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Saturday, March 20, 2021

Shields Against Crime

 Local Lawmen—Both of the local men pictured above had long-term law enforcement careers, Caledonia Country sheriff Lorenzo Sulloway of St. Johnsbury served from 1878 to 1905 and was described as “a terror of evil doers.” Newbury’s Horace Bailey  served as U.S. Marshall for Vermont from 1903-1914. Any person who broke federal laws would find himself up against “the real thing.”

Before the State Police—In response to increase highway traffic issues, Vermont created a highway patrol in 1925.  This officer, pictured in St. Albans in 1936 was one of the motorcycle unit. The patrol’s limitation to motor vehicle law enforcements and n the inability of county sheriffs to deal with major crimes led to the creation of the Vermont State Police in 1947.  (Library of Congress)     


“Certainly Vermont should have some officers empowered to enforce the laws and prevent crime, and not try to get along longer with a system that simply seems to lock the barn after the horse is stolen.” Letter to the Editor, Brattleboro Daily Reformer, Dec 28, 1920.

     This column examines the history of law enforcement in Vermont and New Hampshire from the Colonial era to the establishment of their state police forces. I have relied heavily on Michael J. Carpenter’s book on the Vermont State Police and the New Hampshire State Police’s Golden Anniversary publication.  Additionally, the material is taken from local publications and online sources.

     The two local law enforcement officers colonial New England imported from England were the constable and the sheriff. Each town had one or more constables as keepers of the peace and marshals of the militia. A town could not be recognized as legitimate unless it had constables to administer punishments and deliver warrants.

     In provincial New Hampshire, constables were authorized to seize lawbreakers, including privateers and pirates. Additionally, they certified weights and measures and oversaw wolf carcasses disposal. In both states, they were authorized to “pursue, or hue-and-cry after Murderers, Peace breakers, Thieves, Robbers, Burglars and other capital offenders.” Responding as a posse-comitatus to a constable’s hue-and-cry was required of every able-bodied man.

      In both Vermont and New Hampshire, constables were also collectors of state taxes. In 1788, the Vermont General Assembly authorized the first constable of Mooretown (Bradford) to collect a 10 shillings tax on each one hundred acres.

     During the 19th century, newspapers mentioned additional duties of Vermont constables. They included warning the poor out of town, transporting prisoners, killing unlicensed dogs, enforcing liquor laws and supporting local police courts. In 1895, the constables of Fairlee and Orford cooperated to prevent “the traveling public from driving over the covered bridge faster than a walk.”

     If there was a town jail, the constable was in charge. Prisoners often escaped. Newbury’s jail was an example of the inadequacy of the local lockups. In 1894, Newbury Constable Weed told the local newspaper, “There is no denying the fact that lawlessness in Newbury village is on the increase.”

     Newspaper reports began to refer to local law enforcers in larger communities as police. Soon after the Civil War, those larger communities began to maintain a police force including a night-watch contingent. These were often full-time uniformed officers. This increase in force was more a response to civil disorder than an increase in crime. 

    In 1898, Woodsville began to have an officer on duty during the night, appointed by the Selectmen, but paid for by the  businesses. The term “chief of police” was first used in reference to the Village of Bradford in 1909. By that time, the title had been used in larger communities in both states for some time.

     The chief law enforcement of the county was the sheriff. The title has its origin in the early English position of shire reeve. Before 1878, sheriffs in New Hampshire were appointed for 5 year terms by the Governor and Council. In Vermont, sheriffs were elected by the Legislature until the Vermont Constitution was amended in 1850 to provide for their election by each county’s voters. In 1870, terms were increased from one year to four.

     The duties of early sheriffs included the collection of debts, criminal prosecution, and punishment of offenders. These punishments, often severe, included whipping, branding, public display in stocks and imprisonment. Early New Hampshire sheriffs also transported election ballots to state officials. 

     Additional duties included sale of seized property, supervision of the county jail and playing a major role in the county court’s operation. Their duties sometimes carried them beyond the boundaries of their county.  

     In 1806, Orange County High Sheriff Mica Barron of Bradford traveled to Lower Canada to apprehend Stephen Burroughs, a notorious counterfeiter. Bankers had engaged Barron for this extra-legal investigation.

     One local sheriff of note was Caledonia County sheriff Lorenzo Sulloway of St. Johnsbury. He held his position from 1878 to 1905, one of the state’s longest continuous sheriff service records.  Sulloway apprehended many notorious criminals in several states, Canada and Cuba. He was described as “a terror of evil doers.” 

     Sheriffs were sometimes called to keep the peace in the face of social unrest. They were called to deal with labor unrest in Bolton (1846), Newbury (1847), Vershire (1883), South Ryegate (1885), and Bellows Falls (1921). In several of these incidents, the Vermont militia was sent to help the sheriff restore order. 

     Some sheriffs were not equipped to fully investigate major crimes such as murder. In 1866, in the murder of George Maxwell of Franconia and in the 1922 double murder in Orford, the sheriff relied on hired detectives from out the state. In the latter case, a fingerprint expert was hired to assist in the investigation.

     Before  state police units were established  in the two states, there were several other law enforcement officers whose jurisdiction was above the local county level. The oldest of this position was that of United States Marshal. The federal government created it in 1789 in support of federal courts and federal jurisdictions. 

     Federal marshals represented the national government throughout the state and were in charge of collecting and distributing information. Until 1870, they were responsible for reporting the census in each state. Until the Secret Service was created in 1865, they were frequently called upon to investigate counterfeiters and smugglers.

     As marshals were appointed by the President, the occupants of the office changed with the results of elections. George Washington appointed John Parker of New Hampshire in 1789 as the first U.S. Marshal for that state. In Vermont, the first marshal was Lewis Morris, also appointed by Washington in 1791.

     In March 1841, William Barron of Bradford was appointed U.S. Marshall for Vermont by President William Henry Harrison. As Harrison only served as President for 31 days, a document bearing his signature is the rarest of Presidential autograph. In 1985, Barron’s letter of appointment with Harrison’s signature was found in the Bradford Public Library’s attic. It was sold to finance improvements to the children’s room. 

    Two other local men were also appointed to the office of U.S. Marshal for Vermont. They were Jacob Kent (1845-1849) and Horace W. Bailey (1903-1914) of Newbury. Bailey received wide acclamation for his service. In 1905, one newspaper editorialized: “Horace is onto his job every time and the fellow who tries to get ahead of Uncle Sam by any crookedness whatever will find himself up against the real thing as long as the U. S. Marshal for Vermont is Horace W. Bailey.”

     The Federal Bureau of Investigation has had officers in Vermont since 1908. Their duties included investigations for the U. S. Department of Justice. Their jurisdiction involved federal crimes, and they were active in interstate crimes and civil unrest.

     From 1920 to 1933, the FBI was joined by federal prohibition agents and U.S. Customs agents in an attempt to enforce national prohibition. Through this area, roads were supply routes for smugglers of illegal alcohol from Canada bound for communities to the south.

     Both states also had officers to enforce fish and game laws. In New Hampshire, towns were authorized to hire wardens as early as 1880. In 1890, the first state enforcement officer was hired, a position that became known as game wardens in 1915 and became uniformed officers in 1926.

     Vermont game wardens were first mentioned in 1899.The state-wide game warden system was established in 1904, and by 1930, the officers were uniformed. In 1921, licenses were required for hunting and fishing. An article in the United Opinion noted that wardens were “considerably worried” about how it would look if they had to arrest female violators.

     With the proliferation of automobiles after 1910, both states had to deal with offenders of traffic laws. Even with the income that might come from local tickets, patrolling the highways was often beyond the constables and sheriffs’ capacity. Coordination between local police was difficult as offenders fled in high-speed automobiles. Added to this was the increase in tourists, events involving many automobiles as well as speeding and drunken driving.

     The idea of a state police in New Hampshire predated these developments.  In 1869, in response to a petition, Governor Onslow Stearns suggested legislation to create a state police force to act where local authorities failed to do so. Suppression of illegal liquor sales, gambling places, and “houses of ill fame” were among the motives. A state-wide vote failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds all-male vote.

     In 1915, the New Hampshire Legislature created a uniformed Motor Vehicle Highway Patrolmen unit to enforce traffic laws. The Attorney General was authorized to employ investigators with the power to enforce laws and make arrests statewide. 

     The idea of a state police was revived in 1931 when a legislative report called for the state to upgrade its “archaic system of policing.” As a result, a State Police Commission was created with 22 uniformed Motor Vehicle motorcycle officers.  A State Detective Bureau, as well as a bureau for criminal and gun purchase records was also established. 

     On July 1, 1937, a law upgrading the highway patrol to a state police force with broad powers went into effect. The New Hampshire State Police was the 15th such organization in the nation.  

    Progress toward a state police force was much slower in Vermont. In 1918, the Vermont Secretary of State’s office was authorized to hire trained motor vehicle inspectors to enforce motor vehicle laws. That first year, Ara Griggs was hired as the one officer assigned to cover the entire state.

     In 1925, despite opposition from sheriffs, a motor vehicle bureau was established with a highway patrol. This 10-man unit, often using motorcycles, however could not deal with criminal violations and was hampered by winter conditions.

     In 1931, a Vermont study committee recommended creating a full-time trained state police force to coordinate enforcement and reduce duplication. Vermonters’ attitudes toward centralized state control, threats to personal liberty, and a strong tradition of frugality coupled with significant opposition from the Sheriffs’ Association delayed action on the proposal. Additional report recommendations in 1935 and 1937 resulted in similar rejection by the Legislature.

     Opponents to these proposals stated they were too expensive and that there was “no crime wave and no crying need” for a state police force. This was despite favorable newspaper backing and support from the Vermont Grange and Vermont Farm Bureau.

     World War II delayed further legislation until 1946. There continued to be considerable criticism of the sheriff system for its ability to deal with the number of serious crimes and questions about their reporting of fines collected. One farmer was quoted as saying: “Getting a sheriff is like trying to raise the dead!!!”

     As is often the case, a serious and widely publicized crime involving one individual caused enough alarm to lead to legislative action. In this case it was the disappearance of Bennington College sophomore Paula Welden in December 1946. This was one of six unsolved missing persons or murder cases in the Bennington area. Despite help from outside sources, the local sheriff did not have the manpower for a successful search.

     Now there was widespread support for a new police force. In Feb 1947, a new bill overwhelmingly passed the Vermont Legislature and Governor Ernest W. Gibson signed it into law. On July 1, 1947, ten years after similar action in New Hampshire, the Vermont State Police became a reality. Vermont was almost the last state to create a comparable force.

     The new force was composed of 48 uniformed officers, many of them with considerable experience as motor vehicle inspectors.  

   The 1920 letter cited at the beginning of this column hoped that a state police force would be “a protector of the farmer’s stock, crops and home, an effective enforcer of our road laws and would make Vermont highways a safe place to travel on again, would adequately, and without a lot of scandal, perform all the duties of private detectives, saving money for Vermont, and beside, perform them in such a way as to not bring the law of enforcement of Vermont into dispute…”

Finally, by 1947, the trained state police forces were on call in both New Hampshire and Vermont. 





Thursday, February 4, 2021

It's Still In The Mail


Rural Free Delivery helped to eliminate isolation felt by many rural families. It replaced "star routes." It open rural areas to being able to buy from catalog and to sell local products. (Courtesy-Arthur Pease) 

”The postal service is for a variety of good reasons made a public function; but that it results in more economical or efficient management, there is not only no evidence to show but all evidence available contradicts.”  Windham County Reformer, Dec. 27, 1901.

     The first part of this postal history analysis was published in December and was posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.  It dealt with topics including early postal delivery, rates, and offices. The appointment of postmasters, both men and women, was included as was the issue of Sunday mail delivery.

      This column continues to explore the history of the postal service and what it offered, especially in the period before 1950. The interactions between offered postal services and private enterprise, especially as it impacted the development of the government agency, are important areas surveyed here. 

     Before the last decade of the 19th century, a large percentage of the nation’s rural population received their mail by going into town or paying a private carrier to deliver it. In the 1870s, farm organizations such as the Grange began to lobby for free delivery to rural areas.

     As with other postal services improvements, considerable opposition arose from private enterprise, in this case, local storekeepers, express companies, and private carriers. 

     Nevertheless, Congress established Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in 1896, 33 years after that service was available in cities. The first rural route was established in Vermont in 1896 and in New Hampshire in 1898.  Local newspapers in 1901 reported that the program “is popular wherever introduced…meeting with unqualified success.”    

     By 1906 there were 292 routes in Vermont. In New Hampshire there were 202 routes, “and new routes are being laid out as fast as the post office department can arrange for them.”  Locally, rural routes were establish including in Thetford in 1896, Woodsville 1901, Bradford 1903, and Corinth 1905.

     The new service brought an end to many private carrier’s star routes and many smaller post offices. Those private carriers had been awarded routes as lowest bidders. They agreed to provide “due celerity, certainty and security of transportation.” As stars identified each of these three conditions, the privately operated routes had been designated “star routes.”

The introduction of RFD helped to eliminate the isolation felt by many rural families as they could depend on free daily mail delivery. One elder recalled that her family received mail in rural Lyme several times a day,

      Mail order catalogs from companies such as Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck created opportunities to purchase consumer products. Farm magazines offered advice and reported changing techniques. 

     Often, a strong bond developed between the RFD delivery person and the families on the route. In 1965, the United Opinion reported on the retirement party for Corinth’s rural carrier Ernest Flanders.

     In the article, Flanders commented on his 34 years serving the rural patrons on the 28-mile route. He recalled the early winters when the roads were rolled, and horse and sleigh were used.  On Turkey Hill, the snow often drifted, covering the boxes. He remembered carrying a screwdriver to pry open frozen boxes or remove frozen pennies left for stamps.  

     For years, private express companies and rural merchants had also opposed package delivery.  As a concession, limits were placed on the weight of packages delivered by the postal carriers. Wells Fargo, established in 1852 by Thetford native Henry Wells, was one of the most power opponents.

     In 1913, the Parcel Post package delivery system was established. The United Opinion reported, “the parcel post will be the general public’s express.”

      For rural dwellers, this meant receiving free delivery of products and opportunities to mail local products at a lower rate to a nation-wide market.  Eggs, butter, and maple products were among the first items shipped from the area. 

     In 1901, the post system reached a national milestone with 76,945 post offices. The new delivery services, however, caused many smaller post offices to close. New Hampshire had reached its highest point in 1894 with 593 post offices. Closures soon following, although none locally. What at first appeared to me to be a closure was actually a 1912 name change when Warren Summit became Glencliff. 

     In Vermont, several small post offices closed over the years, including Copperfield in Vershire (1892-1906), West Bradford (1831-1837), Bradford Center (1847-1903) Heath in Corinth (1896-1905), Middlebrook in West Fairlee (1852-1855).

      By 1850, the Connecticut and Passumpsic River Railroad was delivering mail to area towns. In 1873, the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad delivered mail along its line as did the railroad company from Boston to Woodsville. By 1887, several daily mail trains were going north and south through the Connecticut River valley. Mail was picked up and sorted enroute. Station masters placed sacks of outgoing mail on a crane so that it could be picked up without stopping. By 1910, railway mail service handled 98% of America’s intercity mail.

     After World War II, Highway Post Offices replaced railroad mail cars with employees sorting mail as these large vehicles moved along.  Nationally, the last railroad postmark was in 1966.

          For many years, mail to Corinth and Topsham arrived on the Bradford stage. Prior to 1908, mail that arrived on the afternoon train was taken by stage to East Corinth where the mail was sorted. It was then taken by star routes to West Topsham and Waits River. That meant that locals could get both long distance and local mail by late afternoon.

     In 1908, there was a dramatic change with mail coming from East Barre. Timely mail such as Bradford’s United Opinion published on Friday would not arrive until Monday. Every time there was a change in delivery routines there were stern editorials and letters to the editor appeared in local papers. 

     In 1925, Congress passed the Airmail Act, a legislative act that allowed contracts with and support for the new commercial airline industry.  Progressive Congressman Clyde Kelly of Pennsylvania was the primary sponsor, an effort that gained him the title “father of the air mail.” Air mail became standard in 1975. 

     The postal system offered postal money orders in 1864. Union soldiers were able to send money home using these pre-paid checks or “money-letters.”  The fees varied with check’s amount, with early rates at 10 cents for amounts up to $10. Not all post offices offered this service at first. In 1867 an announcement appeared indicating that the Bradford office had been added.

     I have noticed patrons continue to use this service out of the local office in Bradford, as the checks are guaranteed. They include local migrant workers sending money home or individuals sending payments.      

     In 1873, the postal service began to issue postal cards imprinted with a one-cent postage stamp. The idea had first been introduced several years earlier, following the example of several European nations. Privacy concerns delayed their authorization. In 1872, the Burlington Weekly Free Press included the following explanation for the delay, “visions of libelous and insulting messages, as well as over curious letter carriers, and post office clerks…seem to haunt the legislative brain.”   

     As the price was half that of a first-class letter, these postal cards were met with an enthusiastic response. In the first six months, the Post Office sold 64 million, with businesses using them as an inexpensive way to advertise.

     Their use peaked in 1950 with 3.4 billion cards mailed. The number has fallen dramatically since. They were referred to as “penny postcards” until the postage was increased to two cents in 1952.  In 1999, the title was changed to “stamped cards.”

     These cards are not to be confused with commercially produced postcards. First produced around 1861, they were allowed to be sent as mail with a two-cent stamp. In the late 1800s, their popularity grew as a quick way to send a message and share a photograph. This popularity was enhanced by the government’s lowering of the postage to one-cent, and because collecting picture postcards became more popular.

     In 1907, the post office allowed a “divided back” card with space on the reverse for both a short message and address.  In 1908, 667 million postcards were mailed. The highpoint was about 1990 with 2.8 billion cards mailed.    

     Another service began in 1911 with the establishment of the Postal Savings System. This was aimed who distrusted the soundness of their local bank or otherwise were unable to avail themselves of the banking system. The postal savings was deposited in designated banks. The program later sold bonds and operated a saving card program. This system was especially successful until the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933.

     It was terminated in 1967 as the number of customers declined. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has recently reintroduced this system as a service to Americans who are underbanked.

    There have been other innovations over the history of the post office system. In 1810 the law required local post offices to be open at least one hour on Sundays.  Sabbatarian opposition to this practice as well as low mail volume have led to changes in this policy. Stamps were accepted in 1852 and in 1863 mail was categorized by class. In 1963 a system of zip codes were adopted.

     As with earlier advancements, the national post office has always had to deal with competition from those who value private enterprise over public services. Another example was the call in the 1870s for the Post Office to offer postal telegraph in opposition to the monopoly held by Western Union.

      Calling a government telegraph system “vastly cheaper,” a Postal Telegraph Bill was introduced. In 1888, a supporting petition bearing the names of 2,332 Vermonters was sent to Congress. As a result of significant lobbying by private enterprise, the bill never passed. For one year during World War I, the telegraph/telephone industry was placed under the control of the Postmaster General.  

     The struggle between private enterprise and public control of the postal system continued. In 1907, one Vermont newspaper raised concerns over transferring some postal services to private companies by writing, “Do we want the postal services placed in the hands of such private greed?”  In 1913, another Vermont newspaper referred to the postal system as “an immensely expensive luxury.”

     But support for the public service was expressed by Congressman Clyde Kelly who called the postal system “the people’s thoroughfare…its record in the past is the inspired promise of its betterment in the future.”

     That struggle between private and public continued unabated. The 1970 Postal Reorganization Act created the U.S. Postal Service, a government-owned corporation with what was purported to be a more business-like model. At the same time its statement of purpose recognized the role of the service in binding the nation together with service to all areas and communities.

      “Small rural communities frequently center around their post office.” This comment appeared in this newspaper at the time of Piermont’s postmaster Gloria Randall’s retirement in 2004. The internet, private delivery systems and changes in our rural personal interactions, have dated this statement. Delivery to rural patrons cost more than to urban homes. As questions about the future of the U.S. Postal Service are raised, is universal six-day rural postal service a thing endangered? The answers to that question will have a profound impact on the postal service in our area. .