This post is by Christine Calvo, Cataloger, American Historical Manuscript Collection.
This month’s selection from the American Historical Manuscript Collection focuses on two early nineteenth century “watch notes.”
Watchmen assignments originally developed in England, and were later imported to the American colonies in the 1600s. The inception goes back as early as ancient Rome with vigiles. It was an obligated service, in which men patrolled their assigned villages, crying out the time and weather, and warding off drunkards. Some municipalities could afford to pay their watchmen, but, typically, keeping watch was an nonsalaried job. Typically, watchmen served in rotation.
As seen in the notices here–summoning Enoch Perkins, a citizen of some unknown locality for his shifts on December 11, 1819 and November 30, 1820–watchmen checked in at specific locations, such as “Olmsted’s building, Prison-street.” Perkins was ordered to appear “precisely at 9 o’clock P.M.,” or to forfeit one dollar. The backs of both notes confirm that he paid the fee rather than taking the night watch.