Much of the research for the content in this section of the website was undertaken by Virginia Commonwealth University students under the direction of Dr. John T. Kneebone, chairman of the History Department. Capitol Police are also grateful for the contributions of the Capitol Square Preservation Council for helping bring alive the rich history of the division. Be sure to visit this page each week for new pieces that chronicle the four centuries of the Virginia Capitol Police.
Dec. 17, 2018
Looking ahead to a new year and new century
As we come to the end of our anniversary year, I want to take a moment to thank each of you for joining us in this weekly feature highlighting the 400-year history of the Virginia Capitol Police.
From topics including the changing face of executive protection and experiments in galvanism to George Washington's storied silver trowel and the attraction of silkworms, we've tried to use this "Anniversary Focus" page to create for you snapshots of the past that helped shape who we are now, both as a seat of state government and as a police force.
We're proud of our rich history and the path that has led us to becoming a progressive police agency, a group of men and women dedicated to protecting not only the grounds of the Virginia Capitol but its employees, elected officials and visitors.
But we're not finished with this journey. We'll continue to use this page to share with you key moments from our history, and we invite you to visit www.americanevolution2019.com, a site dedicated to the 400th anniversary of events in Virginia that continue to define America, including the first meeting of the Virginia General Assembly in 1619.
Col. Anthony S. Pike
Chief, Capitol Police
Dec. 10, 2018
An arm of the Legislative Support Commission
The Division of Capitol Police is not a typical Virginia state agency. It is not considered part of the executive branch and it is not overseen by a member of the governor’s cabinet.
Capitol Police in 1982 were named a legislative agency. As such, the division answers to the Legislative Support Commission.
When the General Assembly established the commission, it set up the panel as follows: two members of the House of Delegates’ Committee on Rules, one member of the Senate’s Committee on Rules, the clerk of the House of Delegates, the clerk of the Senate, the director of the Division of Legislative Services and the director of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems.
Dec. 3, 2018
Seniority has its privileges
Becoming a veteran member of the Virginia Capitol Police means you get to witness history on a regular basis. One of the best ways to chart that history is to measure the number of governors who have occupied the Executive Mansion during your tenure with the division.
Get into your upper 20s in terms of years of Capitol Police service, and you’ve served during the terms of at least seven governors. Get into your upper 30s, and you’re talking double figures.
No one on the force, however, could hold a candle to John Power “Cap’n Jack” Pettis. He joined the state in April 1890, and by the time he retired in September 1948 at age 84, he had seen 15 different governors take up residence in the Executive Mansion.
Nov. 26, 2018
The tenure of Gov. J. Lindsay Almond
J. Lindsay Almond, who served as Virginia’s governor from 1958 to 1962, once escaped injury in a shooting near the Executive Mansion.
Capitol Police determined that an unknown person shot at Almond on April 12, 1959, as the governor walked from the Executive Mansion to the Capitol. Almond had received a number of threats because of the controversy surrounding school desegregation.
No one was ever arrested for the shooting.
Five more Capitol Police officers were hired as a result of the shooting, and the division increased its presence at the Executive Mansion.
The shooting wasn’t the only time gunfire was heard on the Capitol grounds during Almond’s tenure. Almond periodically gave the Capitol Police cause for alarm when he would step outside the Executive Mansion with a handgun and fire at rodents on the property.
Nov. 19, 2018
It's a date
We’ve been asked how we came to identify Nov. 18, 1618, as the date on which the Virginia Capitol Police were “born.”
The answer is actually pretty straightforward.
While historical documents provide plenty of evidence of a group of guards assigned to protect leaders in and around the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, those men took on a more formal, structured role as a result of the Virginia Company’s so-called Great Charter, signed on Nov. 18, 1618.
The charter detailed specific instructions on a variety of topics ranging from land ownership to government in the colony, and it set the stage for the selection of two settlers from each of the colony’s 11 major settlements to attend a “General Assembly” in 1619. From that point on, laws were passed and management and operations improved significantly in the colony.
Four centuries and two capital-city moves later, the Capitol Police have steadily evolved into an agency dedicated to providing progressive law enforcement at the seat of Virginia’s government.
Nov. 14, 2018
Evolution of a name
The Division of Capitol Police traces its roots to the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1618. The agency’s name, however, doesn’t go back nearly that far.
Originally known simply as the Guard, the unit later became attached to the Virginia State Garrison Regiment and then was called the Public Guard.
The "Capitol Police" title did not come into existence until the Virginia General Assembly passed an act on Jan. 28, 1884. The act provided "for the appointment of Capitol Police certain other employees about the Public Buildings and Grounds."
Nov. 5, 2018
Better hours, more pay
Gov. Lindsay Almond announced in late 1960 that he was shortening the work week for members of the Virginia Capitol Police.
After working six-day weeks, Capitol Police saw their schedules trimmed to five days a week, effective in January 1961, according to a Nov. 16, 1960, story in The Richmond News Leader.
The new schedule meant officers would typically work 8.5 hours a day.
The new system also substituted compensatory time off for overtime when officers were required to work more than five days a week.
In August 1966, Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. announced a 5 percent raise for the 16-member Division of Capitol Police, effective Sept. 1, 1966. The effect of the raise was to increase the starting annual salary from $4,704 to $4,920. The maximum salary went from $6,144 to $6,432.
Oct. 30, 2018
The birth of the park we know as Capitol Square
The core of the coverage area for Virginia Capitol Police is Capitol Square, a 12-acre campus surrounding the Capitol building. The area is a meticulously maintained public park, complete with fountains, monuments, lush plants and brick walking paths.
For many years, the site wasn’t nearly as attractive as it is these days.
The 12 acres were purchased in the 1700s, setting the stage for the construction of the Capitol, which began in 1785 and took until 1800. Capitol Square, however, remained in what amounted to an unimproved state.
It wasn’t until 1816 that a formal landscape plan was designed by French-American architect Maximilian Godefroy, but his plan didn’t last all that long. Landscape designer John Notman of Philadelphia was commissioned in 1850 to redesign Capitol Square, leading to what amounted to a more natural style than the right-angled formal landscaping used in Godefroy’s plan.
Oct. 22, 2018
The pallet of the painting police officer
A 1961 feature in the Richmond Times-Dispatch profiled Harless F. Henley, who was a Capitol Police officer by day and a portrait painter in his spare time.
Henley explained that he had started painting portraits while he was serving in the Navy during World War II. He watched an artist work with pastels and said to himself, “I can do that.”
With no art training behind him, Henley produced a reasonable likeness of a fellow sailor, and a lifelong hobby was born.
The closest he came to formal training was when he decided to take a correspondence course.
“But what they wanted to teach, I already knew or I didn’t want to learn,” he said.
Working from the den of his Richmond home, Henley painted his portraits sometimes in pastels and sometimes in oils.
He had one simple rule for his subjects.
“I try to paint them as they are,” he said.
Oct. 15, 2018
Worms in the New World
While it’s common knowledge that the Virginia Capitol Police trace their roots to the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, it may come as a surprise to learn what initially set the stage for their presence there.
Tobacco has long been a staple of Virginia’s agricultural industry, but back in the early 1600s, there wasn’t much of a leaf crop at all.
Instead, Jamestown, the first of the original 13 colonies, was founded for the purpose of silk cultivation. King James wanted silk, and the New World seemed a good fit for mulberry trees, which provided vital silkworm food.
That worked well until blight fungus destroyed the mulberry trees, effectively crippling the region’s link to the silk trade.
That led to Plan B – tobacco – and to this day, it remains an important cash crop on Virginia’s agricultural landscape.
Oct. 10, 2018
Leading the call for law enforcement education
Capt. William A. Seawell was the chief of the Virginia Capitol Police from 1961-70. He had a larger role as well, serving as a driving force for higher education for law enforcement officers in the Richmond and Tidewater regions.
Recognizing the need for increased training to meet the changing demands of law enforcement, Seawell urged Virginia Commonwealth University – then known as Richmond Professional Institute – to begin offering courses for police officers and aspiring officers.
In 1963, the State Council on Higher Education responded to Seawell's lobbying by authorizing courses at RPI that would lead to an associate’s degree in law enforcement.
Seawell then turned his attention to what was then known as Old Dominion College – now Old Dominion University. Like RPI, Old Dominion was not offering courses specific to law enforcement at the time.
Seawell’s efforts paid massive dividends over the decades that followed. Today, VCU offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice as well as a post-bachelor’s certificate program, and ODU offers bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in criminal justice.
Seawell made sure his officers took advantage of the educational opportunities, as proven by an Oct. 2, 1964, letter to the chief from Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr.
“I have just learned that every officer on the Capitol Police force is enrolled in some course for the advancement of his training,” Harrison wrote. “I am told that every member of the force is attending the training program at Richmond Professional Institute, and that in addition, eight are taking night courses offered by the University of Maryland.”
The governor went on to congratulate Capitol Police “for being the first police unit to have a 100 percent enrollment of is personnel in an institution of higher learning.”
Seawell was subsequently presented a merit award by RPI’s School of Applied Social Science in recognition of his leadership role in establishing higher education programs for law enforcement officers.
Oct. 1, 2018
Duty calls -- even when you're off duty
For one Virginia Capitol Police officer, being off duty on July 9, 1964, didn’t mean an escape from his duties to serve the public.
Floyd Mann, who in addition to serving with the Capitol Police volunteered with the Forest View Rescue Squad, was called to an address in Richmond to transport a pregnant woman to the hospital.
Mann responded with his rescue squad partner, off-duty Richmond Police Patrolman H. Charlton III.
When the two arrived, it became immediately apparent the trip to the hospital would be delayed. Mann and Charlton aided the woman through delivery of a baby boy before transporting the mother and son to St. Philip Hospital.
The mother and son were fine, according to a report in The Richmond News Leader on July 10, 1964, and were released from the hospital the following day.
Sept. 24, 2018
Washington is not buried here
The George Washington Equestrian Statue stands proudly over the northwest corner of Virginia’s Capitol Square, an unmistakable landmark greeting visitors at the main entrance to the complex.
Some may not know it originally was intended to be a crypt – for Washington.
First proposed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1816 as a suitable monument to Washington, the statue that resulted included a heavy marble door at the base, serving as an entryway to an area designed to house Washington’s remains.
The General Assembly had asked Bushrod Washington, a nephew of the first president and a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, for permission to move Washington’s body to Richmond.
Bushrod Washington, however, declined the request, saying his late uncle had specified he be buried at Mount Vernon.
Sept. 19, 2018
Loyalty can take many forms. It could come through selfless deeds. It could translate into a financial reward. In the case of the Virginia Capitol Police, it was evident last century by the incredible years of service accumulated by four officers.
A 1936 article in The Richmond News Leader profiled four Capitol Police officers who between them had rolled up 127 years of continuous service on the job. The four were John Power “Cap’n Jack” Pettis, T.A. Carroll, John William “Pinkey” Truslow and Wilborn Wooldridge.
At the time, Wooldridge was the baby of the group, having been appointed in 1920.
The service of Pettis dwarfed that of any of the others. Pettis was 24 years old when he joined the Capitol Police in 1889 at the pay rate of $60 per month.
At the time of the News Leader piece, Pettis was 73 and still going strong as he closed in on 50 years of service.
Pettis was 84 when he retired in 1948 with 58 years and five months of service to his credit.
He was 94 when he passed away in 1959 at a Richmond hospital.
Sept. 10, 2018
On patrol, far and wide
In addition to the properties on and around the 12-acre Capitol Square campus in downtown Richmond, Virginia Capitol Police are responsible for guarding many other state-owned or state-maintained properties in different areas of the city.
One such site is the Carillon, which overlooks the James River in Byrd Park near the Boulevard Bridge. The city donated a site in Byrd Park for the Carillon, which was dedicated in 1928 as a memorial to those from Virginia who fought in World War I.
The state recently took over responsibility for maintenance and security of the 240-foot-high structure. The Virginia Department of General Services earlier this year began an extensive renovation project that will cover the interior and exterior of the Carillon.
The Carillon originally included 66 bells capable of playing 53 notes. The top 13 notes had duplicate bells.
Sept. 4, 2018
Help from the hospital
As the tide turned in the Civil War and the end drew near for Confederate troops, Richmond found itself preparing for the onslaught by Union troops.
The Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police, had seen its ranks depleted as men left to join Confederate soldiers on the battlefields. But now, with the Union drawing closer to Richmond by the day, reinforcements were needed.
The Public Guard summoned soldiers from Chimborazo Hospital to help the guard members maintain order in Capitol Square. Alas, their efforts were in vain.
Union armies swept into Richmond and burned the courthouse in Capitol Square where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had his office. Many other office buildings and more than 900 houses were burned as well.
In the end, Capitol Square ended up becoming a sanctuary from the surrounding flames as Richmond burned.
Aug. 27, 2018
Changing duties for changing times
Want a good idea of how the job responsibilities of the Virginia Division of Capitol Police have changed over the years? Look no further than the tenure of John Powell “Cap’n Jack” Pettis, who retired in 1948 after 58 years of continuous service.
Pettis, who served under 15 governors in an era when violent crime and terrorism were the exception rather than the rule, had a list of duties that included guarding the Capitol’s workforce of prison inmates and supervising the planting of trees and shrubs on the Capitol’s grounds.
Pettis was 94 when he died in 1959, and the duties of the Capitol Police gradually changed in the modern world before 9/11 prompted law enforcement agencies across the globe to recognize the importance of situational awareness in an ever-changing political landscape.
Aug. 20, 2018
The varied career of Charles Dimmock
Charles Dimmock, who led the Public Guard, a forerunner of the Virginia Capitol Police, from 1844 until his death in 1863, had quite the varied professional life.
A native of Barnstable, Mass., Dimmock attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., graduating fifth in a class of 24 in 1821, and he began to pursue a career as a soldier and a civil engineer. He surveyed a canal route, a railroad route and a military road before joining the Portsmouth and Roanoke Rail Road Co., becoming its president in 1840.
Dimmock later developed an interest in steam navigation and joined with two other men to form Charles Dimmock and Co., which built two steam-powered, iron canal boats. The Governor McDowell was launched in 1843 and the Mount Vernon in 1844. The Governor McDowell had a screw propeller that was innovative and efficient, but it made the craft so fast that its bow-wave action damaged the banks of the James River and Kanawha Canal.
Dimmock also served as a director of the James River and Kanawha Co., resigning in November 1848.
After taking over the Public Guard, Dimmock on at least two occasions was granted leaves of absence to undertake surveys of railroad routes, and he served as secretary of the Armory Iron Co.
Dimmock was 63 when he died shortly after suffering a stroke on Oct. 27, 1863.
Aug. 13, 2018
Christmas greetings from J. Edgar
In an age dominated by electronic mail and digital social media platforms that can instantly transmit your message to literally millions of followers, the greeting card -- delivered by snail mail – is becoming somewhat of a dinosaur.
But it wasn’t all that long ago that it was typical to open your mailbox and find a handful of cards, especially at the holidays.
The archives of the Virginia Capitol Police found that in 1965 alone, the division received 211 Christmas cards sent to the agency and another 256 sent with personal messages handwritten to Capt. William A. Seawell, the chief, or other members of the division.
They came from dignitaries on the national level, including former President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as well as those on the state level, including Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. and his family.
One interesting offering among the 500-plus cards arrived in a plain white envelope and, in the upper left-hand corner, listed a return address of “Washington, D.C. 20535.” The envelope contained a card with only the logo of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the front – hardly a festive design for the holiday season.
Inside the card, in red ink, was an arrangement of poinsettia and holly and the words, “Season’s Greetings.”
The card was signed, in all capital letters, “JOHN EDGAR HOOVER AND ASSOCIATES.”
Aug. 6, 2018
The wages of the day
Ask anyone who goes into law enforcement, and they’ll tell you they didn’t do it to get rich.
A Richmond Times-Dispatch story from August 1966 will certainly reinforce that notion. The piece detailed how the governor’s office had announced a 5 percent raise for the 16-member Division of Capitol Police, effective Sept. 1, 1966.
The effect of the raise was to increase the starting annual salary from $4,704 to $4,920. The maximum salary went from $6,144 to $6,432.
In addition, Capitol Police were authorized to pay an additional 5 percent to the leader of each shift.
The governor’s authorization came after a proposal to increase the salaries for Capitol Police by 10 percent had failed in the 1966 General Assembly.
The current starting salary for Capitol Police officers is $42,750.
July 30, 2018
Stay healthy -- or risk losing your job
In this age of modern healthcare, if you have an infection, there’s a good chance we’ve got a specific antibiotic to treat it. If the diagnosis is some sort of complicated disease, the likelihood is that there is a surgical procedure and/or some sort of drug therapy to combat it. No matter what ails you, the odds are we’ve got a course of treatment aimed at either returning you to good health or at least alleviating the symptoms.
That wasn’t always the case. In the early 1800s, for example, many ailments could effectively mean the end of your working career for the simple reason that there were no known cures. It didn’t matter if you were in your 20s, 40s or 60s. If you were diagnosed with certain maladies, you were effectively sent into retirement.
One such example came in a letter that was found in the archives of Capt. Blair Bolling, who from 1818 to 1839 led the Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police.
Bolling wrote on March 3, 1823, of his decision to “discharge” two new enlistees of his unit who had contracted diseases for which authorities were unable to treat them.
“It is true that they have rendered but very little service,” Bolling wrote, “and I believe they never will be able to render any more.”
Bolling said it was believed both men had contracted their unnamed diseases prior to enlisting in late 1822, so he was within his rights to discharge them “as I have it in my power to enlist able bodied men who can perform their duty and not be a burden to the company.”
July 23, 2018
Headlines outline life during war time
One after another, the front-page headlines in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reflected the severity of international tensions and how they affected Virginia Capitol Police and others charged with protecting the public.
“VIRGINIA TROOPS GUARD STRATEGIC PUBLIC PLACES”
“Armed Soldiers Are Put About State Capitol And Governor’s Mansion”
“DRAGNET IS SPREAD TO CAPTURE SPIES”
“STEPS ARE TAKEN TO PLACE NATION ON WAR FOOTING”
“River Bridges Are Being Closely Watched”
Was this a sampling of headlines from the aftermath of 9/11? While you might be able to make a case for several of the headlines, the truth is you’re off by nearly a century.
In this case, the front page of the Times-Dispatch was from March 26, 1917.
Europe was in violent turmoil. China had just severed relations with Germany. Lenin had just returned from exile in Switzerland. Briand had just resigned as prime minister of France.
And the United States was less than two weeks away from joining allies Britain, France and Russia in World War I.
July 16, 2018
Relative rock stars on the antebellum music scene
Thomas Edison was still roughly one-fourth of a century from inventing the phonograph.
There were no downloads. No CDs. No earbuds. No tapes.
It was antebellum Richmond, and if you wanted to enjoy music, that meant you went to a live performance.
The Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police, formed its own 12-piece band in 1853 under James B. Smith. Performing on weekends and at nights in and around Capitol Square, the band quickly earned a reputation as one of the best in the United States.
With its rising profile came increasing requests for more performances, and the growing workload began to strain the members’ official duties with the Public Guard. The band started receiving payment for its performances, and while those funds supplemented the members’ official state pay, it didn’t put a halt to the issue of job duty performance.
By 1859, tensions had grown to the point where it was proposed that the band be abolished. A compromise was reached, however, and new employees were hired to take the place of the band members with the Public Guard. That freed the band members to be discharged from public service and continue with their music careers.
July 9, 2018
Washington's storied silver trowel
A silver construction trowel serves as a link between prominent attractions in the U.S. capital and the Virginia capital.
President George Washington used the trowel to help lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 18, 1793.
The trowel, with a silver blade, silver shank, ivory handle and a silver handle cap, was crafted for the occasion by Brother John Duffey, an Alexandria silversmith who was a member of Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge No. 4. When the cornerstone ceremony ended, Washington presented the trowel to Alexandria Masonic Lodge No. 22.
That was far from the end of the trowel’s life, however. The Alexandria lodge loaned the trowel out for use in dozens of cornerstone-laying ceremonies over the coming centuries. Those events included a cornerstone ceremony at Virginia’s Capitol Square in 1850, when the foundation was laid for the George Washington Equestrian Statue. The statue towers over the northwest corner of Capitol Square, near the main entrance and guardhouse used by Virginia Capitol Police.
Other notable cornerstone ceremonies in which the trowel has been used include the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington National Monument, the National Cathedral, the Library of Congress and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
The Alexandria lodge continues to count the trowel as one of its most prized possessions.
July 2, 2018
Coming in from the cold
Visitors to Virginia’s Executive Mansion find the property surrounded by an iron fence with a gate at the entrance to a circular driveway and a guardhouse staffed by Virginia Capitol Police alongside the entrance.
The guardhouse came during the administration of Gov. J. Lindsay Almond, who served from 1958 until 1962 as Virginia’s 58th governor. Almond and his wife, Josephine, wanted Capitol Police officers to have shelter while guarding the Executive Mansion.
Before Almond’s administration, Capitol Police officers had to stand out in snow, rain, sleet and other inclement weather while on duty at the Executive Mansion.
Depending on how severe the weather was, it could be a particularly challenging assignment at the Executive Mansion, with officers swapping stories about occasionally standing over the grates leading up from Capitol Square’s tunnels to get the benefit of any escaping heat.
These days, the guardhouse has heat, air-conditioning, telephone and computer service as well as an array of security and monitoring capabilities.
June 25, 2018
The day that George Washington dangled
The George Washington Equestrian Statue has been a fixture near the northwest entrance to Virginia's Capitol Square for more than one and one-half centuries. That fixture, however, got off to a somewhat shaky start.
Following President George Washington's death in 1799, the General Assembly wanted to build a suitable monument. Finally, after decades of debate and fundraising, a resolution was passed in 1849 and a commission was appointed. Thomas Crawford's design was selected, and on Feb. 22, 1850, in the presence of President Zachary Taylor, former President John Tyler and many other dignitaries and a crowd of thousands, the cornerstone was laid.
The bronze statue was cast in Germany and arrived in Richmond late in 1857, just weeks after Crawford died suddenly at age 47.
Capt. Charles Dimmock, the head of the Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police, was charged with overseeing the hoisting of the statue onto its base. But some cogs reportedly popped off a wheel on one of the hoists, leaving the statue dangling precariously over a group of men.
Dimmock prevented disaster by threatening to shoot anyone who moved. While those beneath the statue held their positions, citizens who had gathered quickly pulled down part of a fence and uprooted some trees so the statue could be lowered safely to its base.
June 18, 2018
Women as trailblazers -- or not
We are a nation fascinated with all kinds of firsts – first man on the Moon, first woman to vote, first hospital, first state to hold presidential primaries, first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament. If you’re not necessarily the best at something in the United States, you at least have the opportunity to be saluted for being the first.
As it turns out, our nation’s attraction to being first is not something we can trace back deep into our history.
As a matter of fact, it appears to be quite the opposite.
"Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625,” a publication of the American Historical Association chronicling the Virginia Company and the formative years of the Public Guard, a forerunner of the Virginia Capitol Police, has a reference in its table of contents to: “Arrival of the First Woman in the Colony.”
That sent us scurrying to the appropriate page to learn all we could about this woman. What was her name? How old was she? What was her role after she got here? We had a litany of questions about this groundbreaking arrival.
This, complete with unaltered spelling, was what we found about the arrival of the woman on or around Sept. 10, 1608: “The ship having disburdened her selfe of 70 persons, with the first gentlewoman and woman servant that arrived in our Colony; Captaine Newport with al the Councell, and 120 chosen men, set forward for the discovery of Monacan, leaving the President at the fort with 80. (such as they were) to relade the shippe.”
That’s it. No name. No age. No job status. Not a single detail that might shed more light on the role of women back then.
Lesson learned? If you’re writing about your family’s history, and you’re considering what someone may think when they read it, say, 400 years down the road, don’t be afraid to air it out a bit. Because at least in the case of recording history, less is definitely not more.
June 11, 2018
Capitol Square during war time
Dec. 7, 1941, was a day that changed the course of world history, and it was felt all the way to Richmond and the Virginia Capitol Police.
When word of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor reached the grounds of Capitol Square, it was immediately determined that the 12 members of the Capitol Police who were working on patrol would need to be supplemented.
The three Capitol Police officers who were on vacation were called back and three other men were sworn in as special officers until help arrived. In addition, unemployed members of the Virginia Protective Force were added to the ranks of Capitol Police.
As the months passed, there were other signs of the darkening war. A billboard was erected near the Capitol Square Bell Tower proclaiming the need to buy war bonds. Photographs of the Capitol were prohibited. And Sunday band concerts were held at Capitol Square to entertain the troops.
At one point, there was talk that it might be prudent to melt down the fence around Capitol Square and use the metal for munitions. This idea did not sit well with Gov. Colgate Darden.
“When the White House fence is scrapped,” Darden said, “we will discuss our fence.”
June 4, 2018
Tough times for Capitol Square canines
Not long after the creation of the Virginia Capitol Police by the General Assembly in 1884, it became apparent that the legislators would need to craft rules and regulations to provide for a more efficient operation for the new force.
That led the General Assembly in 1890 to approve an act that gave Capitol Police the power to exercise within Capitol Square all of the powers, duties and functions exercised by Richmond police within the city’s jurisdiction.
While the act gave Capitol Police a reliable blueprint for day-to-day operations, the thrust was aimed at growing numbers of stray dogs that had been deemed a nuisance in the Capitol Square area.
The new legislation provided that any dog found in the Capitol Square area without its owner may be driven beyond the limits of the square and, if necessary, clubbed or killed. The law also stipulated that it was unlawful for anyone to bring a dog or allow one to follow him into the square unless it was held in control by leash or otherwise.
Violators were guilty of a misdemeanor and could be fined between $1 and $10.
May 29, 2018
The economics of your career choice
Soldier of fortune.
The term might conjure up images of a modern-day warrior, perhaps even an active-duty military veteran, who was lured to leave the armed forces to join a private defense contractor by a promise of greater pay and higher potential for adrenaline rushes in dangerous, faraway lands.
You might envision a man in his 30s, well sculpted from endless hours of hard work in the gym, with a shaved head adorned only with wraparound sunglasses, riding confidently in an open-top Humvee and toting the latest in automatic weaponry to take on any and all foreign enemies.
What you probably might not envision is a man walking around the woods in Virginia during the late 1700s, outfitted in a wool coat, broadcloth shirt and ill-fitting britches and carrying a musket.
And for failing to consider that, you would be mistaken.
As it turns out, soldiers of fortune are hardly new. In fact, a 1973 research paper, authored by William E. White of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and titled, “The Virginia State Garrison Regiment: 1778-1782,” shows that soldiers of fortune had a prominent presence during the days of the American Revolution.
Was it worth it for them to look elsewhere in those days? You decide.
White’s research paper noted that the men who enlisted in the Virginia State Garrison Regiment, a forerunner of the Virginia Capitol Police, received a $20 “bounty,” or what amounted to a signing bonus, plus a $20 suit of clothes for enlisting. Their pay was set in 1775 at $6.67 per month but was raised 30 percent the next year, to roughly $8.67 monthly.
In addition, individual rations included 1 pound of beef or ¾ of a pound of pork or 1 pound of salt fish per day; 1 pound of bread or flour daily; 3 pints of peas or beans per week; 1 pint of milk per day; ½ pint of rice or Indian meal weekly; and one quart of spruce beer or cider daily. White’s paper also noted that rum and whiskey were authorized “but seldom issued.”
On paper, the pay and provisions would seem fair compensation for the time period. But paper and practical reality, it seems, were far apart for many men.
White wrote that the regiment had significant problems growing its ranks for the simple reason that enlistees “did not always cooperate with the officer who had enlisted him. Bounty jumping was a favorite occupation, and often a man would travel around, joining different regiments collecting the bounty offered and then deserting.”
In turn, bounty jumping spawned a cottage industry as regiment officials looked to make it worth it for “bounty hunters” to round up the “bounty jumpers.”
It became common to see ads such as the following in the Virginia Gazette and other publications: “EIGHTY DOLLARS REWARD for apprehending the following deserters belonging to the Virginia State Garrison Regiment of infantry now stationed near Williamsburg: Thomas Tisdale … had on when he went away a blue regimental coat turned up with red, a red jacket and breeches. Charles Valentine … had on the same uniform as above. James Collier … had on the same uniform as above. John Bunns … had on the same uniform as above. Whoever apprehends the said deserters, and conveys them to the commanding officer at Williamsburg, York, Hampton or Portsmouth shall have the above reward, or 20 dollars for either of them.”
May 21, 2018
Anna Maria Lane and the courage of a soldier
When John Lane enlisted in the Continental Army in 1776, he had an atypical accomplice while serving in the campaigns in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia: his wife, Anna Maria Lane.
During that period, it was not uncommon for women to work in military encampments as cooks, nurses, seamstresses or laundry assistants. But documents indicate Anna Maria Lane not only dressed as a soldier, but worked as one. On Oct. 3, 1777, at the battle of Germantown, near Philadelphia, she performed “extraordinary military services” and was wounded.
After the war, the Lanes moved to Virginia, where John Lane in 1801 joined the Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police. Anna Maria volunteered to assist in the military hospital and made the acquaintance of Dr. John H. Foushee, at whose request Gov. James Monroe and the Council of State authorized her to be paid a small stipend for her work.
By late 1804, Anna Maria’s name no longer appeared in the council’s journal as a nurse, leading historians to believe she had apparently become too feeble to work.
Four years later, after several men, including John Lane, were discharged from the Public Guard, Gov. William H. Cabell asked the General Assembly to provide pensions for those disabled male soldiers as well as for a few women. The legislature awarded Anna Maria $100 a year for life in recognition of her service “in revolutionary war, in the garb, and with the courage of a soldier.”
Anna Maria Lane died on June 13, 1810.
May 14, 2018
Time to call in the lawyers
We all make mistakes, especially in our younger years. As it turns out, that’s been a time-honored tradition of sorts.
Virginia Capitol Police archives turned up one instance nearly two centuries ago in which a young man who had signed up to join the Public Guard, a forerunner of the Capitol Police, had parents who were none too impressed with his career choice.
The parents of John Calhoun enlisted the help of an attorney, David Briggs of Fredericksburg, to help lobby for his release from the Public Guard. Briggs wrote to Capt. Blair Bolling, head of the Public Guard, on March 24, 1830, to say Calhoun had served in the U.S. Navy aboard the Java, and upon his discharge from the military, he “imprudently joined the Public Guard, probably while intoxicated. He laments his imprudence and his parents want him to be discharged to pursue another vocation.”
Bolling responded by sending a letter to Virginia Gov. John Floyd on March 26. Bolling wrote that Calhoun had “made no complaints about being in the Guard and wanted to stay.” Bolling also told the governor that Calhoun “was a good soldier” and that if they discharged him as his father wished, Bolling felt Calhoun “would try to enlist somewhere else again.”
Peter V. Daniel of Falmouth, a second attorney for Calhoun’s parents, got involved, writing in an April 1 letter that he would take the matter before the Executive Council of Virginia. Daniel wrote that Calhoun had enlisted in the Navy some years earlier after running away from home, only to subsequently regret his decision and reach out to his father and ask if it would be OK for him to return home.
The matter ended when Bolling wrote an April 30 letter to the governor, informing Floyd that Calhoun had been discharged April 27 on the advice of the Executive Council. Bolling said the Executive Council had ordered Calhoun to pay $29.78 to reimburse the Public Guard for his clothing.
The final entry in Bolling’s letter? “Received $4 from him.”
May 7, 2018
The changing face of executive protection
The G-Man look. You know it. Appears to be about mid-30s, in excellent physical condition, sporting a dark suit, darker sunglasses, freshly trimmed hair and an earbud connected to a wire that disappears under the collar. Head on a swivel, constantly surveying the landscape for the slightest sign of trouble. And no smile. Definitely no smile. Ever.
As for the ride, always a Chevrolet Suburban. Black, of course, with a few short antennae protruding from the center of the roof. Impenetrable-looking black tinted windows. And flashing blue emergency light bars embedded in the grill. This stretch-length SUV is often accompanied by one or more similarly outfitted Chevrolet Tahoes, a smaller, employees-only version of the Suburban, which is reserved for carrying the precious cargo: typically a high-ranking elected official and family members.
Executive protection units – EPUs, for short – have become significantly more advanced in recent years as high-profile attacks have increased. Exceptional teamwork and communications are critical; lives are at stake.
But less than one-half century ago, guarding a high-level official wasn’t nearly as complicated.
A memo from the Virginia Capitol Police archives, dated March 11, 1971, and titled, “POLICY COVERING THE OPERATION OF THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION VEHICLE,” offered some insight into an era when decorum appeared to be of similar importance to security.
Consider the following paragraph:
“The vehicle should be parked to enable the Governor to get in on the right side without having to go around the car. The Officer, in full uniform, should have the door open and should salute the Governor when he approaches. The Officer should then close the door after the Governor is seated. When the destination is reached, whenever possible the right side of the vehicle should be on the side nearest the door that the Governor will be entering. The Officer will then get out and open the door for the Governor. As the Governor begins to leave the car, the Officer will again salute him. These instructions will be carried out for the First Lady and members of the Governor’s family when they are being transported, except the hand salute is not required.”
The policy included an addendum containing “SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS” for guarding Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr., who served non-consecutive terms from 1966-1970 and 1974-1978.
One of those instructions: “On work days, an Officer will meet the Governor at the Mansion at approximately 0845 and walk him to the office, then at 1200 meet him at his office and return him to the Mansion. He should then determine at what time the Governor will return to his office and meet and escort him at that time. At approximately 1700 the officer will meet the Governor at his office and return him to the Mansion.”
Another offered a glimpse into Godwin’s occasional desire for some private time: “If the Governor takes a walk, an Officer should request to accompany him on the walk. If the Governor declines, the Officer will return to his post but advise his supervisor of the Governor’s whereabouts.”
April 30, 2018
Let's see Home Depot beat this price
The average price of a new home in the United States was $369,900 in March 2018, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.
If that seems like a daunting amount, you’re probably not going to like the contents of one of the letters uncovered by the Virginia Capitol Police in the quest to learn more about the history of the 400-year-old agency.
This particular letter was from a member of the Capitol Guard, a forerunner of the Capitol Police, and was written to the guard’s leader, Capt. Alexander Quarrier, on Sept. 26, 1806. Quarrier had asked the man to give him an estimate of how much it would cost to build a one-story house that was 20 feet long and 16 feet wide.
The man told Quarrier that various building materials, including flooring, framing, siding boards and roof shingles, would amount to $128.98.
In the interest of full disclosure, and so you’ll know the house couldn’t possibly be built for the paltry sum of $128.98, we should add that the man also told Quarrier the quote did not cover the costs of nails and of shipping the various building materials.
Still, to put that amount in perspective, take $128.98 with you on your next trip to your favorite home improvement store and see how far it gets you.
April 23, 2018
Need the Capitol Police? Just whistle
When you need the assistance of the Virginia Division of Capitol Police these days, you contact a state-of-the-art communications center that is supported by a staff of highly trained, certified professionals. Officers can be dispatched in seconds and need little time to reach most areas of the state government complex in downtown Richmond.
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, getting in touch with Capitol Police could be quite the challenge.
In the early 20th century, for example, anyone trying to reach the division was supposed to use a telephone to call Room 7 at the Capitol, where the officers had taken up residence. As history has it, it wasn’t unusual for the phone to go unanswered.
Later, those needing Capitol Police assistance were to call the public telephone near Chicken’s, the popular snack bar at the Capitol.
William M. Tuck, Virginia’s 55th governor, who served from January 1946 to January 1950, was instructed to blow a whistle if he needed the Capitol Police, and if that didn’t work, he was to fire a pistol into the air. Tuck decided to test the system, so he walked into the front yard at the Executive Mansion, blew his whistle, fired his pistol into the air, and waited. And waited. And waited.
Twenty minutes later, Capitol Police responded, prompting Tuck to declare that the force “was not worth a damn.”
That’s a far cry from the current dynamics, as evidenced by late 2017, when the division began setting up its new CAD – or computer-aided dispatch – system. The technology allows the communications center to take emergency calls, pinpoint the location of the emergency and dispatch appropriate resources to the scene. It also features a new records management system and an in-car mobile solution, further enhancing the ability of Capitol Police to manage critical information and quickly respond to emergencies.
We think Gov. Tuck would approve.
April 16, 2018
No parking at the park?
The 12-acre site known as Virginia Capitol Square has evolved into a well-groomed public park, with thick, lush grass, fresh flowers, mature trees, fountains, meticulously maintained roses, plenty of history-rich monuments and brick walking paths lined with benches. Add it all up, and you’ve got a wonderful spot to come to eat lunch, walk your dog or just sit for a spell and take in the sights.
It wasn’t always that way.
In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that Virginia Capitol Police were kept busy by trying to control a population of vagrants that took up residence on benches along the hillside southwest of the Capitol building, drawing the ire of Gov. J. Lindsay Almond Jr. and his staff in the late 1950s.
“They wanted us to come in and clean it up,” Capitol Police Capt. R.L. Holloway told Jeff E. Schapiro, a former United Press International reporter and now a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, for a 1980 story for the wire service. “I guess we got the job done in six months. Some of those guys we arrested 20 times.”
In an attempt to keep the vagrants from returning, Almond ordered the benches removed.
“Officially,” Holloway recalled, “they said it was for repairs.”
The removal of the benches worked.
These days, the benches are back, and Capitol Square is open to the public from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily.
April 9, 2018
A tower of adaptability on Capitol Square
The Bell Tower is a longtime fixture at the southwest corner of Virginia's Capitol Square, and it's a quite adaptable one at that.
The Bell Tower, which has stood since 1825, replaced the original home of the Public Guard, a forerunner to the Division of Capitol Police.
The Public Guard, established in 1801 and in existence until 1869 as a uniformed infantry company that reported to the governor of Virginia, was initially housed in a wooden barracks that was constructed in 1802 at the southwest corner of Capitol Square.
The Public Guard remained at that site until 1822, when the men were moved to the Virginia State Armory at the south end of Fifth Street near the James River. That cleared the way for the 1824 demolition of the wooden barracks on Capitol Square and the subsequent construction on the site of what was originally called a bell house.
The house, manned by a detachment of the Public Guard, was topped with a bell that served to warn the city in case of fires or other emergencies. During the Civil War, the bell sounded to warn of the approach of Federal troops.
The Bell Tower fell into disuse toward the end of the 19th century but was later restored, and, starting in the 1930s, its bell was used ceremonially to call the Virginia General Assembly into session each year.
From 1978-82, it served as an office for Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb.
These days, it is the site of most rallies held at Capitol Square.
The Bell Tower currently houses the Virginia Capitol Square Preservation Council and the Virginia Capitol Foundation.
April 2, 2018
Suspect descriptions of suspects
Whether you’re watching your favorite crime show on television or monitoring an emergency radio communications channel, it’s impressive to see how technical suspect descriptions have become these days.
For instance, it’s not unusual for someone to be described as “6-foot-1, 236 pounds, 38 years old, gray hair with a close-cropped gray beard, missing a front tooth, with a multicolored tattoo of an angel on his left forearm and driving a red 1969 Chevrolet Camaro convertible that has a smashed front left headlight and a horizontal scrape on the right rear quarter panel.”
That’s a far cry from the days of the American Revolution, when soldiers who had deserted from the Virginia State Garrison Regiment, a forerunner of the Virginia Capitol Police, were being sought by bounty hunters.
Take a look at some of the descriptions of deserters found by William E. White, a Colonial Williamsburg historian whose published works included “The Virginia State Garrison Regiment: 1778-1782”:
- “Thomas James, a Portuguese, appears old, short stature, a tailor by trade.”
- “Wilson Jackson, from Nova Scotia, 33 years old, is gray headed, long stature, and very pale, and speaks low, is apt to get in liquor.”
- “John Lawrence, from Richmond, 23 years old, fair complexion, black hair, very pleasant countenance, well made, is rather dull of hearing, wears his uniform.”
- “Thomas Johnson, an Irishman, of a fair complexion, thin visage, middle stature, a sail maker by trade, is very apt to get drunk."
March 26, 2018
'The place won't look the same'
John Power “Cap’n Jack” Pettis retired on Sept. 15, 1948, after an astounding 58 years and five months of service to the Virginia Capitol Police. He was 84 years old at the time.
The previous December, Pettis suffered leg injuries when he was struck by a car. He returned to work in January 1948, using a cane, and resumed his day-shift post at the west door of the Capitol.
As the months went by, Pettis was offered – and initially accepted – a job as an elevator operator at the Capitol. But the more Pettis thought about the new job, which would have involved a switch to night work, the more he realized he didn’t want to attempt it.
So Pettis, who began his state employment on April 5, 1890, and served under 15 governors, decided to instead call it a career.
"It’s like cutting down one of the trees,” a Capitol worker told the Richmond News Leader. “The place won’t look the same.”
Pettis died six years later at 94.
“I eat good, and I sleep a lot,” Pettis told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in an interview a year before he passed. “I never smoked a cigar or a cigarette, and I never drank but one gallon of whiskey in my life.”
March 19, 2018
The governor and the costs of health care
While getting decent health care at an affordable price is a hot topic among many Americans, it’s certainly not a new one.
Consider the matter of Lt. Col. Charles Porterfield of the Virginia State Garrison Regiment, a forerunner of the Virginia Capitol Police. Porterfield was leading an artillery unit in a battle against British forces on Aug. 16, 1780, near Camden, S.C., when he suffered a broken leg that resulted in a wound that developed a serious infection.
William E. White of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, who wrote a 1973 research paper titled, “The Virginia State Garrison Regiment: 1778-1782,” described how Porterfield was captured by the British and lingered near death for five months.
Porterfield, according to White, was forced to borrow 30 Guineas from Lord Rowdon to pay the expenses associated with his care. After Porterfield died on Jan 10, 1781, his brother, Capt. Robert Porterfield, who had also been captured in the Camden battle, was held accountable for his brother’s debt.
White said Porterfield wrote to Virginia Gov. Thomas Jefferson on Feb. 1, 1781, to say he could not satisfy his late brother’s debt and needed help. Jefferson wrote back on Feb. 28 to say a hogshead of tobacco – roughly 1,000 pounds of leaf – was being sent to South Carolina and sold to cover the amount of his brother’s debt.
March 12, 2018
What we didn't know way back then
The Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police that was established in 1801, was originally housed in a wooden barracks at the southwest corner of Capitol Square before being moved in 1822 to the Virginia State Armory at the south end of Fifth Street near the James River.
In concert with the move, the commandant of the Public Guard was made superintendent of the armory, which gave him some unusual job oversight responsibilities. One of those involved the world’s quest to figure out the limits and applications of this wonderful discovery called electricity that Benjamin Franklin had stumbled upon decades earlier,
The armory became the setting for an experiment in that quest in August 1827, when three Spaniards were tried in Richmond for piracy. Upon their conviction, the three were ordered hanged.
The three, dressed in purple robes with their heads covered in hoods, were placed on gallows, where the executioner secured ropes around their necks. When the executioner dropped the floor beneath the three, one died but the rope holding the other two broke and they tumbled to the ground. The rope held on the second attempt, and the three bodies were taken to a hillside adjacent to the nearby State Penitentiary and buried.
A few hours later, however, the bodies were ordered to be disinterred, and the three were taken to the armory, where the superintendent oversaw experiments in galvanism -- the application of electric currents to human tissue. The experiments were designed to see if galvanism could bring people back to life within a reasonable period of time following their deaths.
The experiments at the armory proved unsuccessful, however, and the bodies were taken back over near the State Penitentiary and buried a second time.
March 5, 2018
The politics of blue and gray
The Public Guard, a forerunner to the Virginia Capitol Police, had no formal role with the Confederate army during the Civil War years, remaining instead in service to the Commonwealth of Virginia under Govs. John Letcher and then William “Extra Billy” Smith.
But that didn’t mean there weren’t indications the members of the Public Guard had allegiances to the South. Richmond was, after all, the Capital of the Confederacy.
Historic documents indicate at least 15 members of the Public Guard were paid for extra duty in 1861 as drill instructors for Southern recruits at Camp Lee. And in 1862, Letcher authorized a change in the Public Guard uniform to a style that mirrored that of the Confederate army.
In addition, the guard in May 1863 provided a military escort for moving the remains of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson from the Executive Mansion to Richmond’s train station for transportation to his longtime home in Lexington.
Those allegiances to the South cost the guard in April 1865, when Richmond was occupied by Union troops. The Union ordered the Public Guard dissolved, but it was re-established less than a year later as a military unit.
Feb. 26, 2018
The 'rude boys' and the Capitol Square privy
From Jefferson’s architectural tones of the Capitol to the monuments and other significant structures, Virginia’s Capitol Square is rich in not only history but beauty.
Then there’s the public privy that sprang up in the early 1800s on what was then often referred to alternately as the “Public Square.”
Capitol Square was the focus of talks about how to improve the area, and that conversation eventually grew to acknowledge the need to provide the public with a place to take care of basic necessities. Gov. James B. Preston signed contracts that led to the construction in September 1818 of a privy on the southeast corner of Capitol Square, a few hundred feet south of the Executive Mansion and next to the governor’s new horse stable. William G. Goodson, the contractor, was paid the princely sum of $225 to complete the work.
It wasn’t long before the privy became a problem. Adjutant Gen. Claiborne W. Gooch wrote in August 1820 to Gov. Thomas W. Randolph, saying the state needed to start treating the privy with lime because it was “absolutely necessary to the health of the citizens in its vicinity.”
Capt. Blair Bolling, commandant of the Public Guard, assumed oversight of the privy in 1821 and wrote frequently of problems of cleanliness, disrepair and vandalism. Bolling, in a March 1828 letter, cited “rude boys” who gathered at the privy and “break and destroy everything about it and actually wage war against the person employed to keep it in order.”
At Bolling’s suggestion, the state instituted a system of locking an iron gate for the privy and providing keys for each of the Capitol’s public offices.
But vandalism continued to be an impediment to the privy’s intended purpose, and on Oct. 28, 1839, the state ordered crews to nail shut the facility’s doors.
Feb. 19, 2018
Extra care for Extra Billy
Providing protection for Virginia’s chief elected officials could be a daunting prospect for Virginia Capitol Police, even before the days of cyber intelligence, high-tech weaponry and terrorist plots.
Consider the matter of William “Extra Billy” Smith, a Confederate general whose second stint as Virginia’s governor ran in the late stages of the Civil War, from Jan. 1, 1864, to May 9, 1865.
Smith required constant protection by the Public Guard, a forerunner of the Capitol Police, in large measure due to a $25,000 reward that had been offered by the Union for his capture. To put that figure in perspective, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that, with inflation, a comparable reward today would be roughly $360,000.
The Public Guard was successful in its mission, and Smith’s term was cut short by the Union’s victory in the war. He was removed from office and arrested, but he was paroled less than a month later and returned to his home near Warrenton.
Feb. 12, 2018
One bell, plenty of shouting
When you think about emergency communications, chances are you might think about state-of-the-art computer systems that allow dispatchers to instantly locate where a call is originating and to get help on the way.
Or you might think about the calm, professional voices of police and other first responders as they work with their dispatch centers and superiors over their radio systems to determine the best way to restore order in highly charged emergencies.
Or you might think about fast-developing technology that allows government agencies to quickly reach out to specific, targeted groups of citizens via texts or email alerts to let them know danger is pending – or has passed.
Indeed, emergency communications has made quantum leaps over the decades and centuries, especially since the early days of the Public Guard, a forerunner of the Virginia Capitol Police that was established in 1801.
Back then, the world was trying to harness this relatively new phenomenon known as electricity. The automobile was still nearly a century away from being mass produced in the United States. Alexander Graham Bell was still more than seven decades from patenting the telephone. It would be 1896 before the first patent was awarded for radio-based wireless telegraphy.
Add it all up, and you can appreciate just how far the field of emergency communications had to go in those days. The field, in fact, was essentially limited to verbal communications.
Members of the Public Guard, housed in barracks near the southwest corner of Capitol Square, walked the grounds on regular patrols to make sure everything was safe.
A guardsman had to strike a bell on each passing hour. That was the signal for the guardsmen on foot patrol to set in motion what – back then, at least – passed for emergency communications.
Upon hearing the hourly bell, each guardsman on patrol would stop, yell out the appropriate time of day, then the number of his specific post and then conclude by shouting, “All’s well!”
One bell and plenty of shouting. While it lacked in technological wizardry, it gave the Public Guard a regular, reliable means to communicate to those people in and around the Capitol that they were safe and in good hands.
Feb. 5, 2018
Military guards in 1618
Native American tribes, English-speaking invaders and martial law. All combined to contribute to the establishment of what we know today as the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.
In 1618, British explorers arriving in Virginia were encountering hostilities from Native Americans, specifically Powhatan Indians. Wahunsonacock, their leader, had some years earlier created a powerful organization by affiliating some 30 tribes across eastern Virginia, and by the time English colonists arrived in Jamestown in 1607, estimates were that the Powhatan numbered as many as 21,000.
Because the Powhatan were hostile toward the English, a system of martial law – governance by any means deemed necessary by the military – was instituted to protect the colonists. Colonial officials were often escorted by military guards while making their way through the hostile new land known as Virginia.
While these groups of military guards – executive protection units, if you will — were temporary and varying in size, they became the forerunner for what today is the Capitol Police.
Historical accounts indicate the Powhatan ultimately were undone not primarily by deadly conflicts with the encroaching English, but by the diseases they had carried with them to North America, including measles and smallpox. The diseases had been common in Europe and Asia for centuries, but the Powhatan had no immunity to them, and it translated into wholesale deaths among their ranks.