How the Brooklyn Police Deal with Unsupervised Children (1865 Edition)

Here’s zstziiadki
a charming little nugget sent to us by a reader named Kathleen, who writes:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I thought you would enjoy this artifact of saner times. I draw your attention to the 4th column, last paragraph before the lists begin. It’s part of an article in a July, 1865 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that talks about the police, and devotes a paragraph to describing how kindly police officers treated lost children and their efforts to return them to their parents. The article is titled The Police of Brooklyn.
And here is that very paragraph! (And yes, some of it is a little verbose and confusing. But you get the drift…)
The  little  people  who  so  fear  the  police,  from  the  stunted rogue just ripening into crime with a  holesome dread  of  a “peeler,” to the  young girl  on  the Heights, who will not slap her brother’s face until that “naughty watchman”  has  gone  around  the   corner,  all  owe  the  police more than  they  imagine.     In  the  lost  children  line the police  are very effective.     In these  warm days children stray away in large  numbers.     The  officer sees a little wanderer, and, suspecting that  it  is  vainly seeking its home,  makes inquiry,  and  if  he  can learn  where  the parents abide, he conducts the little lost  One  thither;  otherwise,  he takes the child  to  his  station-house,  and  it is there kept awaiting the  arrival of  the  parents,  the  sergeants or doorman being pressed into,  service to console  the  tired  estiay [stray?]  for  the  loss of its  “mams,  who is coming pretty soon to take home to see  papa.”  Pennies, hammers and  bunches of  keys  are brought  In as  auxiliaries to quiet the youngsters, and sometimes a forgotten fragment of  candy holds out  an  inducement  to  the  receiver to stray  away a second  time  in   order  to   obtain more of the same sort.    The  fact  of   the  child  having been picked up  is   immediately telegraphed  to  the  Inspector’s office,  so that  all a searching party has to do is to know whether or not the boy or  girl   missing has pea green hair, an indigo mouth,  sun burned  eyes’ or  an up-turned   nose,   with  a  hole   in   its  apron  or  a  man’s  boots on,  to   learn  the  whereabouts  of  ” its  mother’s  precious”  and restore the same.   At times the  lost children market is  very active.
And at times the police are very actively sweet. – L.


Hey, copper, if I git lost agin, can you give me s'more candy?

Hey, copper, yer not gonna make my mams take parenting classes and pay a fine if I git lost agin, are yuh? 


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13 Responses to How the Brooklyn Police Deal with Unsupervised Children (1865 Edition)

  1. Emily March 31, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    Well, that’s a far cry from the “ZOMG, terrible parents!!! Must call CPS right now!!!” approach that seems to prevail nowadays, whether the child in question is actively lost, or just out walking or biking or playing in the park without an adult.

  2. Michael_oz March 31, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    Re: “estiay”.

    I couldn’t help myself and had to look this up.

    It looks like a typo/misread of “estray”. A search came up with a Google book with the word “estiay” in the results. But upon previewing the actual text (a scan), the word was “estray”.

    First use of ESTRAY: circa 1523

    a person or animal that has strayed.
    Law. a domestic animal, as a horse or a sheep, found wandering or without an owner.

  3. Julie March 31, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    My great grandma, Viva, was born in 1876 and her daughter, my Grandma Elsie, in 1891. Neither had a lot of time to play or get lost. They worked in factories. In 1898, Viva and Elsie put new pairs of shoes in boxes on an assembly line. They worked six days a week and between them earned $35 a month. Schooling was sporadic. Viva pulled Elsie out of school when she was eight because the teacher kept beating her with a ruler on the palms of her hands and she was too sore to work.

    They could both read and write and had lovely penmanship. Viva worked until her death in 1937 and Elsie worked full time until she married my Grandpa in 1922. She then worked part time until after WW II.

    There wasn’t much time to play or get lost.

  4. andy April 1, 2016 at 7:49 am #

    @Julie I read books about children by the end of 19 century on Germany and it was no freerange heaven either. Upper-middle class boys would spend whole day either in class or doing sport or something else prescribed with no time for freedom. Girls were prepared for wife role and marriage marked, but still could not run around freely and even less do “boy” activities as climbing trees or sport.

    Lower class kids would be alone from the age of four, because both parents worked 12 hours a day (which is why some good soul started kindergaden for little ones). They needed to work and earn money as soon as possible e.g. from around 6-7 age years old and school was attended only to the extend it was enforced. It was not working for pocket money for fun and toys as people here remember with nostalgia, it was working for parents so that parents food basics from that.

  5. Tim April 1, 2016 at 8:23 am #

    It’s an enjoyable read, and I like that people take an interest in the past, but I would be careful of romanticizing a nineteenth century childhood.

  6. DrTorch April 1, 2016 at 9:54 am #

    A hammer to keep them quiet. That was funny.

  7. Vaughan Evans April 1, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    I believe that policemen are ALMOST ALWAYS very sweet.
    When I go to strange towns, I have no problem-when policemen ask me where I am from, where do I work, or why I am in the city. However, I DO take exception to certain questions-such as if I have ever had treatment for psychiatric problems. It is none of their business, and besides it does NOT relate to my behavior here.

  8. NY Single Mom April 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    Loss of: Appropriateness. Civility. Respect. Dignity.

    Today the over-riding concern is “How can this encounter be used to get an arrest that will lead to fines, fees, and charges that will help the municipality balance its budget?”

    Public safety has lost its mission and its responsibility to the citizens it used to serve.

  9. pentamom April 1, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    Hmmmmm……others can correct me on this, but my understanding was that the mid-19th century NYPD was a hotbed of graft, abuse, and corruption. The kind of goings-on in police departments that rightly get people very upset today, were par for the course and accepted as just the way things were back then.

    It may be that the police generally treated children well, or it may be that this newspaper article was attempting to romanticize the situation for the public good. (The idea of strict journalistic factuality and objectively wasn’t in vogue in that generation, either.) But on the whole, 19th century urban American police departments were entities where corruption and abuse were something the populace lived with, rather than were outraged about.

  10. Matthew April 1, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    Someone should set this to music.

  11. SKL April 1, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    My grandma, who was born about 1908, told me a story of when she was about 5yo. Her family had just immigrated from Hungary and she knew almost no English. She went off down the street and lost her way. A shopkeeper saw that she was in trouble and tried to find out where she lived, but she was unable to communicate, other than to say “no” after every question. The shopkeeper asked if she needed the bathroom, my grandma said “no,” and the shopkeeper took her anyway, wisely. Then she was given a piece of chocolate to eat (which only melted because all she could do was hold it and cry), while waiting for her people to come and find her, which they eventually did. No harm done, no crime committed, everyone lived to tell the tale.

  12. SKL April 1, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

    And my brother wandered away as a preschooler. He had a vision problem and since my parents couldn’t afford to buy patches, they taped my dad’s business card over my brother’s glasses lens. So when he was found wandering miles away, on the way to Grandma’s, he was promptly returned.

    Another time my sister decided to go to the playground after preschool, instead of to her babysitter’s house. It occurred to someone that the playground would be a place she’d gravitate toward, and sure enough, there she was. No arrests were made.

    My cousin is autistic and had a history of wandering away and taking off his clothes and even stealing other people’s clothes from their clotheslines during his rambles. Again, people and cops were understanding.

    This is why today feels so strange sometimes.

  13. Yocheved April 2, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    I just love the purple prose in this article. People don’t write with such an interesting turn of phrase anymore. I could imagine the scene quite vividly!