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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
The new force was composed of 48 uniformed
officers, many of them with considerable experience as motor vehicle
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…”
1947, the trained state police forces were on call in both New Hampshire and