Sharp Dressed Men of the 1880s – and a Few Women, Too

I recently wrote about District of Columbia police mug shots of criminals (primarily from 1883-1890) held by the National Archives in “Mug Books: An Unusual Avenue of Genealogical Inquiry” on “The Unwritten Record” blog of the National Archives. As one commenter noted there – “they are all dressed well…” – hence the title for this post.

Most of the mug shots were created by the DC police, but there are others collected from the police departments of New York City and Philadelphia. One of the most striking things about this series is that over 100 of the 717 cards in this series are for persons were arrested on March 4-6 of 1885 or 1889. This was not a coincidence. The presidential inaugurations of Presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison occurred on March 4, 1885, and March 4, 1889, respectively. One can imagine professional pickpockets and other con men going to Washington, DC, to ply their trade in the well-off crowd visiting the capital for the big event. This was most likely true of famous professional criminal Charles Hallert, alias “Red Hyle” or “Cincinnati Red,” and his friend Charley Williams, alias Shane Campbell, who were both arrested on March 6, 1885. Red Hyle, “one of the most celebrated hotel thieves in this country” is profiled by NYC Chief of Detectives Thomas Byrnes in Professional Criminals of America (New York: Cassell & Company, Ltd.), at pages 109-110.

The significant “inaugural connection” of this series is not immediately obvious at a casual glance. It is an example of an archival truth – it can take deep immersion in a body of records to truly understand them. In this case, while laboriously tagging each photo in the National Archives Catalog, it eventually struck me that I was seeing “March 4” over and over again. I knew March 4 was inauguration day in the 19th century. Then I checked which years the “March 4” cards were from. With but one exception, they were from 1885 and 1889. Inauguration Day.

I hope that researchers will thoroughly study this series. There are undoubtedly many other interesting things that can be learned from it.

Identification Card No. 190, Harry Stevens (National Archives Identifier 75449274)

Record Book of Ebenezer Ferguson, Justice of the Peace, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 1799-July 1800

Updated 26 March 2020

The National Archives recently digitized the Record Book of Ebenezer Ferguson, Justice of the Peace, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 1799-July 1800 (National Archives Identifier 155501037). This is an unusual item for NARA to have as the repository of the permanently valuable records of the U.S. Government, either records created by it, or received by it.

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Mr. Ferguson chronicled actions taken by him in his official capacity from December 1799 to July 1800. It may be his rough draft (often referred to as a “day book” or “waste book”) since the front cover is annotated with the letters “E & F” which suggests that the contents of this volume were subsequently recorded in permanent volumes E and F that would have been written in a neatly in a “fair hand.” The handwriting in this volume is “sloppy” and he “crossed out” many entries that may either indicate they were either resolved or copied to the permanent record book.

As justice of the peace, Mr. Ferguson was empowered to receive allegations of criminal activity that violated state law; charge suspects and require bail bond to ensure appearance at trial; require bond of prosecuting witnesses to ensure they appeared at trial to give evidence; and so forth. Most of the cases recorded in this volume are for assault and battery or for theft, but there are a few for runaway slaves or apprentices, or failure to support a wife. For example, on page 21, Benjamin Chase [Chane?], Jr., alleged that “George Harden was a Slave of his father Benjamin [illegible word] & that He has been Run away some [?] time.” George Harden was committed to jail in lieu of a bail bond. (See image below.)

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Also on page 21, Geraldus Stockdale charged Demsy [?] Bauns [?] “with Leaving his wife a Charge on the Publick” funds.

Each entry is headed “CommonWelth [sic] vs. [name of defendant], and includes the date, name of person making the complaint, nature of the alleged criminal act, name of defendant(s), name of witness(es), and amount charged each defendant or witness as bond. Page numbers are written in the lower right corner of odd numbered pages.

This record book is in the custody of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as part of the Post Revolutionary War Papers, 1784-1815, in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. (It has not been researched whether there is a “copy” of some kind in Philadelphia.)

Why can this local record book be found in the U.S. National Archives? That’s a good question for which there is no definitive answer at this time. Philadelphia was the national capital from 1790 until about May 1800. Colonel Ebenezer Ferguson commanded an artillery regiment in the Pennsylvania militia during the War of 1812. (See J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, p. 554 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Co., 1884). Perhaps this volume became accidentally mixed in with federal military records at either time, or perhaps it was purposely submitted to the War Department for a specific reason that is not currently known. In either case, it’s an interesting window into the problems and activities of ordinary Philadelphians at the turn of the 19th century.