The first record of a constabulary in Lynn is a reference to a 1636
drunkard, John Markes, who was arrested and put in stocks under an oak tree on the Common.
The records of 1643 describe a "watch" being established to be certain
that the residents of the town were rising and going to bed at appropriate hours. One hour
before dawn two men would begin walking from the east and west ends of town, continuously
blowing horns to waken the citizens. If there was no sign of life in any house, the
residents were reported.
Constables were present in the town throughout the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, although, as a 1947 Item article
declares "... the dignity of a regular police force in Lynn was not reached until the
incorporation of the city, in 1850...."
Located in the old Town Hall until it burned in 1864, the police force originally
consisted of twelve men headed by a City Marshall.
Police duties in the 1850s were less frantic than they later became,
for Henry Fenno suggests in Our Police (1895), Lynn was fundamentally a quiet and
orderly town. In the second mayoral inaugural address of 1851, George Hood relates that:
...few violations of city ordinances have occurred, and those, in most cases, were
from want of knowledge of what was required, owing to their recent adoption.
When the Great Shoemakers' Strike began in 1860, the greater part of
unrest occurred at the beginning of the strike, and it arose out of the confrontation
between workers and the outside police brought in from Boston. Fenno states that
"There was little violence... a wonderfully small amount considering the interests
Even so, night patrols were established at that time. When Knights of Crispin struck in
1872, revolvers were issued to eighteen policemen for the first time in Lynn police
history. It was not until the end of the Civil War that the department was issued official
uniforms, blue, with high blue caps which were later replaced by black helmets.
When the new City Hall was completed in 1867, the Police Department
was assigned quarters there. By 1880 beds were installed so that the police could be on
call both day and night. In 1881 the first police wagon was introduced.
1890 brought the police their own Central Station located on Sutton
Street. Later Station Two was opened, and the police served West Lynn from there until
1910 when it was closed and the policemen there were reassigned to central quarters. In
1894 there were sixty police in Lynn, along with the City Marshall, one captain, two
lieutenants, and one sergeant. In addition the force contained two inspectors of police as
well as a clerk, a keeper of the lock-up and a commitment officer.
From the 1850s onward, annual city police reports listed the number
of people arrested, their crimes and their nationalities, this latter information becoming
more and more diverse as the century passed. By far the overwhelming majority of arrests
were for drunkenness in this stronghold of Temperance reform. In 1881 the City Marshall
carries the evils of drink one step farther when he states:
The one great cause of crime is the use of intoxicating drinks, and when the voice
of the people is lifted against this traffic, that is scattering ruin broadcast, then an
important step will be taken towards the prevention of crime.
Some aspects of crime prevention never seem to change, for the
Marshall also reported that only a small fragment of the work accomplished by the police
appears in the report.
The large amount of complaints investigated has a tendency to
prevent farther trouble. Many of them are made in the heat of passion, and it requires
considerable judgement and not a little patience, on the part of the officer sent
to investigate, to smooth the troubled waters; but in most cases he is successful and
trouble in families and between neighbors is settled without resorting to the courts.
The city was not without its share of sensational crimes,
however. Fenno reports that in the police headquarters of the 1890s there was a
"cabinet of horrors" kept to remind the public of brave police deeds through
various artifacts such as chisels, "steely bright blades, with blood rusted on hilt
and crusted on handle...," hemp rope, a bottle of chloroform, saws and hatchets.
Probably the most astonishing story accompanied a dirk, placed significantly in the center
of the cabinet. A Lynn resident killed his wife with this butcher knife, then ran through
the streets, followed by an ever growing crowd until he was cornered at Rock Pasture above
High Rock. A police officer rushed forward to subdue the agitated man. The murderer
stabbed the policeman thirty-six times, not once managing a fatal blow, before the City
Marshall shot him dead.
Throughout these years the police used horses and patrol wagons to
aid the sick and victims of accidents and to provide support to firefighters. They also
moved prisoners in these vehicles. Lynn administrators were slow to adopt the automobile
for police service. In 1901 the chief of police began requesting an "automotive
ambulance," but it was not until 1910 that a Knox ambulance was added to the
horse-drawn police vehicles. Two motorcycles followed in 1911, and, after years of
unsuccessful requests, two five-seated Ford automobiles were purchased for the force in
Annual reports after the turn of the century indicated that the
major issues police dealt with remained the same: drunkenness, gaming, assault and
battery, and vagrancy, with an occasional sensational murder or disorder thrown in. Some
of these crimes were ascribed to the "floating population," those without homes
and families, and some was simply considered the result of a rapidly expanding population
and the tension and crowding which resulted. The police department expanded with the
population, endeavoring to maintain order in what had become a major industrial city.