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Help Police!

Sep 3, 2009 4:24 PM | 3 comments

In our collection there are quite a few books from the 19th century. These books are not only valuable for the information contained within their pages, but also for their historical perspective.  One such book is "Brooklyn's Guardians" by William E. S. Fales.  This book published in 1887 traces the "origin, growth and development of the Brooklyn police force", from the early colonial period to it's enrollment in 1887 of 972 policemen.  



Fales begins the book with the basic need for protection in the Dutch colony, where every man was required to stand guard duty. The British instituted the use of a constable who was able to arrest murderers, manslayers, thieves, burglarers, vagrant persons, swearers, drunks or night walkers. He was also able to punish Sabbath breakers and brawlers, using The Pillory or Whipping Post.  A woman's punishment was meted out on the "Ducking Stool",  where scolds, nags, loud-mouths and other offending females were tied to a chair, and dunked in the water - supposedly to cool off. 


Around 1842 people began the call for a police department, based on New York's, as Brooklyn's population continued to grow. You would think that this idea would have unanimous support, but there were many who opposed it.  Chief among them were wealthy landowners who could afford their own private security.  They did not relish the idea of paying higher taxes, so that everyone could be safer.  Fortunately it was an idea whose time had come, with support coming from shopowners, robbery victims, merchants, journalists and politicians. 

1850 brought the establishment of the Brooklyn Police Department, and with it, the first superintendent John S. Folk. Folk is described as "a large, muscular, intelligent and fearless man, who even at that time was feared by roughs and criminals"  His coolness and bravery contributed to his election as Brooklyn's top cop by a wide majority.  Folk distinguished himself during the draft riots of 1863, where he led a group of officers across the Fulton Ferry to Manhattan, and during a labor riot, where he is quoted as saying, "Now my men, we must stand together and keep a solid front.  Don't separate, whatever you do, and wherever you see a head, hit it!"


"Brooklyn's Guardians" takes the reader through the early days of the Brooklyn police force, describing in detail each precinct, station house and police captain, as well as devoting considerable coverage to the final stop for many of Brooklyn's prisoners -- the Brooklyn Penitentiary in Crow Hill. Fales also covers Brooklyn's criminal lawyers, police reporters, detectives, newspapers and breweries.  For fans of criminology this is a very interesting read. 


11/20/2009 7:59:59 AM #

John Folk was my grandfather's first father-in-law, and was the grandfather of my father's half-sister, Vinia Wilson.

Bob Wilson

11/20/2009 12:45:54 PM #

That's great Bob. He seems like he was a no-nonsense guy.


6/21/2010 8:32:26 PM #

John Seward Folk was my Great, Great Grandfather.
I have the book "Brooklyns Guardian" which my
father had and gave to me.  It is falling apart.  Many
years ago my father donated all the medals and
nightstick owned by John Seward Folk to the Brooklyn
Police Dept.  I have made many phone calls and they
said they have no idea where they are.  Does anyone
know if there is a Brooklyn Police Dept. Museum as
we were told?   My grandfather was also named
John Seward Folk his father was Willian Henry Folk.

Virginia Folk Streader