“Rattle Watch” in 1658 National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the first police force formed at New Amsterdam, now called New York, in August 1658.

James Dabney McCabe began his description of New York’s police force in his book, New York by Sunlight and Gaslight, 1881:


In the year 1658 Peter Stuyvesant was Governor of New Amsterdam, and the town had attained considerable proportions. The portly burghers, careful for the safety of their lives and property, came to the conclusion that it was dangerous to leave the town unguarded at night, and so in that year a night watch of eight men was organized, properly armed, and provided with formidable looking rattles. This was the origin of the splendid force of which New York is now so justly proud.


In his book, Peter Stuyvesant, Director-general for the West India Company in New Netherland, 1893, Bayard Tuckerman provided details of the early “rattle watch” payment and rules:


The first police and fire departments were established by the burgomasters and schepens.

In 1658 was organized the “ratel wacht,” or rattle-watch.

The first watchmen were Pieter Jansen, Hendrick van Bommel, Jan Cornelsen van Vlensburg, Jan Pietersen, Gerrit Pietersen, Jan Jansen van Lang- straat, Hendrick Ruyter, Jacques Pryn, and Tomas Verdran.

The wages were twenty-four stuyvers per night, to have ” one or two beavers besides, and two or three hundred sticks of firewood.”

The captain of the watch, Ludowyck Pos, was authorized to collect monthly from each house the sum of fifty stuyvers to meet the expenses.

The following rules of the watch were adopted : —

“When any one comes on the watch being drunk, or in any way insolent or unreasonable in his behavior, he shall be committed to the square-room or to the battlements of the town hall, and shall besides pay six stuyvers.

“When any one shall hold watch in the battlements, he shall diligently be on the lookout ; and if he be found asleep during his hours of watch, he shall forfeit ten stuyvers.

“If anyone be heard to blaspheme the name of God, he shall forfeit ten stuyvers.

“If any one attempt to fight when on the watch, or tries to draw off from the watch for the purpose of fighting, he shall forfeit two guilders.

“When they receive their quarter money, they shall not hold any gathering for drink or any club meeting.

“They shall at all corners of the streets, between the ninth hour of the evening and the break of morning, call out the time of night and how late it is.”


Munsey’s Weekly, Volume 43 of July 1910 also explained the strict life of the early years:


The laws were strict in those days, since between sunset and sunrise no one was permitted to climb upon the city wall—at what is now Wall Street—under penalty of being whipped; and if any one attempted to enter the city or leave it, except through the ordinary city gate, he was to be punished by death.


The National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against a New York policeman, circa 1886.

National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin