Wakeman, con-
stable, cared for the civic disturbances, such as they might be.
Constable Wakeman had some duties to perform which would
be decidedly novel to the average policeman of these days. If
any person appeared in excess of apparel it was his duty to warn
such person to appear before the court, where he would either be
fined or reprimanded. He was also under orders to look after
all unemployed persons who would not work at rates fixed by
the town and see that they were imprisoned, quarters having
been provided for them. The community of Hartford in those
early days was essentially socialistic, and would be called so in
these davs, and fixed rates of wages were maintained by the
town, and no man could refuse to work for the price and no
man could refuse to pav the price to those he employed with-
out incurring the displeasure of the court and receiving punish-
ment. It was no era of idleness, and there was something
doing all the time. The early records have many regulations
about stray cattle and hogs, and about fences, and the early con-
stables had fully as much to do in the line of warning owners
of these animals to care for them and seeing that fences were
kept to the proper state as prescribed by the law-making body
as in any other line of duty.

It was the duty of the constables of those early days to see
that lying children received due correction at the hands of their


Justice of the Town Court.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut . 9

parents, or to refer their " grievous crime " to the authorities ;
to collect five shillings fine from all persons who remained away
from church ; to bring all persons to the magistrate who con-
temned God's word or His messengers, where they were to be
fined five pounds and required to stand upon a block or stand,
four feet high, upon a " lecture day " with a paper affixed, saying
" An Open and Obstinate contemner of God's Holy Word."

Whipping was a common resort for minor offenses, and it
was done at the cart's tail upon a " lecture day," that is, a day
other than Sunday during which there was religious instruction.
The constables were not required to do the whipping, however,
the punishment being inflicted by those who had been publicly
corrected themselves. They did not set rogues to catching
rogues, but rogues whipped other rogues and probably enjoyed
it and considered it as a rebate for some of their own punish-

Branding was a common form of punishment, and those who
were detected and convicted of burglary or robbery in fields or
highwavs had a letter " B " branded upon them, the " Scarlet
Letter." If the crime was committed on a Lord's day the crim-
inal was to lose an ear ; a second offense entailed the loss of the
other ear, and a third offense was punishable with death.
Forgery was punishable by the pillory or stocks, and profane
swearing by a fine of ten shillings or by punishment in the stocks.

Notwithstanding the great number of petty offenses, which
would not be considered as crimes in these times, the com-
munity of Hartford did not feel the necessity of a jail until
1640, when a prison house or place of correction was ordered
built, and William Rescew received ten pounds sterling for
building it. It stood not far from what is now the southeasl
corner of State and Market Streets, probably on part of what is
now the site of the American Hotel. Daniel Garrett was the
first jailer.


The First Police Judge in Hartford.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. i 1

It was necessary in those first years to have special officers
to perform police duty in ridding the section of wild animals,
and in 1639 Nathaniel Ely and Thomas Hosmer were appointed
to " improve men for the killing of woolfs, either by hunting or
shotting," and in [640 Learance Woodward was authorized to
" spend his time about killing wolfes," and he was to receive
four shillings and sixpense a week for his encouragement, " but
if he kill a deer we are to have it at two pense a pound."

The constables were in charge of the " watch " in those days,
which was of a different character from the " watch " of later
years. It was the duty of the watch not to remain up all night
and to assist in preserving order, but to be awake at an early
hour and. by the ringing of a bell, to awaken all the householders
in the community, and if a light was not seen in any house that
had been thus aroused by the bell within half an hour there-
after the householder was subject to a penalty. This made the
people an " early-to-rise " community and gave them oppor-
tunity to set about their daily toil in ample season to perform a
good day's work, winter or summer.

Such were the general conditions of early Hartford and its
needs of men to perform police duty, and the first century of the
town's existence went on in much the same way. Police duty,
not then known as such, was performed by constables, the many
laws which tended '* to the improvement " were executed by
them, the courts caring for the offenders after the constables had
presented them. It was on the whole a quiet community, but
there was a great deal to do in keeping that peculiar and strict
order for which our forefathers were noted.


The only surviving member of the first Police Board.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 13


Watch and Patrol to Guard Against Fires — No Powers of Police Men-
tioned in the First City Charter — Wards and Watches Established
in 1797 — First Systematized Effort to Patrol the City.

There is no indication in the records of the second century
that the Hartford people felt the need of any further police duty
than that afforded by the constables. The French and Indian
War and the Revolutionary War, with all the agitation preceding
and coming after them, occupied the attention of the people to
the utmost, and local affairs cared for themselves very well. At
public executions the train bands or militia were called out to
preserve order, and on occasions of state these train bands did
much the same service that our police of these days performs.

The first charter of incorporation of Hartford as a city, in
May, 1784, made no mention of the powers appertaining to a
police. The town, which held its power in such matters, con-
tinued to elect constables, and they were the officers of the law,
for both town and city. There was. however, a City Court or-
ganized, and the mayor and two aldermen were constituted its
judges. Civic cases came before them. There was a great fear
of fires, probably on account of prevailing wooden construction
of buildings and of the lack of means to extinguish fires. Con-
sequently steps were taken to organize a " watch " to patrol the
city from 10 o'clock at night until 5 o'clock in the morning, " to
look out for fires and for suspicious persons." This was the
first organized force of men to perform patrol duty in the city.
It was at the State House on March 6, 1797, that the Court

Present Judge of the Police Court.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 15

of Common Council, with Jeremiah Wadsworth, senior alder-
man, presiding, appointed Major Thomas Y. Seymour and Eph-
raim Root a committee to draft a by-law for " Wards and
Watches." Cater in the same day, the committee having per-
formed its duties, the adjourned Court of Common Council met
at the house of Joseph Pratt, innholder. and there, amid the
genial surroundings of a public house of those times, and un-
doubtedly cheered and invigorated by such refreshments as this
famous landlord knew how to provide, the following bv-law
was passed :

" A by-law regulating Wards and Watches.
" Be it enacted by the Mayor, Aldermen, Common Council, and
Freemen of the City of Hartford in legal meeting assembled :

" That the Court of Common Council for the city of Hart-
ford have power and they are hereby directed as soon as may he
to inroll all such male inhabitants of said city who in their
opinions are suitable persons to stand watch.

" And the said Court of Common Council shall have power
and are hereby directed to divide said city into watch wards,
and to appoint officers of the wards and to give said officers such
orders as they shall deem necessary.

"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that
the said Court of Common Council shall have authority by
themselves or to empower officers of the wards to call out said
inrolled inhabitants, at such times, in such mode and number
as the said council shall judge expedient, to serve as watchmen
within said city.

"And the said Court of Common Council shall have power
and authority to make regulations to enable the watch to take
up all persons that are out of their houses after certain times oi
the night, under such restrictions and exceptions as the said
Common Council may deem expedient, and to make all other
provisions and regulations for the security of said city thai sail!
council may deem necessary.

"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, if any
person shall refuse to stand watch when called upon by the said


Chief of Police from 1860 to 1871, and 1875 to 1!

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 17

Council, or by the officers of the watch wards, under the order
of said Council, or to procure a substitute to the satisfaction of
the officers of the watch wards, he shall forfeit to said city the
sum of one dollar and fifty cents to be recovered by the attorney
of said city and applied to the purpose of hiring a watch.

" And all the regulations and orders of the said Common
Council made by them under authority given them by law shall
be binding and obligatory on all persons living and being in this

This action evidently met with the approval of the citizens,
as on March 11, following, the Court of Common Council voted
to appoint a watch against fire, of four persons. George Good-
win. Timothy Burr, Thomas V. Seymour, Enoch Perkins, and
Daniel Jones were appointed a committee to district the city into
four watch wards, and to bring in the names of officers of the

The watch wards were divided as follows :

First ward to be made up of fire wards Nos. 1, 2, and 3.

Second ward to be made up of fire wards Nos. 4 and 5.

Third ward to be made up of fire wards Nos. 6 and 7.

Fourth ward to be made up of fire wards Nos. 8, 9, and 10.

The officers of the wards were James Pratt, Ezekiel Williams,
Ashbel Wells, and Richard Butler. They did not perform con-
tinuous duty themselves, but drew on the inhabitants, one from
each watch ward every night in the week, and from 10 o'clock
at night until 5 o'clock in the morning the streets of the city
were patrolled. The inhabitants were drawn upon in alphabet-
ical order.

The instructions to the watch were that it repair to the State
House and from thence alternately to patrol the several streets
carefully and vigilantly, attending to every unusual or extraor-
dinary indications of fire. Any person or persons committing
any act to expose the city to danger from fire were to be ap-
prehended and brought before the civil authority, and in ease of
fire the watch was instructed to call out all the inhabitants.

Chief of Polics from 1871 to 1875, and 1881 to li

Histoiy of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 19

This was the first systematized effort to patrol the city and,
while the real object was to prevent fires, the duty was as
strictly police duty as that of any of the patrolmen of to-day.
It is not at all certain that this patrol was altogether effective,
as during- the succeeding years the Common Council was often
called upon to enact more stringent by-laws to aid in the pre-
vention of fires.

jtgftl 4hMn

Captain of the Police Force from 1860 to 1871.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut.


It was to Preserve Order as well as to Look Out for Fires — Wore Long
Cloaks and Carried Staff and Lantern — Offenders Handed Over to
Deputy Sheriff— Pay $i Per Night.

The watch as provided by the by-law quoted in the last chap-
ter continued in effective service until 1801. when the Court of
Common Council, on April 16 of that year, repealed the by-law
and enacted a new one, which was broader in its scope and was
intended to establish a watch at night for the purposes of pre-
serving order as well as keeping a lookout for fires. This ordi-
nance or by-law was as follows :

" A By-Law relative to Wards and batches.

"1. Be it ordained by the Mayor, Alderman, Common
Council, and Freemen of city of Hartford, That the Court of
Common Council of said city be, and they hereby are. author-
ized and empowered to cause a Watch to be kept in and for said
city, from time to time, and for such length of time, as said
Court of Common Council shall deem requisite for the safety
of said city; and for the purpose aforesaid, to cause suitable
persons to be employed as Watchmen, at the expense of said

"2. And be it further ordained, That said Court of Com-
mon Council be authorized, from time to time, to appoint one
or more Watch Wardens, whose duty it shall be to superintend
the Watch, and cause the same to be faithfully kept, in such
manner, and according to such regulations, as said Court of
Common Council shall prescribe.

" 3. And be it further ordered. That said Court of Common
Council shall have power and authority to make regulations to
enable the Watch to take up all persons that are out of their






The Mayor and Board of Police Commissioners in

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut . 23

houses after certain times of the night, under such restrictions
and exceptions as the said Court of Common Council may deem
expedient ; and to make all other provisions and regulations rel-
ative to Watches for the security of said city, that said Council
may deem necessary.

" 4. And be it further ordained, That if any watchman shall
neglect faithfully to keep Watch according to the regulations
to be prescribed by said Court of Common Council ; such
Watchman shall, for every instance of such neglect, forfeit and
pay a hue of Two Dollars, to the Treasurer of said city, for the
use of said city.

" 5. And be it further ordained, That all expenses that shall
be incurred in carrying this By-Law into effect, shall be de-
frayed by said city, out of taxes assessed and raised according
to the regulations of a By-Law entitled ' A By-Law relative to
the mode of taxation.'

" 6. And be it further ordained, That the By-Law hereto-
fore made, entitled ' A By-Law regulating Wards and Watches,'
be, and the same is, hereby repealed.

" Passed in Court of Common Council, April 16, 180 1.

" At a legal meeting of the Mayor, Aldermen, Common
Council, and Freemen of the city of Hartford, holden at the
State-House in said city, on the 16th day of April, 1801, the
foregoing By-Law was read and approved."'

The watch as organized under this by-law continued to be
the protection of the city for many years, and there are those
living, and many of them, who remember these patrolmen as
they moved about the streets at night wearing long cloaks, car-
rying a heavy staff and a lantern, and usually accompanied by
a large dog. These men received $1 per night compensation
for their services and were really the first organized and paid

Although the watch as organized in 180 1 was on a some-
what different basis from that first organized, it was particularly
for the purpose of guarding against fires. It was not until 1812
that the men of the watch were instructed to arrest all offenders


History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 25

and hand them over to the deputy sheriff or constable. The pay,
as we have seen, was $1 per night, but there were orriy twelve
pay nights in the year, all suitable citizens having to perform
duty or provide a substitute. So many citizens did not care to
serve as watchmen that they readily contributed their $12 yearly
to some other person, so that it came about that the watch duty
was performed by a limited number of men, who depended upon
others, and upon voluntary subscriptions and fines for non-
attendance to watch duty, for their pay. In 1820 the watch was
increased to five men and Jeremy Hoadley was the captain, that
is, the man who directed the movements of the watch and saw
that a sufficient number of men were assigned each night.

Police Commissioner.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 27



Jonathan Hartshorn and His Dog — Curfew Law in Force and All Per-
sons Out after Ten O'Clock at Night Sent to Lockup — Negro Riot
in 1824 — $5 Awarded to an Officer for Bravery, Refused.

The first lockup was on Meeting House Square, now City
Hall Square, but for some years such lockup as there was was
in the rear of Jeremy Hoadley's shop, where he made hats. On
the morning after arrest the offenders were arraigned before
justices of the peace and fined or sent to the county jail, as
was deemed best.

Police justices had jurisdiction in minor criminal cases until
the establishment of the Police Court in 185 1, and grand jurors
continued to be the prosecuting officers until a prosecuting at-
torney was appointed, no longer ago than 1875. The volun-
tary system of paying for the watch continued until 1822, when
the city laid a one mill tax to defray its expenses.

In 1826 the captain of the watch was Jonathan Hartshorn,
and he was noted for owning a remarkable dog with the singular
name of " Argus," or the spy. This dog seemed to have a gift
for police duty, and on one occasion discovered a person in a
Main Street alleyway who appeared to be of a suspicious nature.
Examination proved the person to be a woman in male attire
who had escaped from the State Prison at Wethersfield. She
was promptly returned and the dog received the credit for the
capture and was regarded as a wonderful animal. " Argus "
was afterwards poisoned by some one who failed to appreciate
his sagacity; it is supposed by some offender he had detected in
some wav or other.

Police Commissioner.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 29

The powers of the watchman were often arbitrary, and he
administered punishment summarily without the interference of
a justice of the peace. Josiah Hempstead, who performed day
duty only about this time, would arrest some unfortunate, shift-
less fellow and, handing" him over to a constable or deputy
sheriff, would say : " Take him to the workhouse for forty
days." This was decidedly summary but also very effective, and
the miscreants kept well out of Josiah *s way. Curfew tolled at
9 o'clock in the evening and persons out of doors after 10, unless
they could give some good excuse, were detained in the lockup
until morning. A good excuse was, going for the doctor, re-
turning from other towns, or the necessity of business opera-
tions. No other excuses would serve the purpose.

Jonathan Hartshorn, who is mentioned as captain of the
watch in 1826, was also entrusted with the guardianship of a
negro named Caesar who was to be hanged for murder. During
the night previous to the day set for the hanging, the negro
broke out of his cell and. with a heavy iron bar wrenched from
his cell door, was in the corridor of the jail, determined to es-
cape. He attempted an attack on Hartshorn, but the captain
was a man of splendid nerve and absolutely fearless. He ad-
vanced towards the negro and in a stern voice commanded him
" Don't you strike! Put down that bar! " The negro hesitated
for a moment, quailed, dropped the bar, and was taken back to
his cell. For this deed of bravery the city voted Captain Harts-
horn the sum of $5. which he refused to accept, returning it to
the treasury, saying that he had but done his duty. Such was
the character of men who performed police duty in the early
part of the century, fearless, and having a high consciousness of
their duty to the public peace.

One of the interesting and sensational occurrences con-
nected with the watch was in 1824, when a negro riot of con-
siderable dimensions occurred in " Xew Guinea," a locality near

Police Commissioner.

History of Police Department, Hartford, Connecticut. 31

the corner of Front and Morgan Streets. A member of the
colored community had in some fracas shot a carpenter's ap-
prentice, named Rial Peaster, in the back, so that he died a
few days after. The apprentices raided the house, the negroes
resented it, and there was a great disturbance. Gaius Lyman,
who was a justice of the peace, read the riot act from the steps
of his house, but it had no effect in quelling the disturbance, and
the First Company, Governor's Foot Guard, was called out to
prevent further outbreak. The Guard remained on duty a day
and a night, and, although the apprentices tore down a soap
house in the vicinity, owned by negroes, no further damage was
done. A negro was arrested for the crime of shooting Peaster,
but nothing could be proved against him and the excitement
died out.

Police Commissioner.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryUnknownHistorical sketch of the police service of Hartford, from 1636 to 1901, from authoritative sources. Illustrating and describing the economy, equipment and effectiveness of the police force of to-day. With reminiscences of the past, including some notes of important cases → online text (page 1 of 11)