Printer Friendly

History's Blotter

Click on the dates below for a look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history.

For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.

January 5, 1852 | Irish Police in Boston

Boston Police at Roll Call, 1855, National Law Enforcement Museum, 2006.224.1

“Mr. McGinniskin was discharged from the Boston Police for no other reason than he was a Catholic and born in Ireland.”

Boston Pilot, January 1852

Two months was all it took for Boston’s first Irish police officer, Barney McGinniskin, to get kicked off the force. McGinniskin’s appointment followed all the customary channels of the time—local businessmen signed petitions on his behalf and Francis Tukey, Boston’s “lynx-eyed marshal,” found McGinniskin to be a temperate taxpayer and a 22-year resident of the US.

Marshal Tukey soon changed his mind. He fired McGinniskin in January of 1852 citing a 10-year-old arrest of McGinniskin for rioting as his reason. It is more likely that McGinniskin was just too Irish for Tukey and the rest of the Boston police force at the time.

According to the Boston Herald, when McGinniskin first reported to the night force he announced himself as “Barney McGinniskin, fresh from the bogs of Ireland!” Tukey’s police force was more comfortable arresting the Irish than working alongside them. The Irish population in Boston rose dramatically in the 1850s and the vast majority of arrests in the city were of Irish immigrants. 24,000 Irish lived in the city in 1846, while 60,000 were residing there just ten years later—most of them in poverty.

Marshal Tukey and his police force voted en masse in the November 1851 election, pushing a new mayor, Benjamin Seaver, into office. When Mayor Seaver took office, Tukey promptly fired McGinniskin. The combination of McGinniskin’s firing and the overt political activity of the police force was roundly criticized. The new Mayor was not pleased. Seaver reinstated McGinniskin and completely disbanded the night shift of the police (which had prominently marched together to the polls) leaving the safety of the nighttime city solely in the hands of the old nightwatch.
 
McGinniskin lasted a couple more years on the force until 1854. The anti-immigrant American Party, called the Know Nothings, took office and he was ousted once again for being Irish. McGinniskin’s one consolation might have been that he outlasted Marshal Tukey who was pushed out of office for his overt political activity before 1852 came to an end.

History's Blotter Archive

1611
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611

1775
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775

1788
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788

1819
Night Watchmen | January 1819

1841
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841

1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844

1844
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844

1852
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852

1858
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858

1865
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865

1871
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871

1872
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872

1874
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874

1875
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875

1877
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877

1880
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880

1884
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884

1886
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886

1892
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892

1898
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898

1908
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908

1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908

1909
Police Autos | June 1909

1911
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911

1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915

1915
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915

1919
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919

1920
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920

1923
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923

1926
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926

1931
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931

1934
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934

1941
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941

1942
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942

1950
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950

1956
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956

1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957

1957
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957

1958
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958

1963
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963

1966
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966

1968
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968

1971
Phone Phreaking | October 1971

1980
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980

1981
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981

1986
FBI Miami Shootout | April 11, 1986

1989
US Invades Panama | December 20, 1989

1990
Missing Masterpieces | March 18, 1990

2011
Whitey Bulger Captured | June 22, 2011