Police Department Historian
Ret. Officer Christina Meyer
See the list of all Historical Chiefs here
The Early Days
- In 1620, King James of England grants New Hampshire to the Plymouth Company who grants Ordiornes Point, Piscataqua and Strawberry Banke (early Portsmouth) to Captain John Mason.
- In May 1653 the name "Portsmouth" first appears when it is incorporated with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- March 16, 1654, 3 men are chosen as Constables by the townsmen of Portsmouth to act as watchman. They are John Jackson, George Walton and Mr. Bachelder.
- 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".
- At a town meeting held on the 22nd of March, 1678, it was voted "that the selectmen at the next meeting appoint some honest men to inspect their neighbors, as the law directs, for preventing drunkenness and disorder."
- On the third of June, 1678, it was voted by the selectmen to name selected citizens of Portsmouth to watch over 10-15 families each that lived within the same neighborhood and to report disorders, idle people, profane swearers, Sabbath breakers and to inspect Public Houses that sell liquor. These men were called "tythingmen" or men who are responsible for the general morals of the community. For more info on Portsmouth Tythingmen and who they were, visit http://seacoastnh.com/brewster/9.html
- January 1764 in Market Square there is a town pump that was also used as a "whipping post". On a cold Friday in January 1764, an unidentified woman was caught hiding a pair of children's shoes under her hood-cloak and leave the store. She is caught by Goodman Newmarch, who lived next door, as she ran away with a witness chasing and announcing her as a thief. She is brought immediately to the Honorable Hunking Wentworth, Justice of the Peace, and the evidence is produced. She is immediately sentenced to be publicly whipped. Her hands are tied and her shoulders and back are bared so the Sheriff can apply the "cat-o-nine-tails". The local newspaper reports the event the next week as follows "Last Friday one of our local female pilferers received a flagellation at the whipping post, who had a great number of spectators to see this good work performed; and it is hoped that others, who so justly deserve it, will soon be brought to the same place to receive their deserts." Credit: Rambles about Portsmouth, Ramble XL, http://seacoastnh.com/
Other Early Police Departments
- In 1835 the Texas Rangers are formed "to combat outlaws and Indians" and become the first Police Department formed in the United States.
- 1845 Boston PD is formed.
- 1845 Philadelphia PD is formed.
- 1849 the town of Portsmouth is changed to the City of Portsmouth by Legislative act of the NH General Court.
- January 2, 1850------The Portsmouth Police Department is formed by the townsmen of Portsmouth. They appoint 22 men to serve as watchmen patrolling South to South School House, North to the North Hay Scales, West from Cabot Street to Islington Rd and then to the Mill Pond. Andrew J. Beck is appointed the first City Marshal by Mayor Abner Greenleaf and paid $200.00 per annum. All Assistant Marshal’s and Constables are paid $50.00 per annum.
The Portsmouth Police Department
- 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)
- In 1808 the term "Police Officer" first appears in Portsmouth, NH records.
- City Marshal Jonathan Dearborn in 1853 writes "It is not uncommon for the Police to discover young boys from 13 to 16 years of age, --- intoxicated-----. There is a need for more police officers in addition to our present numbers.
- 1853 - the Police Auxiliaries are formed with 64 "Special Officers" and are listed to augment the regular officers at a pay from $1.00 to $80.00 per annum.
- Crimes documented during this period of time include murders, assaults, robberies, drunks, fast driving (horses not autos), street walking, illegal sales and larceny.
- 1854 - City Marshal Andrew J. Beck reports "In nearly all cases of vagrancy and when persons have been provided with lodging in the watch house, they were roving, lazy, idle and dissipated, without money or any means to procure the necessities of life".
- 1855 - City Marshal Oliver Hanscom speaks of vice and high crime in his report to the Mayor.
- 1856 - Portsmouth had prohibition laws in place. City Marshal Andrew Beck records a decrease in drunkenness arrests to only "3 persons in a 30 day period after the law went into effect".
- 1858 - Records show 551 arrests, 147 drunks and 29 assaults. Other crimes are
- Assaults on Wives by Husbands
- Throwing stones
- Sliding on the sidewalk
- Sabbath breaking
- Night walking
- Disturbing Schools
- Bathing in public places
- Following Ladies
- Exposing person
- Profane Language
- Crying "Fire"
- Street walking
- Cruelty to animals
- Runaway boys
- Violating lobster laws
- Stealing railroad rides
- Attempt to ravish
- Rude, Indecent and Disorderly Conduct
- Giving away liquor
- 1864 - City Marshal Emery A. Dresser asks the City Council for more pay to Police Officers noting
- Portsmouth has 120 drinking saloons
- 30 houses of ill fame and the numbers are on the increase
- 3 police officers being paid $50.00 per year and wants it increased to $60-80 per year.
- In 1866, then City Marshal J. Horace Kent (the person in charge of the Police Department) wrote to incoming City Marshal Frank B. Johnson "It has been the pleasure of the entire Police Force to uniform themselves in a neat suit of blue with appropriate brass buttons, which adds very much to their appearance and efficiency."
It was customary for City Marshals back then to report to the newly appointed City Marshal concerning the state of the Police Department. We are lucky that they did this and it is preserved today for us to look back upon. Although, they limited the comments to just one or at best a few entries, these tidbits passed on give us a nice window into the past. This is the first entry we have concerning any type of uniform. The first known Portsmouth Police Photo with a uniform is 1906. We do have an original bobbie type hat that was worn by the PPD at that time as well.
- 1877 - Four Tree Island, owned by Charles E. Grey, is used as a "place of entertainment" with Prostitution and cock fighting being the norm. There was a dance hall and a small museum there that housed such things as shoes worn by Jesse James and numerous stuffed animals. Much of this collection was destroyed in a fire in 1906. With a grant from the Prescott Sisters in 1976, Four Tree Island was cleaned up and 4 trees are planted in accordance with the islands name. (Source: Seacoast Online and Melanie Asmar)
- 1886 - Records show the Police Department acting as a mail drop for the Boston and Maine Railroad.
- 1895 - the Portsmouth Police Commission is formed and appointed by the Governor and the Governor’s Council. This came as a result of the local government firing and rehiring police officers every time the local officials changed. Up to this point when a new Mayor and council were elected, they would make their political favorites Police Officers and fire those that did not support them. The decision to appoint a Police Commission to hire the Police was met with disfavor of the established Portsmouth Police Department and for the next year (1895-1896), Portsmouth was protected by 2 Police Departments. The old Police Department refused to give up headquarters located in the City Hall building thus forcing the new Police Department to operate out of the County Jail in Portsmouth. This issue was resolved by the Courts and the Police Commission form survived.
- 1895 - City Marshal Finley R. Butterfield asks the newly appointed Police Commission for "a remedy of existing evil" after 16 women were arrested in the past 3 months and were forced to be jailed in "quarters that are a disgrace to a civilized community".
- 1912 - After nearly 22 years, the practice of parading newly arrived prostitutes through Market Square by the famous brothel owner Mary Baker and her Marcy Street Glouster House (which still stands today) comes to an end. Baker who was rumored to have gold and diamonds in her teeth, would lead these local farm girls as a sort of advertising that there were new prostitutes in town. (Source: Seacoast Online and Melanie Asmar)
- July 5, 1913 - The first female Portsmouth Police Officer, Miss Vera Virginia Bash, is sworn in with arrest powers to help "the citizens of Portsmouth feel assured that she will make the young people of Portsmouth better, morally, physically, and mentally…" She is dismissed just 6 months later on January 3rd, 1914 for reasons unclear although the Portsmouth Herald Newspaper reports "The only fault to be found with Miss Vera Virginia Bash, the young woman who was employed to make Portsmouth a spotless town, was that she was too good looking. Her beauty interfered with her work. Just how it interfered is not made plain….The presumption is that no one had the hardness of heart to tell the young woman that beauty is not an asset to the Police Department."
- January 1914 - The Police are issued numbered hat badges which are still in use today to help identify the Police Officer to the public. It was called at the time "quite an improvement" by the Portsmouth Herald Newspaper.
- April 3, 1923 - Police Officers Dennis Kelley and Frank Demars arrest 3 men from Haverhill, Mass for unlawful possession of alcohol. It seems during the prohibition years, Portsmouth Police were very busy making weekly arrests for whiskey running. It was not unusual for Canadian whiskey to be loaded in 1,000 quart barrels, and transported to Portsmouth by truck. Portsmouth Police also seized illegal loads of whiskey, gin and cognac that were transported by ships into the Harbor. The fine for booze running was $50.00 and 60 days in jail suspended on good behavior. (Source: Seacoast Online and Melanie Asmar)
- 1937-1952 - The Police Cruisers are equipped with 2 way radios.
- 1953 - The Police Department and District Court moves into the old Rockingham County Jail located at 28 Penhallow Street. The 28 jail cells and 12,600 square feet of space served as the Station House until 1991. The District Court moves out in May 1981 to a new facility on Parrott Avenue.
- Mid 1950's - City Marshal Martin O. Bentz, is a big supporter of the curfew law recently passed. It read that at 9:00pm a whistle would sound each night to indicate that all children under the age of 16 would need to return home. This curfew was necessary to "curb the nocturnal wanderings of teenagers" who pose "a constant problem to police," according to the Portsmouth Herald on August 22, 1956. The article further stated that young girls must be protected from predators and that property was being destroyed by these juveniles "when they're in a destructive mood". (Source: Seacoast Online and Melanie Asmar)
- July 18, 1970 - 3 new police cruisers were placed into service. This is the first time that the Department has gone to the all white cruiser instead of the traditional black color.
- 1984 - City Marshal Stanton G. Remick retires after 42 years of service to the Portsmouth Police Department and the title of City Marshal is retired with him. Police Chief Raymond Labrie is named the first Portsmouth Police Chief.
- 1991 - At a cost of 3.619 million dollars, the City renovates 38,000 square feet of the old Portsmouth Hospital and moves the Police Department there at 3 Junkins Avenue.
- 2003 - Under the leadership of Chief Michael Magnant, the Portsmouth Police Department is comprised of 69 sworn police officers, 28 auxiliary police officers and 25 civilian personnel.
- 2003 December 12th - At a cost of 1.5 million dollars, the Police Department completely updates the emergency communications equipment. A new Dispatch Center along with all new portable radio's are changed from analog to digital transmissions greatly increasing the communication ability of emergency personnel. It will soon be possible to speak with every police department, fire department and other emergency services in New Hampshire directly from the field or the Dispatch Center. The Bureau of Investigative Services offices, part of which were displaced by the new Dispatch Center, were also redone as part of the project, combining the Family Services and General Investigations Sections in one area. The ribbon cutting ceremony for this state of the art communications center is attended by US Senator Judd Gregg who helped to secure most of the critical funding from a Federal Grant.
- On January 26th, 2004 the Roll Call Room inside the Police Station was officially dedicated in the memory of Master Patrolman Lloyd Tibbetts. Officer Tibbetts served the City of Portsmouth for 32 years from December 3rd, 1966 until his retirement on September 30th, 1998. On December 5, 2002, Lloyd suffered a massive heart attack at his home and died. He was a very popular officer both with his peers and with the community he loved. This dedication ceremony filled the Roll Call Room with his family and many of those people he worked with and those that he served. Chief Michael Magnant echoed the feelings of many in the room by calling this "a bittersweet gathering". The walls of this hallowed room are now decorated with a painting of Lloyd and several old photographs of Lloyd in uniform. He will live on as a model police officer and a witty, compassionate, kind person.