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Friday, July 25, 2014

Orwell Detective Society, 1862

Orwell, Vermont is most famous for its ownership of Mount Independence, a National Historic Landmark, is one of the largest, well preserved, and least disturbed major Revolutionary War archaeological sites in the United States.  

Mount Independence is located on Lake Champlain in Orwell.  It was "the site of extensive fortifications built during the Revolutionary War by the American army to stop a British invasion. Construction began in July 1776, following the American defeat in Canada, and continued through the winter and spring of 1777. 

Map of Orwell, 1857
After the American retreat on July 5 and 6, 1777, British and German troops occupied Mount Independence until November 1777.  After the American Revolution, Mount Independence was farm land, used for grazing sheep and cattle." - wiki

Orwell Detective Society

About a 100 years after the Revolutionary War, Orwell established the Orwell Detective Society in 1862.  

I have read through the By-laws, and can only compare what they formed during that time, to something like today's Neighborhood Watch Program, with an almost "Wild-West" flavor to its formation.

Source:  "A HISTORY of the TOWN of ORWELL, VERMONT", Compiled and Published by The Orwell Historical Society, 1988":

"The inhabitants of the town of Orwell, believing it to be expedient to form an association for the purposes of mutually assisting each other to recover property stolen, also to arrest and bring to justice burglars and thieves - met at J.W. Boynton's Inn and chose O.S. Branch; S.C. Bull; J. B. Cook; D.H.W. Norton and R. F. White as a committee to draft a constitution and a code of by-laws to be presented at a later meeting."  

The foregoing is a copy of the first page of a record book used by this Society, in 1862.  Following are the by-laws presented by the appointed Committee: 

No. 1 - It shall be the duty of two members of the executive board, on request of any member, to make an immediate examination of all premises, etc., that have been entered by thieves or burglars and a diligent inquiry relative to any and all losses sustained by any member of this Association, and to send out a sufficient number of watchmen or runners, as the case may require to accomplish the designs of this society.

No. 2 - All watchmen guarding against, or runners sent in pursuit of, burglars or thieves shall be supplied with the necessary funds, also with a certificate of their appointment - and in the discharge of their duties while absent from home. 

No. 3 - All members of this society are at all times to hold themselves in readiness to act immediately as runners or watchmen, when ordered by the executive board, and on failure thus to do, without reasonable excuse, must forfeit their membership.

No. 4 - All necessary expense of the aforesaid watchmen or runners also a reasonable compensation for their services and for services performed by the executive board, shall be paid by the treasurer, on an allowance by the auditors.

No. 5 - All necessary assessments on the members of this society shall be levied by majority vote of the members present at a regularly warned meeting - the amount of said assessment to be paid equally by each member and to be collected by the treasurer.

No. 6 - The failure of payment of any regular assessment shall debar the delinquent member from all benefits of this society.

No. 7. - The foregoing may be amended or altered by 2/3 vote of the members present at any regular warned meeting."

An appointed member of the Society would carry a certificate of appointment (noted below) to be carried with him during his tour of duty:  

(Organized according to law, A.D. 1862)

"We, the undersigned, Board of Officers of the ORWELL DETECTIVE SOCIETY, do hereby certify that the bearer, ______(name)______, has been sent out as an agent, or runner by said Society; and as such, is authorized to hire, on the credit of the Society, a reasonable number of men, changes of horses, or amount of money as the necessity of the case may require, for the purpose of arresting the thief (or thieves) and restoring property _______(name of articles)______ which had been stolen from ______(name)______ on ______(date)______."

Orwell, Vt __________________ 186___.

___________________________________ Pres.

___________________________________ Vice Pres.


___________________________________ Committee



After forming such a auspicious committee, it seems that only one account can be found pertaining to an effort of the Society to bring forth justice: 

"October 22, 1863 - Cash paid out by Wells, Sanford and Goodell as runners in the case of Sanford's stolen horse - Sect. 7.91.  - Dan Goodell, Treasurer."