Edward Hartwell Savage’s Police Department Questionnaire of 1877


Number of miles of streets in your jurisdiction?

– Edward Harwell Savage, Chief of Police, Boston, Massachusetts


A Philadelphia Lawyer could hardly answer this interrogatory.

–  A. Erickson, City Marshal, Houston, Texas


Edward Hartwell Savage. Frontispiece, Police Records and Recollections, or, Boston by Daylight and Gaslight, Boston: J.P. Dale, 1873.

Edward Hartwell Savage (1812-1893) joined the Boston police in 1851, a time when officers were still called “the Watch.” Three years later, reorganization created the Boston Police Department, and Savage was promoted to captain and placed in charge of the station on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End. He knew the bustling neighborhood well, having previously worked at his brother’s North End grocery and as a “handcart man” at nearby Haymarket.

Boston’s population was growing quickly due to the annexation of adjacent cities and towns, an influx of newly arrived immigrants, and New Englanders moving from rural areas to the city in search of work. Savage’s career advanced, too: he became Boston’s Chief of Police in 1870.

In February 1877, Chief Savage sent a questionnaire to police jurisdictions across the United States and to several cities in the British Isles. The 122 responses he received are bound together in one volume at the Burns Library. They contain answers to:

  • Is your system municipal or metropolitan?
  • Number of square miles in your jurisdiction?
  • Number of miles of streets in your jurisdiction?
  • Number of the population in your jurisdiction?
  • Number of your police force in rank and file?
  • Pay of the chief of police?
  • Pay of patrolmen?
  • Average hours of patrol duty each twenty-four hours?
  • Days of vacation during the year under pay?
  • Do your officers receive their witness [court] fees?
  • Have you a mounted police? How many?
  • Do your officers wear uniforms? What color?

Scrapbook of questionnaire replies, Edward Hartwell Savage collection (MS2004.069), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Chiefs, commissioners, and superintendents of police, city marshals, sheriffs, and others signed the forms. Jurisdictions and replies varied considerably – from such diverse places as London, England and Montpellier, Vermont. They include answers to questions about demographics, work hours and compensation, and even about use of uniforms – including their color. No surprise – when departments did have them, the vast majority were shades of dark blue.

In addition to this collection of questionnaire returns, the Ellerton J, Brehaut collection of Edward Hartwell Savage papers includes other Boston Police Department records: a listing of watchmen and records of duty, 1826-1851; a listing of police officers, 1854-1878; a record book of the North End, 1854-1859; and a ledger containing the signatures of owners of lost or stolen goods recovered by the Boston Police, 1861-1875. Savage also had a great interest in the history of his city, and the collection contains personal papers and manuscripts of his two published works: A Chronological History of the Boston Watch and Police, from 1631 to 1865, and Boston Events; brief mention and the date of more than 5,000 events that transpired in Boston from 1630 to 1880, published in 1884.

  • Shelley Barber, Reference & Archives Specialist,  John J. Burns Library

Works consulted:

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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