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First NYC Police Parade, Review and Medal Day Ceremony


The Establishment of the “Honor Legion”

©Copyrighted 2006 Michael E. J. Bosak

” New York, Saturday, May 26, 1855″

The day turned out to be bright, sunny and warm, without being unpleasantly so.  Long before the scheduled 2 pm ceremony, a vast multitude, well over fifteen thousand of New York’s most prominent citizens gathered in City Hall Park to watch the first time ever assembly of almost the entire Municipal Police Department in uniform for a grand review and parade.

City Hall was brightly decked out with the stars and strips, city flags, along with red, white and blue banners and ribbons, all flowing lazily in a light breeze.  Every window was crowded with dignitaries and vibrantly dressed ladies with colorful parasols. Even the roof was jammed with humanity. Many climbed into the trees, and almost every available branch and limb was teeming with humanity.  So much so, that several of the younger tree’s tender branches gave way, abruptly dumping a spectator here and there to the ground.

In the meantime, Mayor Fernando Wood was arranging the dignitaries and elected officials for the review of the Municipal Police.    Among those present were the mayors of Jersey City and Brooklyn, many generals, most of New York’s judges, all of the police magistrates, aldermen, council members, department heads and many foreign dignitaries.

For the mayor and New York’s first Chief of Police George W. Matsell, this day would be the culmination of long planning and many months of hard work. After ten long years, the Municipal Police had finally come into its own. The department, for the first time ever, was now fully uniformed, spiffily dressed in gray pants with 1” black strips, dark blue coats and blue caps.

Moreover, many of its men had performed heroically, some making newsworthy arrests at great personal risk; others under imminent danger to themselves had performed valiant rescues. The ‘Star Police’ were now setting the standards for exemplary and meritorious service to the city.

So acting upon the recommendations of George Matsell, Mayor Fernando Wood decided that it was now time to honor the department and its heroes.
To do this, Wood and Matsell decided that there should be a grand parade and review with a ceremony to honor the finest of the ‘Stars’ for “Heroic” or “Meritorious conduct.”

Seven deserving patrolmen would be awarded silver ‘medals of merit’ at this ceremony and would be the first members of the department to be inducted into a “Legion of Honor” to be made up of the very finest that the Municipal Police Department had to offer.  Six of the patrolmen would be honored for “Heroic Conduct”, and one would be honored for “Meritorious Conduct.”

To accomplish this honor, Mayor Wood, using his own personal money graciously purchased these first solid silver medals for the department.

So at the Board of Aldermen’s meeting on Wednesday, May 23, 1855, the mayor, acting on the recommendations of Chief George Matsell, introduced a resolution for the above mentioned parade, ceremony and honors.  He also formally nominated the names of those first patrolmen to be awarded these medals and inducted into the ‘Legion of Honor’.

The resolution ratifying the same passed unanimously.

So at 3:00 pm on Saturday, May 26, 1855, to the accompaniment of a 37-piece band and an hour behind schedule because of the huge throngs of joyous spectators cramming the park and its outlying areas, the department’s 22 ward corps, plus its reserve corps – almost the entire Municipal Police Department, over 900 men strong, proudly marched into the park, trumpets blaring and drums beating, ramrod straight and in perfect order.  Each command was led by its captain.

They then formed up in front of City Hall, with the right resting on Chatham Street (Park Row) and the left on Broadway.  His honor, after being notified that all was in order, proceeded to personally inspect the men.

This being concluded, the twenty-three uniformed corps formations, all in a very credible manner, to the accompaniment of music, then wheeled and proceeded to march and countermarch under the command of Chief Matsell.  Very smartly, they executed flank movements and other military exercises that pleased the cheering crowds.

In short order, the surging multitudes proved too much for the men assigned to crowd control.  Vast throngs near the dignitaries on the front steps of city hall rushed forward and obstructed their view and interrupted the ceremony.

The entire force, all 23 corps, was then ordered to form a semi-circle four deep and push the crowds back in order to create a sufficient space to allow for the ceremonies to begin.  This they did in short order, and then with precision and on command turned and faced the mayor and the front of City Hall.

The mayor then complimented the men of the department on their fidelity and trustworthiness.   After that, the ‘Chief of Police’ George W. Matsell then began the ceremony by calling up the six patrolmen present that had been singled out to be decorated and formally installed into the ‘Legion of Honor’ for performing “special services” to the city.

NOTE:  One, Ptl. Swain Lindsey, was incapacitated and confined to his bed. He was unable to attend the ceremony due to the injuries he had heroically incurred performing his police duty.

Just before pinning the medals on each of the patrolmen, the mayor read the accounts of each patrolman’s noteworthy deeds and Matsell pinned the medal on the patrolman’s breast.

The Medals

Each of the ‘Medals of Merit’ being awarded to the patrolmen were all identical. They were all made of pure silver and were hung from a solid blue ribbon.  The medal itself was in the shape of a shield, surmounted by a spread eagle, bearing a scroll inscribed with the first half of the Municipal Police Department’s motto, “Fiat justitia ruat coelum.” The shield itself was decorated with stars and inscribed with the words, “New York Police.” Below the ‘New York Police’ inscription, the second element of the above aphorism, “Partum est Merito”, was extolled.

Roughly translated the first Latin phrase means, “let justice be done although the heavens may fall”, expressing a commitment to do what is honorable or right regardless of the consequences.  The second phrase’s literal translation is: “The duty is deserving,” expressing the thought that police duty or law enforcement in and by itself is meritorious or rewarding.  Putting the two phases together, it expresses the thought, “Let justice be done, regardless of the consequences. The duty in and by itself is the reward.”

On the reverse side, the medal bore the inscription: “Presented to______ by F. Wood, Esq., Mayor, 1855 and 1856.”

As mentioned before, these valuable medals were made out of pure high grade silver and paid for by the mayor out of his own pocket.

Below are the listings of the police officers who were given these medals. Later that night, they were to be the first to be honorably inducted into the New York Police “Legion of Honor” at Lafayette Hall.

The Heroes

Note:  Details, (quotes – “ ”) have been taken from Mayor Fernando Wood’s speech.

Ptl. Franklin C. Doremus – 17th Patrol District – “This officer was called upon on the morning of the 15th of May to quell a disturbance at a lager bier saloon upon his beat on 1st Avenue. He entered the saloon for that purpose, and arrested one of the principal rioters. In attempting to leave with his prisoner an effort was made to rescue him. A melee ensued, in which officer Doremus was dangerously stabbed in the upper part of the chest. The wound penetrated the surface of the lung, three inches from the above, downward. He acted manly, and evinced courage and devotion to duty of a high order.  His life was in imminent danger for some time, but a sound constitution and a temperate life has enabled him to recover.”

NOTE:  Ptl. Doremus was supported by two other officers and was carried up to the podium to receive his medal, “as he has not yet entirely recovered from his wounds.”  My research documents that Ptl .Franklin Doremus resigned from the department on June 26, 1855 unable to perform his duties due to the injuries he had received. In all probability, he most likely died from his wounds at a later date.

Ptl. Thomas Sampson – 18th Patrol District – “This officer has distinguished himself upon various occasions, particularly in saving life.  He has saved four lives within five years. In August, 1854, he rushed into a house on fire in Seventeenth Street, near Sixth Avenue, and rescued a child, while no other man was found brave enough to undertake it.  A distracted mother stood weeping and imploring some bold spirit to restore her child; all refused and skulked away, when this intrepid policeman dashed through the flames and soon placed the child in its mother’s arms.  On the 16th of May last he performed another feat almost equally commendable, in rescuing the child of Mr. J.H. Anderson from death, when thrown out of that gentleman’s carriage on the Third Avenue, immediately under the wheels of a railroad car. In this effort he hazarded his own life, which was saved only by accident.”

Ptl. Jesse C. Kinner – 3rd Patrol District – This officer performed a highly commendable feat on the morning of the 17th of February last, in which he nearly lost his life. He was on detective duty, and observed two suspicious persons before daylight on that morning, at the corner of Broadway and John Street, he watched them until satisfied they were burglars, and there with the intention of robbery.  He then made an effort to arrest them both.  One of them struck him with a jimmy in the jaw, cutting it severely, and the other at the same time cut him on the head with a chisel.  He, however, made a desperate fight and succeeded after a long chase in capturing them both, though suffering much from loss of blood and the injuries he had received. The burglars have since been sentenced to the State prison.”

Note: –  My research indicates that ‘Shadow’ Kinner was an extremely active detective, who was frequently in the newspapers, regularly making really great collars.  At the ceremony and in the newspapers, Shadow Kinner was literally the star of the show. By the way, on the date of the arrest that Kinner was honored for, Kinner was detailed to the ‘Reserve Corps’ as a ‘Shadow’ (Detective – Chief of Police George Matsell’s Office)

Ptl. Thomas Sloney – 10th Patrol District – This officer arrested, on two separate occasions, burglars with stolen property in their possession, with one of which he had a desperate fight, but succeeded in retaining his hold until assistance arrived.  The officer has been recently appointed, which adds much to the affair and his devotion to his duty is additionally meritorious.”

Ptl. Thomas Maxham – 19th Patrol District – “This officer arrested on the 8th of May last, after a long chase, a burglar who had five times broken into the Shot Tower. He found the goods in possession of the robber and took him prisoner.”

Ptl. Swain Lindsey – 16th Patrol District –  “This officer has been for a period stationed on Broadway, opposite the Museum, for the purpose of regulating the stages, etc., when passing that section of the street.  This duty has been performed by him to the entire satisfaction of the Department; it being one for which he was peculiarly qualified. On the 28th of March last while endeavoring to stop a stage, which was proceeding at an unlawful rate, he was thrown down by the horses, and in the struggle to get up unfortunately broke his leg. He is as yet confined to his house and it will be some time before he will be enabled to resume his duties.”

Ptl Thomas N. Hoffman – Reserve Corps -“This officer’s triumphs have been of a more peaceful character. He has distinguished himself in a line of duty which, though less hazardous to personal safety has rendered substantial service.   He is a well-known policeman stationed on Broadway opposite Stewart’s dry goods establishment, who has made himself exceedingly useful to the ladies crossing at that point. His attention to all, and the ceaseless vigilance he displays in the discharge of this duty, entitles him to this memento. Besides, he has been ten years a member of the Police Department without having had one charge against him.”

Post-Medal Ceremonial Festivities

By the end of the awarding of the medals, it was reported that the tide of humanity like the tide of the ocean had relentlessly kept pressing forward, retreating ever so slightly between each of the accolades, until there was only a small narrow area left clear in front of the mayor.

Mayor Wood next praised all the men for their officer-like and gentlemanly appearance, their good condition, excellent drill, and the general correctness with which they had performed the exercises of the department.

The police formations, with a few exceptions (see below), were then formally dismissed by Chief Matsell.

Incidentally, during the many tributes and the mayor’s speech, it was reported that the crowd for the most part remained silent until the very close of the formal ceremonies at which time they then gave out a huge cheer.

Fernando Wood, Chief Matsell, a number of police captains, along with a number of the mayor’s friends and various dignitaries then retired to the ‘governor’s room’ in City Hall for a small reception and refreshments.

A small band provided the music, and the 2nd Ward police provided the entertainment for the private festivities.  Impeccably dressed in their new summer uniforms, the 2nd Ward police smartly performed close order, precision baton twirling exercises with their rosewood batons.

In the meantime the 6th, 8th, 14th, and 15th Ward Corps were detailed to remain in the park until the other commands left. At that point, a large band hired for the entertainment of those still left in the park, struck up some marching tunes and patriotic music, and the remaining ‘star police’ then proceeded to perform various, close order drill evolutions.

After a fitting period of time, those four remaining commands, along with the band then proceeded to parade out of the park in tight formations and smartly marched up Broadway to Lafayette Hall, where they all partook in the police Honor Legions’ first formal dinner.

At the banquet, the patrolmen were formally inducted into the ‘Legion of Honor’.  The president of the N.Y.C. Board of Aldermen gave the dinner’s main speech, extolling the medal winners and the virtues of the department.   All were reported to have had an exceedingly grand time.

1855 Police Terminology New York Municipal Police Department


The Size of the Department: There were 1165 sworn ‘members of the force,’ all male, at the time of the ceremony. Over 900 ‘members of the force’ participated in the police parade and review that day.

1855 Department Ranks:

‘Doorman’ – There was one to each corps. He took care of the cells and other various chores around the station house.    Annual salary – $550.

Patrolman (1011):  He was either a “Star” (Uniformed) or “Shadow” (Detective).  Both received the same salary. However,  by law the uniformed ‘Star’ was required to live in the ward he worked in. Salary was $700 annually, except for those assigned to a detail (Reserve Corps).  They were all paid by law $100 less annually. In other words, if you were on patrol, you got paid a 17% premium for being on the street and going around the clock.  There was no pension or insurance system to provide for a patrolman’s family, should he be killed or disabled in the line of duty.

– None were assigned to patrol commands (police district). All sergeants were assigned to one of the reserve corps’ 21 squads. They were paid exactly the same as a patrolman – $700 annually.

Lieutenant (44) – There were two assigned to each patrol district. – One 1st lieutenant and one 2nd lieutenant – forty-four lieutenants for the whole department.  Annually salary – $800.

Captain (22) - One assigned to each ‘police district’ as its commanding officer. Annually salary – $900.

Uniform: Gray trousers with 1” black strip down each leg, dark blue jacket made of light material with 9 brass buttons, belt, blue cap and black shoes.

Batons: The everyday work baton for both bosses and patrolmen was 22” long and 1¾” thick, made out of rosewood. It has to be noted here that the city watch used locust wood or whale bone prior to the Municipal Police Department’s use of rosewood.  The Metropolitan Police brought locust wood back into vogue after the rosewood batons frequently splintered during the July 1863 Civil War Draft Riots.

Firearms: None of the uniformed members of the force were armed with pistols or revolvers. All police officers were only authorized to carry batons.

The Music: All the bands used by the department that day were brass and drum. In 1855 the ‘Native Americans’ controlled New York City government and anti-Irish bigotry was common throughout the city.  So despite the department being approximately a quarter to a third Irish, the pipes and drums were not to be heard that day in City Hall Park.  Later most of the commands had their own little ceremonies, dinners and festivities to honor their own.  There is no doubt that several of these commands that were predominantly staffed with men of the Irish heritage later proudly paraded through and around their local ward to the wailing of the traditional bag pipes, and partied to traditional Celtic music.

The Department Motto: “Fiat justitia ruat coelum. Partum est Merito.” –was the motto of the 1845 – 1857 NYC Municipal Police Department.

English translation“Let justice be done, regardless of the consequences. The duty in itself is the reward.” When the New York City Municipal Police Department was legislated out of existence and the state controlled Metropolitan Police began to police the city in June of 1857, the old motto went the way of the department and became lost to history.  On June 13, 1873, legislation changed the name of the new ‘New York Municipal Police’ (Established April 5, 1870) to the ‘New York Police Department’, and the motto was codified as, “Fedelis ad Mortem”,English translation: “Faithful unto Death” .

Corps: What today would be called a precinct, in 1855 was called a ‘Police District’. Each district had the same geographical boundaries as the ward it took its number from.  The alderman from that ward recommended to the mayor who should be appointed to that ward’s corps. Patrolmen from that police district or ward were required to be residents of that ward and were appointed for a term of good behavior. Consequently that ward’s corps resembled the ethnic makeup of that ward.  Even though they worked out of a certain ‘Police District’ they would say they were assigned to that (the number) ‘Corps’ rather than say they worked out of a certain precinct. There were twenty two wards in the city, each had its own ‘police districts’ or ‘corps’.

The Reserve Corps: Chief Matsell established the “Reserve Corps” in 1853 as an elite unit of approximately 100 of the best and most competent patrolmen and sergeants.  By 1855 it numbered approximately 150 men.  They were assigned to the chief’s office and other high profile assignments such as detective duty, the courts and various other details, etc.  On occasion, the reserve corps would fly to various areas of the city and were used for duties similar to those performed by today’s Borough Task Forces.

Commands Mentioned at the Parade and Review

Command Location of Station House
2nd Patrol District or Corps 70 Beekman Street
3rd Patrol District 160 Chambers Street
6th Patrol District 9 Franklin Street (The Tombs)
8th Patrol District 125 Wooster Street off Prince St.
10th Patrol District Essex Market (Essex and Grand St.)
14th Patrol District Centre Market  (Centre and Grand St.)
15th Patrol District Mercer St. off Amity St. (W. 3rd St.)
16th Patrol District 20th Street east of 7th Avenue
17th Patrol District Bowery near Third Street
18th Patrol District 34 East 29th Street off Park Ave.
19th Patrol District 8th Avenue, near 48th Street
Reserve Corps Police Hqts. – Basement City Hall

Written and Researched by Retired NYPD
Sergeant Michael E. J. Bosak
Police Historian – NY State Fraternal Order Of Police
Copyright © 2006 Michael E. J. Bosak All Rights Reserved

“Let Them Not Be Forgotten”