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George, George and More George or The Genesis of American Law Enforcement in New York City

©Copyrighted 1999 Michael E. J. Bosak

” New York, April 9, 1783″ – Yesterday at Twelve o’clock, the following Proclamation was read by the Town Major [officially], at the City Hall; a great number of inhabitants attending.


“By the King, a Proclamation, declaring the Cessation of Arms, as well by Sea as Land, agreed upon between His Majesty, the Most Christian King, the King of Spain, the States–General of the United Provinces, and the United States of America, and enjoining the Observance thereof.”


And so the beginning of the end of British rule, and the enforcement of its laws by the British Army in the City of New York began. How fitting that the chief British law enforcement officer, the Town Major, would read King George’s Proclamation to the people.

The Preliminary Articles of Peace with France and Spain had been signed in Paris on January 20, 1783 and the British Army would now prepare to extract itself from policing the City of New York, which it had basically policed since officially implementing occupation in  1776. (Note: British Marshal Law in New York City was formally ordered on April 19, 1775.  (1)

Britain’s Army, Navy and city authorities from this day forward physically began removing themselves and “His Majesty’s Loyal Subjects” to Nova Scotia and Great Britain. Vessels from many different parts of the United States began arriving in New York, now that the port was opened to ships of the American flag. Over 9,000 Loyalist began leaving the city in the first wave.

On May 6, 1783 General George Washington and Sir Guy Carleton, “General and Commander in Chief, of all His Majesty’s Forces within the Colonies” met at Tappan, New York to discuss the enforcement of the laws in N.Y.C. under this treaty. Gen. Washington accused the British of violating the treaty; in that they were failing to adequately enforce the civil and criminal laws in the city, and that many Loyalists were misappropriating much property belonging to the Americans. Gen. Washington demanded restitution. The British said the treaty only restricted them from carrying property away, but did not have provisions for the returning of the property already taken. They then refused to make restitution.

Desertion and unruly mercenary soldiers in the city now also became a major problem. German Hessian soldier had begun tearing down fences and pews in churches for firewood. Windows were broken and vandalism occurred widely. In an effort to stem this tide of disorder, the British offered a “Free and General Pardon” to all non-commissioned officers and private deserters from the Hessian Troops in North America. Unfortunately this didn’t work – crime increased.

In addition to the troubles of the many Hessian deserters, the disorderly and the unemployed Loyalists, on June 9, many units of the British Army began disbanding, while other units were reduced. Soldiers that were once gainfully employed were now discharged and out of work. Most discharged soldiers choose to return to Great Britain or accept transportation to Nova-Scotia, Scotland or Ireland, while others for various reasons choose to stay in the city. Those that choose to stay in New York were given only the clothes on their backs, back pay and bounty, and fourteen days “subsistence”. Furthermore, many army units assigned to enforce the criminal law and public order in the city were disbanded or reduced. Moreover, they all were given orders to embark for Nova Scotia or Britain. British Army Marshal law was about to go under.

Things were to get so bad that on the 29th of August, 1783 Oliver DeLancy, the Adjutant-General of the British Army issued an order that, “No person under any pretext whatsoever, shall presume to demolish any Stone or Brick Building or removed any part of the materials of which such building is composed, even though he be the proprietor thereof, nor shall he take down or remove the materials of any wooden house or building…” The panic was starting to set in. Many people had little to eat. One unfortunate loyalist wrote, “The meeting houses are in a most deplorable conditions, the receptacles of filth and nastiness. Except theft and pilfering, there is very little business carried on at present.” Panic and uncertainties was setting in. Another scribed, “No news here but that of evacuation. This is hourly talked of, and occasions a variety of physiognomic, laughable appearance, – some look smiling, others melancholy, a third class mad.” Looting became common.

The temperament of 1783 New York was very much alike to that of the fall of Saigon when it fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, with the exception of the cruelty and brutality displayed by the conquering army. For there was no love lost between the Loyalists and the city’s American Patriots, since many had been cruelly imprisoned or displaced by the British and had had their homes seized in the name of King George.

Even General George Washington became concerned, for on August 31, 1783 he wrote, “Whatever my private sentiments as an individual may be respecting the violent policy, which seem in some instances to be adopted, it is not for us, as military characters, to dictate a different line of conduct. But I should suppose the encouragement you have given to those British and foreign soldiers, who have been discharged, that they would be permitted to remain in the country, was very unexceptionable and proper…” [It] “will probably be productive of altercations with the civil powers, and at the same time involve us in very disagreeable consequences in many other respects.

The righteous now began taking action. For on October 4 an anonymous letter from New York stated, “The City of New York has lately been much infested with robbers; insomuch that fifteen of them were at one time last week taken up. – Notwithstanding this, scarcely a night passes without a robbery. – The inhabitants have formed associations for a nightly watch.” [Emphasis added]The embryonic birth of American Law Enforcement in New York was being achieved.

New York’s first governor, George Clinton, also expressed his concern for the well being and security of the citizens in New York City. In a letter dated the14th of October 1783, Clinton wrote to Washington. “We have as yet no certainty when the British will leave the southern district of this state, though all accounts agree that their stay will not exceed the 10th of next month. As my correspondence with Sir Guy, since your Excellency left this quarter, has ceased, I am something apprehensive that he may not give me timely notice, as he promised to do in his first letter, for the establishment of the jurisdiction of the State over that district on his departure; and disorder will consequently take place, before measures can be taken by the State to prevent them. I would wish, therefore, that the troops on the lines in Westchester [present Bronx] County might have orders to move to the neighborhood of the city the moment the British leave it, and, if there should be no impropriety in it, be subject to my direction while they remain there.

“And I would be much obliged to your Excellency, if you will be pleased to inform me by express (the expense whereof the State will cheerfully pay), of the first advice you may receive of the time proposed by Sir Guy for his departure”

In response, Washington ordered Major General Henry Knox, whose American Army Headquarters was occupying the town of East Chester, to prepare to move into the city and establish order the minute the British departed.

In the last week of October word was received in the city from Boston that the “Definitive Treaty of Peace” had been signed in Paris on September 3. Gov. Clinton then issued a Proclamation that the inhabitants of the southern area of the state should, “yield due obedience to the laws of this State, and to be vigilant in preserving the public peace and good order”

The patriots wisely thinking ahead had made provisions for preserving the peace and good order in New York City. For four years earlier, on October 23, 1779 New York State had passed an act to “provide for the temporary government of the southern parts of the state whenever the enemy shall abandon or be disposed of the same.”. This act declared “that measures should be devised for apprehending and securing all offenders, until they can be brought to trial in due course of law.” Therefore troops were authorized to “apprehend, and confine in close custody, in such place or places as he shall appoint for the purpose, all persons who shall commit any felony, riot, breach of the peace, or other offence or misdemeanor whatsoever, after the passing of this ordinance.” This act was printed in the local patriot newspapers and on hand-bills, and then distributed to the patriots throughout Westchester, Manhattan, Richmond and Long Island.

Even with this New York State law in place and the word out prior to the final evacuation of the British, George Washington was still concerned. While waiting in “Haerlem” on November 22, 1783 for the final British evacuation and formal surrender of New York, he wrote another letter to Sir Guy dealing with just that very difficulty of establishing a civil government and maintaining the good order.

On November 25, 1783 Major General Knox for Washington took possession of the city at 12 noon. A proclamation was issued, part of which was directed to the enforcement of the laws and the maintaining of order.


“The Inhabitants are hereby informed, that Permission has been obtained from the Commandant, to form themselves into “patroles” this night, and that every order requisite will be given to the guards, as well to aid and assist, as to give protection to the patroles: And that the countersign will be given to Thomas Tucker, No 51 Water Street; from whom it can be obtained, if necessary.”

And so the formal enforcement of order and the criminal laws under these United States, and the crude apparatus to do so formally went into effect on the night of November 25, 1783. All other enforcement of order and the criminal laws prior to this moment was done under the supervision and direction of a foreign government – the Dutch Netherlands or Great Britain.

Things went so well under the American authorities as to the enforcement of the criminal and civil laws in the city, that Gen. Washington wrote the following to the Hon. Thomas Mifflin, President of Congress on December 3, 1783: “On the 25th of November the British troops left this city, and a detachment of our army marched into it. The civil power was immediately put in possession, and I have the happiness to assure you, that the most perfect regularity and good order have prevailed ever since.”

American law enforcement under a “Watch System” in New York City was now an established fact. And the genesis of the germination of the New York Police Department had been successfully established.

Blacks and Blues – A Story of Courage and Compassion

Copyright © 1999 Michael E. J. Bosak All Rights Reserved


The West 35th St. Police and the Civil War Draft Riots – July 1863:


Dedicated to: Ptl. Edward Dipple – 25th Pct. (Broadway Squad)
Ptl. Peter McIntyre – 29th Precinct
Ptl. John T. Van Buren – 8th Precinct
Ptl. John Starkey — Central Office

All Fatally Wounded Bravely Discharging Their Duty – New York Draft Riots, July 13 through the 16, 1863
“Among freemen there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet, and they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost.”

- Abraham Lincoln, August 26th , 1863

Tuesday, the 14th of July 1863, was one of those hot sweltering days of midsummer when any kind of bodily exertion is an ordeal. For the patrolmen of the West 35th Street Station things were not going well. With insignificant sleep, most of the 58 men of the 20th Precinct (today’s Midtown South Pct.) had been constantly on the go since Monday morning when the Draft Riots started at 46th Street and 3rd Ave. The men were responding here and there, without rest, to lynchings, looting, arson, and murderous assaults by mobs of rabble south of 57th Street.

With only one sergeant and a handful of patrolmen left to safeguard the station house, 216 black orphans, none over the age of twelve, had taken refuge at 212 West 35th Street on Monday afternoon, when the Colored Orphan Asylum was burned down. That number quickly swelled to over 400 blacks by nightfall with the elderly and defenseless seeking the shelter and safety of the station house. Furthermore, things were now about to go from bad to worse. That afternoon, the Central Office (Police Headquarters) received a telegraph message from the 16th Precinct, “Colored children are now at the Twentieth, and the crowd say they are coming to sack the building.” A mob of evildoers was now going to attempt to put the torch to the station house, and vent its rage on the defenseless blacks taking refuge on 35th Street along with the handful of defending police. This battle would result in one of the finest moments in the history of the policing of New York City. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to go back to the beginning and the facts leading to that fateful event.

It was now the third year of an extremely bloody war and the draft for the most part was opposed by most of New York’s poor Irish, for the wealthy could buy their way out of serving their country for $300. Moreover, confusion and rumors helped Southern sympathizers to visualize an advantageous insurrection in NYC. In June, most functioning militia units within 150 miles of New York had been summoned to the seat of the war – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania– to help stop the advancement of the Confederates and Robert E. Lee. Essentially, this action stripped the city of any backup in case of large civil disorders. The battle of Gettysburg had just ended in Union victory, but communications and intelligence were poor in July of 1863..

Furthermore, the Metropolitan Police were short patrolmen that July. The department only had a total of 1452 patrolmen to police the City of New York. The 133rd Infantry, New York Volunteers, better know as the “Metropolitan Police Brigade,” made up entirely of New York and Brooklyn police officers, had assaulted the breastworks and gun emplacements at Port Hudson, resulting in the Confederate surrender of that city. In their “Union Blues” with Metropolitan Police buttons affixed to their uniforms and fixed bayonets, they had proudly stained the Louisiana Red River clay with their crimson blood and earthy perspiration. (A noteworthy story about great people, better left to another day to give those brave officers their deserving respect and esteem.)

The draft started innocently enough on Saturday, with a large number of men randomly selected at the 9th District Provost Marshall Office, 677 3rd Avenue. But by Monday morning, thousands had assembled in the vicinity of 46th Street and 3rd Avenue. The detail was then increased from one and twelve to 60 patrolmen at the enrollment office. Everything was in good order until about 10 a.m. when “The Black Joke”, Engine Co. 33 of the New York’s Fire Department arrived on the scene from West 58th Street. The company was composed exclusively of men known as “roughs” – freehanded, daring, turbulent, volunteer firemen, ready for what they called a “muss”. Several had been drafted, and they telegraphed the 19th Precinct on East 59th Street, announcing that they were going to burn down the draft office. And burn it down they did, along with half the block! At half past ten, somebody fired a pistol shot in front of the building and a storm of stones broke the windows of the draft office and pummeled New York Finest. A scene of furious brutality followed.

The first serious victim of the riot was the Superintendent John A. Kennedy (today’s rank of Chief of Department). On his way to 3rd Avenue, he was beaten so badly that he was almost unrecognizable. Covered with blood and mud, he had his clothes ripped from his body. In fact, when he was removed to Police Headquarters at 300 Mulberry Street, Thomas C. Acton, the President of the Police Board (today’s Police Commissioner) didn’t recognize him and ordered him arrested. He remained in critical condition until well after the riots had been put down. Other police officers were hunted down and severely attacked. One was even thrown from the roof of a building. Over the next four days, scores of police officers would be brutally beaten, shot, stabbed and stomped senseless.  Four would die and two station houses, the 18th Precinct , at 325, East 22nd Street  (22nd Streeet & 1st avenue), and the 23rd Precinct on East 86th Street were turned into ashes and rubble.

The rioters, who had started out as groups of lawful citizens protesting the draft, were now joined by “thieves, burglars, pickpockets, incendiaries and jailbirds of all descriptions in the neighborhood.”

Two of the first things the rioters did was sack and burn the Armory on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 21st Street, and then repeat the dirty deed around 4 p.m. at the “Orphan Asylum for Colored Children”, 44th Street and 5th Avenue. They gleefully and indiscriminately hunted down blacks and police officers alike. However, the defenseless blacks, by far, would receive the worst of it. Young, old, male or female – it didn’t matter. Those that could be found and caught were beaten, set on fire, or hanged from trees or lampposts all over the city. Later that night the rioters torched the 23rd Precinct’s station house on East 86th Street near 5th Avenue. It, too, burned to the ground.

Which now brings us to Tuesday afternoon and one of those marvelous moments that rarely occurs in time. A moment when true heroes stand tall and perform their duty in the face of over whelming adversity. To the police officers of the West 35th Street Police Station, this would be that defining moment.

At approximately half past twelve in the afternoon, the West 35th Street Arsenal came under heavy attack by a riotous mob seeking guns. Other mobs were sacking and burning a hotel on 11th Avenue and a large feed store at 9th Avenue and 29th Street. Then at half past two, the 22nd Precinct (today’s Midtown North) reported that a company of infantry from the 10th Regiment, New York Volunteers, had been overrun at 10th Avenue and 44th Street. It also reported that this mob was now heading for the West 35th Street station house to burn it down and kill the blacks taking refuge there.

Ten minutes later the West 35th Street Station telegraphed the Central Office, “We expect to be attacked. Shall we fight to the bitter end?” A minute later, they received this potent telegraphic answer from 300 Mulberry Street – “Fight”

Like many other heroic acts performed day in and day out by New York’s police officers, not much is known of the fight. The New York Times reported that the few officers inside the station house barricaded the doors and windows. They also reported the mob made seven charges against the station house and never succeeded.

There was no bitter ending that July afternoon on West 35th Street for either the strong or the weak. For the police, the duty was arduous and responsible, and it was performed with vigor and fidelity. The officers acted with courage and ability. For this one time, good had prevailed over evil, and the mostly destitute black refugees were saved to face another day.

Written and Researched by Retired NYPD
Sergeant Michael E. J. Bosak
Police Historian – Memorial Lodge 100, Fraternal Order of Police
Copyright © 1999 Michael E. J. Bosak All Rights Reserved

“Let Them Not Be Forgotten”