Antedating? of "Antedating of Modern Sense of "Police"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Nov 4 19:27:07 UTC 2012

Out of curiosity, I have just looked at the subset of Early American
Newspapers that I have access to at home.  There are instances of
"police" starting in 1720.  And over 2200 hits in total, including
false positives, between 1720 and 1786.

(The 1720s quotations, particularly since they almost certainly come
from London newspapers, make me wonder whether a search in the Burney
Collection would be profitable.)

I have difficulty distinguishing sense 3.a from senses 4 and 5.a;
they seem to morph into each other.  But here are 17 instances, all
before Fred's 1786, some of which seem to me to be sense 5.a (perhaps
others are merely sense 4, or even poor 3.a).

(1)   1720 Boston News-Letter June 20, 3/1.

"Paris Decemb. 2. The Concourse of Foreigners who repair to this City
to by [sic] Stock, is almost incredible.  Mr. Machault, Lieutenant
General of the Police went some days ago to wait upon the Regent, and
acquainted his Highness that since the 15th of October above 250000
[sic] Persons were come hither.  So many Persons raise their Fortunes
by that way of trading, that the Coach-Makers say, above 5000 Coaches
have been lately bespoke."

(2)  1720 American Weekly Mercury July 28, 2/1.

"Paris, May 11.  Our Lieut. General of the Police has given Orders
for all Tradesmen to give Certificates o their Journey-men and
Apprentices, to protect them from being impressed for the Service of
the _Missisippi_ Company, and to renew the same every Week, or else
they'l be sent away."

(3)  1720 Boston Gazette, Oct. 31, 3/2.

"Paris, August 14.  Orders are sent to Lisle ... and some other
Places, to enquire into the true Cause of the late Tumults ... and
take the necessary Precautions for preventing the same for the
future, by putting an effectual stop to the exorbitant rising of the
Price of Commodities, which 'tis hoped will be more easily effected
in those Places than in this popolous City, where the People have no
regard to the Orders of the Officers of the Police, and sell their
Goods as dear as they please without minding the Price that has been
set upon them."

(4)  1721 Boston News-Letter, July 17, 2/1.

"... the proper Officers should be strictly charged to see that the
Streets be washed and kept clean from Filth, Carrion, and all Manner
of Nusances; which should be carried away in the Night Time; nor
should the Laystalls be suffered to be too near the City.  Beggars
and Idle Persons should be taken up and such miserable Objects, as
are neither fit for the common Hospitals, nor Work-Houses, should be
provided for in an Hospital of Incurables,  Orders of this Kind are
necessary to be observed at all Times, in populous Cities; and
therefore I am sorry to take Notice, that in these of London and
Westminster there is no good Police established in these respects;
for want of which the Citizens and Gentry are every Day annoyed more
Ways than one."

[This is "from the Political State of Great Britain for the Month of
November past", a continuation of part of "Dr. Mead's Discourse of
Contagion".  See 1/1/.]

(5)  There are many other instances of "police", associated with
Paris, in 1725 and later years.

(6)  1735 New-England Weekly Journal, June 30, 1/1.

"Paris, April 6. ... The Court hearing this scandalous Insult on a
Crown'd Head, order'd the Police to cause her to be seized on Sunday
last, and thrown into a Dungeon."

(7)  1736 Boston News-Letter, July 1, 1/2.

"April 19.  They write from Paris, that the Peace is to be proclaimed
there the 11th of June, N. S. that the Horse and Foot Guet, the forty
Inspectors of the Police and the Heralds at Arms, are all to be new
cloathed on that Occasion ...".

["Guet" is presumably French "watch, lookout."]

(8)  1750 Boston Evening-Post, July 30, 1/1.

"Paris, May 22.  A few Days ago there was an Insurrection in this
City, occasioned by the Officers of the Police using too much Rigour
in the Execution of their Orders for clearing the Streets of idle
Children, by taking away all Children without Distinction."

(9)  1750 Boston News-Letter, Aug. 16, 1/1.

"I have seen them constantly busied in passing Laws for the better
Regulation of their Police, and never taking any Care of their Execution ...".

["From the London Gazetteer, May 25."  A "Persian Letter (wrote 15
Years ago)", "To Ibrahim Mollac, at Ispahan; from London."]

(10)  1754 Pennsylvania Gazette, April 4, 1/2.

"Naples, Dec. 21.  The Officers of the Police, who were charged to
execute the Edict for prohibiting of Gaming, acquit themselves with
all Punctuality, having lately surprized six Lords in the Milan
Coffee-house, who in Contempt of his Majesty's Orders were at Play,
whom they arrested and carried Prisoners to the Castle of L'Oeur,
where they are still detained."

[I then skipped to 1780.]

(11)  1780 Providence Gazette Jan. 1, 2/1.

"A. I was received by Sir William Howe with politeness, and at his
request I held the office (after considering of it four days) of
Superintendent of the Police of Philadelphia."

["The Examination of Joseph Galloway, Esq; before the British House
of Commons".  See 1/1.]

(12)  1780 New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury, Jan. 3, 2/4.

"By James Pattison Esq; Major General of his Majesty's Forces,
Commandant of New-York ... Proclamation. ... That such Persons who
propose retailing Spirituous Liquors, in smaller Quantities than Five
Gallons, may apply to the Police for a Special License for that Purpose, ...".

[Many other instances of "police" in royally-governed New York in 1780.]

(13)  1780 Massachusetts Spy Aug. 24, 3/2.

"Died in London ... Sir John Fielding ... chief magistrate at the
Bow-street Police."

(14)  1781 Providence Gazette, Jan. 17, 2/1.

"Lisbon (Portugal) August 29. ... On this deposition the Intendant of
the Police, followed by his men, ... went on board of every English
ship that lay in the port, and all the Portuguese sailors found
therein were delivered up to him without the least difficulty."

[Several other articles in 1781 about the Portuguese Intendant and his police.]

(15)  1782 Freeman's Journal {Phil.] July 31, 3/1.

"Philadelphia, July 31. ... it appears that there are a number of
villains amongst us, who act as spies ... Quere, is it not time to
establish something like the police of Paris in this city, in order
to know who is who?"

(16)  1782 Pennsylvania Evening Post Aug. 13, 1/1.

"Dear gen.  Head quarters, Savannah, July 12, 1782. ... Inclosed is a
copy of my orders of the 11th.  The gov. and legislature meet here
this evening or tomorrow, into whose hands I shall resign the civil police."

(17)  1782 Pennsylvania Packet,  Nov. 30, 3/1.

"Philadelphia, Nov. 30. ... Five of the villains who robbed Mr.
Ball's house are secured in Burlington jail. They prove to be from
New York, which they left but a few days before the robbery, and had
passes from David Mathews, one of the police of New-York."

[At this point, with a quotation that seems unequivocally sense 5.a
because it refers to a person and not an organization or a process,
and with over 450 more instances of "police" between 1783 and 1786
(inclusive) to go, I quit.]


Are these quotations all merely sense 3.a, "The regulation and
control of a community; the maintenance of law and order, provision
of public amenities, etc.", which dates from 1698?  But in
"Lieutenant General / Officers of the Police", "police" seems not to
refer to an activity (sense 3.a., the regulation, etc.) but to an
organization (senses 4 and 5.a, a department, or a civil force, or
its members).  Yet the quotation "1716   London Gaz. No.
5449/3,   Charles Cockburn, Esq. to be one of the Commissioners of
Police in North Britain." is placed under sense 3.a.  (Hence my
uneasiness about the distinction.)  And also --

Or are the 1720 quotations, particularly (3), and at least some of
the later, such as (6), (11), (13) to (15), (17), actually sense 5.a,
"The civil force of a state responsible for maintaining public order
and enforcing the law, including preventing and detecting crime;
(with pl. concord) members of a police force, police officers; the
local constabulary"?  But even if they are just sense 4, "A
department of a government or state concerned with maintaining public
order and safety, and enforcing the law", (1) through (7) still
antedate the 1740 of sense 4.

"The police", "internal police", "civil police" are possibly used in
sense 3.a into the 1770s and 1780s, although (16), "resign the civil
police", seems sense 4 or 5.a.  I have the ..., um, sense that
"internal / civil police" may be an intermediate between "police" as
"regulation and control" (3.a) and "police" as a "civil force"
(5.a.).  ("Internal police" is not in the OED: "civil police" only from 1880.)


At 11/4/2012 08:38 AM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
>police (OED3, 5.a., 1798)
>1794 Patrick Colquhoun _Observations and Facts Relative to Licensed
>Ale-Houses_ 18 (Eighteenth Century Collections Online)  His [an
>immoral publican's] house, in spite of all the vigilance of the
>parish or police officers, becomes a complete school of vice and wickedness.
>Fred Shapiro
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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