The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart's long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Today, Hart writes about early policemen and life on the beat during the 1700s. This column excerpt originally was published Nov. 11, 1991.
Keeping peace, law and order has always been the lot of the local police department. Needless to say, much has changed through the years in the way that has been accomplished.
For instance, in the Stockade days of our founding fathers, the settlers themselves handled the task of keeping order. Tap room brawls might have been the most flagrant disorders, and they were settled in a back lot.
By the mid-1700s, there came a general outcry for authority to maintain order and to discipline those who did not obey. Night watchmen were appointed at meager salaries but with the honor of being a police justice.
They walked the streets at night, carrying a five-foot staff and an oil lantern. They were obliged to be on duty from 9 p.m. until daybreak. And at every hour of the night, they announced the time in an audible voice.
A watch house was provided for the imprisonment of all offenders, something that was rarely used. According to our records, the most stringent task of the night watchman was to see that all young people below the age of 15 had abided by the curfew bell at 9 and were safely in their homes. He also had to be alert for possible fires or a loose cow wandering through the street.