Cops and Robbers (Virginia’s Law Enforcement in the 1870s…or lack there of)

After having a less than pleasant individual meeting with my Professor on the status of my paper, what little hope I had left has been almost completely decimated. I have to change the focus of my paper because of the lack of substantial evidence. My Professor does not feel comfortable letting me continue in the desperate pursuit of a needle in a haystack. Therefore, I have switched to her original suggestion that I write a paper that focuses on crime in the 1970s and the structure of the legal system, in which I could still place the story of the pirate if I can find something in the next few weeks. I am going to see what I can find out next weekend, since I already planned out the trip…plus I contacted the local historical society to find out the hours and see if they have newspaper records, to which I was pleasantly surprised to find out they do.

My professor gave me the contact information for one of her graduate students from a few years ago who did her dissertation on Local Virginia crime. I sent her an e-mail after our meeting, because I realized the deadline for our first draft was rapidly approaching.

She was luckily quick to respond and was extremely helpful. According to Sarah (I’ve left off her last name for privacy reasons) local law enforcement was extremely limited at this time. In most towns it was limited to just a sheriff there was no real organization to it, mostly because it was just after the Civil War.

Sarah also had some knowledge of the US Navy. Though the US Navy was in existence, they were limited in size and were probably too busy to pay any attention to a small-time pirate operating in the bay. Moreover, if he was attacking small non-commercial ships, that were “Yankee” owned, then there would be little desire by the locals to report such actions. Historically there were many disputes between Maryland and Virginia over the waterways, yet another reason for locals in Virginia to be hesitant to report the unlawful actions of their neighbor. If it was to be reported then the branch that probably would have responded would have been the Cutter Service, which later became the US Coast Guard.

All of this information does help prove why the pirate probably could have escaped under the radar. There was a lack of law enforcement, in addition to a local community pushing for it. The story has become more plausible…if only I could find something more than word of mouth to prove it.

2 Responses to “Cops and Robbers (Virginia’s Law Enforcement in the 1870s…or lack there of)”

  1. Sara Turner says:

    The National Archives would be a great place to check out info like that!

  2. Katie says:

    Gosh, can you imagine what life would be like today if we only had sheriffs and a primitive coast guard protecting our shores? I suppose if this pirate was only doing small-time crimes, then it is ok that he slipped through the cracks, but still an uncomfortable thought. Interesting find.

    Best of luck on getting more information about this guy..I am starting to get anxious for you.