Flashback Friday: 19th century Police


Ever wonder what it was like to be a policeman in the 19th century, where your best weapons were your fists and your wits?

Sometimes the best way to look at a historical period is to take a close look at their challenges, and how they were addressed.  How about crime?  

Let’s look at the police force of Hartford, CT, and the interesting (and sometimes desperate) situations in which the policemen found themselves.  Snippets of the original accounts are presented here in order to convey the ethics, priorities, and humor of the time.  Enjoy!

Source information:  Historical Sketch of the Police Service of Hartford, 1636-1901

Captain Cornelius Ryan
A tough and resourceful policeman, Capt. Ryan found himself in a few tight spots:

Cornelius Ryan, Captain

(Gotta love the dry humor of the above passage).


Then there was the time Capt. Ryan was accidentally locked in with the prisoners overnight (the door only opened from the outside, and he was on duty alone).  According to reports, he went into the lock-up room to break up a fight.  Captain Ryan:

And, oh, those pesky females!

The males weren’t the only demographic that posed a challenge for the police:


What a rich passage – plenty of favorite phrases to go around (“Amazon” is a worthy contender, don’t you think?  “Totties and Lotties” is another favorite).

Sophie Lyons, shoplifter, pickpocket

Thanks for reading,

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9 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: 19th century Police”

  1. worstprofessorever.comworstprofessorever.com

    Nice post! If I were still teaching, I'd totally highlight this as a way to understand primary sources (viz. incorporating them in a meaningful way rather than using Wikipedia). And can I just say I love that the Cornelius was 'in' during the nineteenth century!

  2. Jill KemererJill Kemerer

    I'm so glad I found your blog! I love late 19th Century facts and love books set in that time. Brenda Joyce had an amazing series several years back that followed a socialite turned amateur detective. Loved it!

    These clippings made me laugh. Talk about scrappy women!

  3. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    As always, educational! I can always count on you, Kathy.

    Is it just me, or does Capt Ryan look like the Capt of the Titanic? Sorry, maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet today.

  4. Stacy GreenStacy Green

    What a great idea! Very cool to read the news stories and see just how much reporting has changed since then in addition to police work.

    And I agree with Tiffany, Captain Ryan does look like the Titanic Captain!

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