Portsmouth N.H. Police History 
An American Law Enforcement Story
* 1632 - The first group of settlers living on the banks of the Piscataqua are living in relative peace. The Pirate Dixy Bull (also called the Dread Pirate) and fifteen known associates pay a visit to the area around Piscataqua all the way to Pemaquid (present day Bristol, Maine area) and commit several acts of piracy along the seacoast stealing jewelryly, crystal and silver from the residents. Not having Police, the settlers fit out four pinnacles and shallops and with 40 men set out after the Pirate and his crew. The pirates escaped capture when a storm arose scattering the pursuing fleet. 

*1648 – The first New England hanging of a person for witchcraft was in Charlestown, Mass when Margaret Jones “possessed so much malignity, that if she touched a person in anger, however slightly, it produced convulsions, or other disorders, attended with violent pains”. Portsmouth would have its first witchcraft incident in 1656 with the Goodwife Walford. Witchcraft and evil spirits were part of the hue and cry of the area in 1682. Molly Bridget was a fortune teller and self proclaimed witch. She was an inmate in the local poorhouse and was thought of as the cause of some of the evils of the day. When the tavern glass windows of George Walton were broken by hot stones thrown by an invisible hand, Molly Bridget was thought to be a Lithobolia or ‘stone throwing devil’ and the source of this spell. Sometimes there would be strange whistling, sometimes the sounds of a trotting horse and sometimes a boat anchor would suddenly be cast overboard into the water, all without explanation except for Molly Bridget being thought of as the source. When cheese was removed from the press only to be crumples that fell upon a floor, Molly Bridget would be blamed.  When hay bales mowed near the house would blow into the wind and scatter about the house, Molly Bridget would again be accused for these seemingly natural occurrences.  It is no wonder then that when some pigs got sick, Molly Bridget would be blamed. There was an order to remove and burn all the wood chips in the pig sty to kill the wickedness that they contained. As the chips burned brightly, Molly could be seen rushing from room to room in a state of frenzy further proving to the community that Molly was indeed a witch. The tips of the pig’s tails were then ordered to be burned to remove any last signs of wickedness but the pigs had escaped never to be found again. As the pigs ran away and the flames subsided so did Molly’s ‘vitality’, and when the pig sty fires were dead, so too was Molly Bridget. This of course provided that last piece of evidence to the community that Molly Bridget was what she had always claimed to be; a witch. This was 35 years BEFORE the famous witch trails in Salem Mass. 

*March 16, 1654, the townspeople had selected their first constables who had the full power to collect fines, taxes and to run unwanted people from the town limits in compliance with a practice called “warning out”. There are several documented instances where the constables forced people out of town if they did not post a bond to prove they had the means to be productive citizens of the community. One year the families of John Kelley, Peter Harvie, John Reed, and Mis Stocker were summoned by the constables to attend the selectmen’s meeting to explain why they had strangers in their homes without selectmen permission. John Kelley explained that his strangers were actually his wife and 2 children but he was still forced to give bond for them which he promised within the week. Peter Harvie said his guests were his sister and her two children and he was made to promise to give security as well. Reed and Mis Stocker have no written explanation but it was documented in the selectmen’s record that they agreed to post a security bond. Also at this hearing, the constables were told to warn Thomas French and the wife of Nicholas Hodgon of being in town too long without permission. Goode Chasely was also given “but a fortnight from this day” to leave town “being no inhabitant”. These constables were also responsible to resolve land boundary disputes and to call into questions those who breached the peace. Our first police officers were Mr. Briant Pendilton, John Pickringe, Renald Fernald, Henry Sherbon, John Jackson, Mr. Batcheldor and James Johnson.

* September 25, 1662 the town records of Portsmouth show an order to make “a cage or some other means be made to punish those who sleep or take tobacco on the Sabbath”. 

*  On July 24, 1671 a cage 12 feet square with stocks and a pillory was built from the west end of the meeting house. (South End Newsletter, Caren Hanssmann Spring 2000).

* Sept. 17, 1800 - One of the earliest recorded murder investigations to the young United States is in Portsmouth when Charles W. Taylor, a German born cooper (one who makes or repairs wood barrels and tubs), killed his entire family before turning the gun upon himself. Taylor began the day by killing a hardware merchant on Market Street and then going to his home at 8 Islington Street shooting his 3 daughters, Caroline age 14, Maud age 13, and Bertha age 11, before killing himself. (Source: Seacoast Online and Melanie Asmar)

* Jan 2,1850 the Portsmouth Police Department is officially formed by the townsmen. They appoint 22 men to serve as watchmen patrolling South to the South School House, North to the North Hay Scales, West from Cabot Street to Islington Road and then to the Mill Pond. Andrew J. Beck is named the first City Marshall.

Before this, Portsmouth as far back as 1654, was policed by a Sheriff, Constables or Tythingmen. There are also accounts of ordinary citizens enforcing laws by bringing suspects they had caught doing an illegal act direct to the Justice of the Peace.

The Marshall in 1850 is paid $200 per year and each officer given a $50 per year salary. 

*1890- The Board of Police Commissioners report that it did not have enough police badges to go around, that guns carried were the size of "gatling guns" or the same quality as a 4th of July shooter. They required that all guns be the same and all officers show proficiency in their practice. The City Marshall's badge... was not owned by the city and one was purchased for $3.50. All officers were required to be in
regulation uniform and report all he saw or heard along his beat in writing to the Captain of the Watch. Three officers were assigned to the day watch. The Commissioners recommend that the Police Officer task of turning off the gas street lamps end because it "is easy for any evil disposed person to watch when the officer makes his rounds at eleven o'clock; which is the hour designated for turning off the lights; to follow the officer as he extinguishes them, and thus learn the exact locality and route he follows night after night..."

*  1864- City Marshall Emery A. Dresser asks the City Council for more pay to the Police Officers noting Portsmouth has 120 drinking saloons, 30 houses of ill fame and the numbers are on the increase and 3 police officers are only being paid $50.00 per year. He wants the pay to be increased to $600-800 per year. -- This seems to be a step in trying to stop police corruption because the police would be taking payoffs from the brothels to supplement their paultry income. 

* January 1, 1898, New Years Day, the Portsmouth Herald reports in the Police column “THE OFFICERS EXPERIENCED THE TOUGHEST NIGHT OF THE WINTER SO FAR. Last night was a corker for the police officers who were forced to travel around though the sleet and rain with the nastiest walking they have experienced so far this winter. They were kept busy also dodging snow slides and broken limbs from trees. But two arrests were make during the evening…both sailors who created a disturbance at Philbrick Hall during the dance and were arrested by Officer Murphy. Six lodgers were taken care of at the headquarters last evening and helped Captain Marden shovel off around the city building this morning.” 


All views contained within this publication are those of the author, Dr. David J. Ferland, and is not intended to be the views and opinions of the Portsmouth NH Police Department. The purpose of this web site is for the entertainment of its visitors and all rights have been reserved. No use is permitted which will infringe on the copyright without the express written consent of the copyright owner. 
Copyright 2009-2015 by Dr. David J. Ferland, DavidFerlandK9@gmail.com
Early Portsmouth Harbor
Copyright 2009 -2013 by Dr. David "Lou" Ferland

1883 parade being led by the Portsmouth Police. 
Parades in Portsmouth continue to this day to be led by the Police.