Duboistn.gif (3209 bytes) CHAPTER XIII.


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37. History of Negro Crime in the City.1--From his earliest advent the Negro, as was natural, has figured largely in the criminal annals of Philadelphia. Only such superficial study of the American Negro as dates his beginning with 1863 can neglect this past record of crime in studying the present. Crime is a phenomenon of organized social life, and is the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment. Naturally then, if men are suddenly transported from one environment to another, the result is lack of harmony with the new conditions; lack of harmony with the new physical surroundings leading to disease and death or modification of physique; lack of harmony with social surroundings leading to crime. Thus very early in the history of the colony characteristic complaints of the disorder of the Negro slaves is heard. In 1693, July 11, the Governor and Council approved an ordinance, "Upon the Request of some of the members of Council, that an order be made by the Court of Quarter Sessions for the Countie of philadelphia, the 4th July instant (proceeding upon a presentment of the Grand Jurie for the bodie of the sd countie), agt the tumultuous gatherings of the Negroes of the towne of philadelphia, on the first dayes of the weeke, ordering the Constables of philadelphia, or anie other person whatsoever, to have power to take up Negroes, male or female, whom they should find gadding abroad on the said first dayes of the weeke, without a ticket from their Mr. or Mris., or not in their Compa, or to carry them to gaole, there to remain that night, and that without meat or drink, and to Cause them to be publickly whipt next morning with 39 Lashes, well Laid on, on their bare backs, for which their sd. Mr. or Mris. should pay 15d. to the whipper," etc. 2

Penn himself introduced a law for the special trial and punishment of Negroes very early in the history of the colony, as has been noted before.3 The slave code finally adopted was mild compared with the legislation of the period, but it was severe enough to show the unruly character of many of the imported slaves.4

Especially in Philadelphia did the Negroes continue to give general trouble, not so much by serious crime as by disorder. In 1732, under Mayor Hasel, the City Council "taking under Consideration the frequent and tumultuous meetings of the Negro Slaves, especially on Sunday, Gaming, Cursing, Swearing, and committing many other Disorders, to the great Terror and Disquiet of the Inhlabitants of this city," ordered an ordinance to be drawn up against such disturbances.5 Again, six years later, we hear of the draft of another city ordinance for "the more Effectual suppressing Tumultuous meetings and other disorderly doings of the Negroes, Mulattos and Indian servts. and slaves." 6 And in 1741, August 17, "frequent complaints having been made to the Board that many disorderly persons meet every ev'g about the Court house of this city, and great numbers of Negroes and others sit there with milk pails and other things late at night, and many disorders are there committed against the peace and good government of this city," Council ordered the place to be cleared "in half an hour after sunset." 7

Of the graver crimes by Negroes we have only reports here and there which do not make it clear how frequently such crimes occurred. In 1706 a slave is arrested for setting fire to a dwelling; in 1738 three Negroes are hanged in neighboring parts of New Jersey for poisoning people, while at Rocky Hill a slave is burned alive for killing a child and burning a barn. Whipping of Negroes at the public whipping post was frequent, and so severe was the punishment that in 1743 a slave brought up to be whipped committed suicide. In 1762 two Philadelphia slaves were sentenced to death for felony and burglary; petitions were circulated in their behalf but Council was obdurate.8

Little special mention of Negro crime is again met with until the freedmen under the act of 1780 began to congregate in the city and other free immigrants joined them. In 1809 the leading colored churches united in a society to suppress crime and were cordially endorsed by the public for this action. After the war immigration to the city increased and the stress of hard times bore heavily on the lower classes. Complaints of petty thefts and murderous assaults on peaceable citizens now began to increase, and in numbers of cases they were traced to Negroes. The better class of colored citizens felt the accusation and held a meeting to denounce crime and take a firm stand against their own criminal class. A little later the Negro riots commenced, and they received their chief moral support from the increasing crime of Negroes; a Cuban slave brained his master with a hatchet, two other murders by Negroes followed, and gambling, drunkenness and debauchery were widespread wherever Negroes settled. The terribly vindictive insurrection of Nat Turner in a neighboring State frightened the citizens so thoroughly that when some black fugitives actually arrived at Chester from Southampton County, Virginia, the Legislature was hastily appealed to, and the whole matter came to a climax in the disfranchisement of the Negro in 1837, and the riots in the years 1830 to 1840.9

Some actual figures will give us an idea of this, the worst period of Negro crime ever experienced in the city. The Eastern Penitentiary was opened in 1899 near the close of the year. The total number of persons received here for the most serious crimes is given in the next table. This includes prisoners from the Eastern counties of the State, but a large proportion were from Philadelphia: 10




Per Cent

Per Cent of
of Total

1829-34 339 99 29.0 8.27 (1830)
1835-39 878 356 40.5 7.39 (1840)
1840-44 701 209 29.8 7.39 (1840)
1845-49 633 151 23.8 4.83 (1850)
1850-54 664 106 16.0 4.83 (1850)

Or to put it differently the problem of Negro crime in Philadelphia from 1830 to 1850 arose from the fact that less than one-fourteenth of the population was responsible for nearly a third of the serious crimes committed.

These figures however are apt to relate more especially to a criminal class. A better measure of the normal criminal tendencies of the group would perhaps be found in the statistics of Moyamensing, where ordinary cases of crime and misdemeanor are confined and which contains only county prisoners. The figures for Moyamensing prison are:


Prisoners Received

Negro Prisoners Received

Per Cent
of Negroes
of Total Prisoners

Per Cent of Negroes
of Total Population

1836-45 1164 1087 48.29 7.39 (1840)
1846-55 1478 696 32.01 4.83 (1850)
Total 2642 1783 . . . . . .


Here we have even a worse showing than before; in 1896 the Negroes forming 4 per cent of the population furnish 9 per cent of the arrests, but in 1850 being 5 per cent of the population they furnished 32 per cent of the prisoners received at the county prison. Of course there are some considerations which must not be overlooked in interpreting these figures for 1836-55. It must be remembered that the discrimination against the Negro was much greater then than now: he was arrested for less cause and given longer sentences than whites.11 Great numbers of those arrested and committed for trial were never brought to trial so that their guilt could not be proven or disproven; of 737 Negroes committed for trial in six months of the year 1837, it is stated that only 123 were actually brought to trial; of the prisoners in the Eastern Penitentiary, 1829 to 1846, 14 per cent of the whites were pardoned and 2 per cent of the Negroes. All these considerations increase the statistics to the disfavor of the Negro.12 Nevertheless making all reasonable allowances it is undoubtedly true that the crime of Negroes in this period reached its high tide for this city.

The character of the crimes committed by Negroes compared with whites is shown by the following table, which covers the offences of 1359 whites and 718 Negroes committed to the Eastern Penitentiary, 1829-1846. If we take simply petty larceny we find that 48.8 per cent of the whites and 55 per cent of the Negroes were committed for this offence. 13

Kinds of crime Whites Negroes
Number Per Cent Number Per Cent
Offences vs. the person





Offences vs. property with violence





Offences vs. property without violence





Malicious offences vs. property





Offences vs. Currency and forgery










All offences





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38. Negro Crime Since the War.--Throughout the land there has been since the war a large increase in crime, especially in cities. This phenomenon would seem to have sufficient cause in the increased complexity of life, in industrial competition, and the rush of great numbers to the large cities. It would therefore be natural to suppose that the Negro would also show this increase in criminality and, as in the case of all lower classes, that he would show it in greater degree. His evolution has, however, been marked by some peculiarities. For nearly two decades after emancipation he took little part in many of the great social movements about him for obvious reasons. His migration to city life, therefore, and his sharing in the competition of modern industrial life, came later than was the case with the mass of his fellow citizens. The Negro began to rush to the cities in large numbers after 1880, and consequently the phenomena attendant on that momentous change of life are tardier in his case. His rate of criminality has in the last two decades risen rapidly, and this is a parallel phenomenon to the rapid rise of the white criminal record two or three decades ago. Moreover, in the case of the Negro there were special causes for the prevalence of crime: he had lately been freed from serfdom, he was the object of stinging oppression and ridicule, and paths of advancement open to many were closed to him. Consequently the class of the shiftless, aimless, idle, discouraged and disappointed was proportionately larger.

In the city of Philadelphia the increasing number of bold and daring crimes committed by Negroes in the last ten years has focused the attention of the city on this subject. There is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with a race that is responsible for so much crime, and that strong remedies are called for. One has but to visit the corridors of the public buildings, when the courts are in session, to realize the part played in law-breaking by the Negro population. The various slum centres of the colored criminal population have lately been the objects of much philanthropic effort, and the work there has aroused discussion. Judges on the bench have discussed the matter. Indeed, to the minds of many, this is the real Negro problem.14

That it is a vast problem a glance at statistics will show;15 and since 1880 it has been steadily growing. At the same time crime is a difficult subject to study, more difficult to analyze into its sociological elements, and most difficult to cure or suppress. It is a phenomenon that stands not alone, but rather as a symptom of countless wrong social conditions.

The simplest, but crudest, measure of crime is found in the total arrests for a period of years. The value of such figures is lessened by the varying efficiency and diligence of the police, by discrimination in the administration of law, and by unwarranted arrests. And yet the figures roughly measure crime. The total arrests and the number of Negroes is given in the next table for thirty-two years, with a few omissions:





of Negroes

1864 34,221 3,114 9.1
1865 43,226 2,722 6.3
1869 38,749 2,907 7.5
1870 31,717 2,070 6.5
1873 30,400 1,380 4.5
1874 32,114 1,257 3.9
1875 34,553 1,539 4.5
1876 . . . . . .
1877 44,220 2,524 5.7
1879 40,714 2,360 5.8
1880 44,097 2,204 4.98
1881 45,129 2,327 5.11
1882 46,130 2,183 4.73
1883 45,295 2,022 4.46
1884 49,468 2,134 4.31
1885 51,418 2,662 5.11
1886 . . . . . .
1887 57,951 3,256 5.61
1888 46,899 2,910 6.20
1889 42,673 2,614 6.10
1890 49,148 3,167 6.44
1891 53,184 3,544 6.66
1892 52,944 3,431 6.48
1893 57,297 4,078 7.11
1894 60,347 4,805 7.81
1895 60,347 5,137 8.5
1896 58,072 5,302 9.1

We find that the total arrests in the city per annmn have risen from 34,221 in 1864 to 61,478 in 1894, an increase of 80 per cent in crime, parallel to an increase of 83 per cent in population. The Negroes arrested have increased from 3114 in 1864 to 4805 in 1894, an increase of 54 per cent in crime, parallel to an increase of 77 per cent in the Negro population of the city. So, too, the percentage of Negroes in the total arrests is less in 1894 than in 1864. If, however, we follow the years between these two dates we see an important development: 1864 was the date bounding the ante-bellum period of crime; thereafter the proportion of Negro arrests fell steadily until, in 1874, the Negroes came as nearly as ever furnishing their normal quota of arrests, 3.9 per cent from 3.28 per cent (1870)of the population. Then slowly there came a change. With the Centennial Exposition in 1876 came a stream of immigrants, and once started the stream increased in speed by its own momentum. With this immigration the proportion of Negro arrests arose rapidly at first as a result of the exposition; falling off a little in the early eighties, but with 1885 rising again steadily and quickly to over 6 per cent in 1888, 6.4 per cent in 1890,7 per cent in 1893, 8.5 per cent in 1895, 9 per cent in 1896. This is, as has been said before, but a rough indication of the amount of crime for which the Negro is responsible; it must not be relied on too closely, for the number of arrests cannot in any city accurately measure wrongdoing save in a very general way; probably increased efficiency in the police force since 1864 has had large effect; and yet we can draw the legitimate conclusion here that Negro crime in the city is far less, according to population, than before the war; that after the war it decreased until the middle of the seventies and then, coincident with the beginning of the new Negro immigration to cities,16 it has risen pretty steadily.

These same phenomena can be partially verified by statistics of Moyamensing prison. If we take the tried and untried prisoners committed to this county prison from 1876 to 1895 we find the same gradual increase of crime:


Both Tried and Untried Prisoners.




Per Cent
of Negroes

1876 21,736 1,530 7.8
1877 22,666 1,460 6.44
1878 22,147 1,356 6.12
1879 20,736 1,136 5.48
1880 22,487 1,030 4.58
1881 22,478 1,168 5.19
1882 24,176 1,274 5.27
1883 23,245 1,175 5.05
1884 25,081 1,218 4.86
1885 24,725 1,427 5.77
1886 27,286 1,708 6.26
1887 28,964 1,724 5.97
1888 21,399 1,399 6.54
1889 18,476 1,338 7.24
1890 20,528 1,611 7.83
1891 22,745 1,723 7.57
1892 22,460 1,900 8.46
1893 25,209 2,234 8.86
1894 25,777 2,452 9.51
1895 22,584 2,317 10.26
Total 464,959 31,180 6.70
1876-1885 229,477 12,774 5.57
1886-1895 235,482 18,406 7.81

If we compare in this table the period 1876-85 with that of 1886-95 we find that the proportion of Negro criminals in the first period was 5.6 per cent, in the second 7.8 per cent.

The statistics of inmates of the House of Correction, where mild cases and juveniles are sent, for the last few years go to tell the same tale:

Year Total Receptions Negroes Percentage of Negroes.
1891 5907 274 4.6
1892 5297 254 4.8
1893 . . . . . .
1894 6579 1055 16.0
1895 7548 672 8.9

Gathering up the statistics presented let us make a rough diagram of some of the results. First let us scan the record of the Negro in serious crime, such as entails incarceration in the Eastern Penitentiary. In these figures the Philadelphia convicts are not separated from those in the eastern counties of the state prior to 1885. A large proportion of the prisoners however are from Philadelphia; perhaps the net result of the error is somewhat to reduce the apparent proportion of Negroes in the earlier years. Taking then the proportion of Negro prisoners received to total receptions since the founding of the Penitentiary we have this diagram:



The general rate of criminality may be graphically represented from the proportion of Negroes in the county prison, although changes in the policy of the courts make the validity of this somewhat uncertain:



It thus seems certain17 that general criminality as represented by commitments to the county prison has decreased markedly since 1840, and that its rapid increase since 1880 leaves it still far behind the decade 1830 to 1840. Serious crime as represented by commiitments to the penitentiary shows a similar decrease but one not so marked indicating the presence of a pretty distinct criminal class.



Years Total Commitments Negroes Percentage
of Negroes
1835-39 878 356 40.5
1855-59 941 126 13.4
1860-64 909 129 14.2
1865-69 1474 179 12.1
1870-74 1291 174 13.4
1875-79 2347 275 11.7
1880-84 2282 308 13.5
1885-89* 1583 223 14.09
1890-95* 1418 318 22.43

* Only convicts from Philadelphia; the statistics for the year 1891 are not available and are omitted.


The record of arrests per 1000 of Negro population 1864 to 1896 seems to confirm these conclusions for that period:


The increase in crime between 1890 and 1895 is not without pretty adequate explanation in the large Negro immigration cityward and especially in "the terrible business depression of 1893" to which the police bureau attributes the increase of arrests. The effect of this would naturally be greater among the economic substrata.

This brings us to the question, Who are the Negro criminals and what crimes do they commit? To obtain an answer to this query let us make a special study of a typical group of criminals.

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39. A Special Study in Crime.18--During ten years previous to and including 1895, there were committed to the Eastern Penitentiary, the following prisoners from the city of Philadelphia:



Date Total Convictions Negroes Per Cent of Negroes
1885 313 40


1886 347 45


1887 363 53


1888 269 39


1889 291 46


1890 271 63


1891* . . . .

. .

1892 213 42


1893 320 74


1894 329 69


1895 285 70


Total 3,001 541 18.2 average

* Statistics for this year were not available. Throughout this section, therefore, this year is omitted.


Let us now take the 541 Negroes who have been the perpetrators of the serious crimes charged to their race during the last ten years and see what we may learn. These are all criminals convicted after trial for periods varying from six months to forty years. It seems plain in the first place that the 4 per cent of the population of Philadelphia having Negro blood furnished from 1885 to 1889, 14 per cent of the serious crimes, and from 1890 to 1895, 22 1/2 per cent. This of course assumes that the convicts in the penitentiary represent with a fair degree of accuracy the crime committed. The assumption is not wholly true; in convictions by human courts the rich always are favored somewhat at the expense of the poor, the upper classes at the expense of the unfortunate classes, and whites at the expense of Negroes. We know for instance that certain crimes are not punished in Philadelphia because the public opinion is lenient, as for instance embezzlement, forgery, and certain sorts of stealing; on the other hand a commercial community is apt to punish with severity petty thieving, breaches of the peace, and personal assault or burglary. It happens, too, that the prevailing weakness of ex-slaves brought up in the communal life of the slave plantation, without acquaintanceship with the institution of private property, is to commit the very crimes which a great centre of commerce like Philadelphia especially abhors. We must add to this the influences of social position and connections in procuring whites pardons or lighter sentences. It has been charged by some Negroes that color prejudice plays some part, but there is no tangible proof of this, save perhaps that there is apt to be a certain presumption of guilt when a Negro is accused, on the part of police, public and judge.19 All these considerations modify somewhat our judgment of the moral status of the mass of Negroes. And yet, with all allowances, there remains a vast problem of crime.

The chief crimes for which these prisoners were convicted were:

Theft 243
Serious assaults on persons 139
Robbery and burglary 85
Rape 24
Other sexual crimes 23
Homicide 16
All other crimes 11




Following these crimes from year to year we have:













Theft, etc. 20 21 23 13 24 39 20 32 23 28 243
Robbery and burglary 2 8 8 5 5 9 7 14 19 8 85
Serious assaults 10 9 11 15 9 12 9 19 18 27 139
Homicide . . 3 2 5 . 2 1 1 2 16
Sexual crimes 6 7 7 4 4 4 4 5 3 3 47
All others 2 . 1 1 . . . 2 3 2 11


40 45 53 40 47 64 42 73 67 70 541

The course of the total serious crime for this period may be illustrated by this diagram:

Drawing a similar diagram for the different sorts of crime we have:

In ten years convictions to the penitentiary for theft have somewhat increased, robbery, burglary and assault have considerably increased, homicide has remained about the same, and sexual crimes have decreased. Detailed statistics are given in the following table:




1885 1886 1887 1888 1889 1890 1892 1893 1894 1985
Assault and battery 3 . 1 2 . 1 . . . .
Aggravated assault and battery 3 3 3 7 3 6 3 6 6 9
Assault to kill 4 6 7 6 6 5 4 13 11 17
Manslaughter . . . 1 3 . 1 1 . 1
Murder . . 3 1 2 . 1 . 1 1
Assault to murder . . 1 . . . . . . .
Assault to steal . . . . . . 2 . 1 1
Larceny 20 21 23 13 24 39 17 27 22 28
Robbery 2 3 3 1 . 4 3 5 9 6
Burglary . 5 5 4 5 5 4 9 10 2
Embezzlement . . . . . . . 1 . .
Sodomy 2 1 1 3 2 3 2 . . 1
Abortion 1 . . . . . 1 . . .
Rape 1 . . . . . . 2 1 .
Attempt to rape 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 3 2 1
Incest 1 . . . . . . . . .
Keeping bawdy house . . 4 . . . . . . 1
Enticing female child . . 1 . 1 . . . . .
Carrying concealed weapons 1 . . . . . . 1 . .
Forgery 1 . . . . . . . 1 1
False pretence . . . 1 . . 1 . 1  
Receiving stolen goods . . . . . . 2 4 1 .
Mayhem . . . . . . . 1 . .
Indecent exposure . . . . . . . . . 1
Conspiracy . . . . . . . . 1 .
Total 40 45 53 40 47 64 42 73 67 70


The total crime can be classified also in this way:

Crimes against property 328 60.63 per cent.
" " persons
29.02 "
" " persons and property 8 1.48 "
Sexual crimes 48 8.87 "
541 100. per cent

Let us now turn from the crime to the criminals. 497 of them (91.87 per cent) were males and 44 (8.13 per cent) were females. 296 (54.71 per cent) were single, 208 (34.45 per cent) were married, and 37 (6.84 per cent) were widowed. In age they were divided as follows:

Age Number Percentage
15-19 58 10.73 66.92
20-24 170 56.19
25-29 132
30-39 132 24.03 34.08
40-49 34 6.29
50-59 10 1.85
60 and over 5 .91
Total 541 100


The mass of criminals are, it is easy to see, young single men under thirty. Detailed statistics of sex and age and conjugal condition are given in the next tables.



NEGROES, 1885 - 1895.

Ages. Males Females Total
15-19 53 5 58
20-24 153 17 170
25-29 119 13 132
30-34 80 5 85
35-39 45 2 47
40-44 21 1 22
45-49 11 1 12
50-59 3 . 3
60 and over 15 . 15
Total 497 44 541







Single Married Widowed Single Married Widowed
15-19 48 5 0 4 1 0
20-24 117 35 0 7 9 1
25-29 59 54 8 3 10 0
30-34 30 38 6 0 4 1
35-39 11 30 4 0 0 2
40-49 8 16 8 0 2 0
50-59 3 3 4 0 0 0
60 and over 0 2 3 0 0 0


The convicts were born in the following States:

Philadelphia 114
Other parts of Pennsylvania 48
New Jersey 21
Maryland 99
Virginia 77
Delaware 37
District of Columbia 35
North Carolina 19
New York 11
South Carolina 9
Georgia 8
Other parts of the North 13
" " South 22
The West 13
Foreign Countries 15


Altogether 21 per cent were natives of Philadelphia; 217 were born in the North, and 309, or 57 per cent, were born in the South. Two-thirds of the Negroes of the city, judging from the Seventh Ward, were born outside the city, and this part furnishes 79 per cent of the serious crime. 54 per cent were born in the South,and this part furnishes 57 per cent of the crime, or more, since many giving their birthplace as in the North were really born in the South.

The total illiteracy of this group reaches 26 per cent or adding in those who can read and write imperfectly, 34 per cent compared with 18 per cent for the Negroes of the city in 1890. In other words the illiterate fifth of the Negro population furnished a third of the worst criminals.




Read and Write

Read and Write

Totally Illiterate

Number Per Cent Number Per Cent Number Per Cent
1885 20 50.0 6 15.0 14 35.0
1886 25 55.55 4 8.88 16 35.55
1887 27 50.94 13 24.53 13 24.53
1888 25 64.10 6 15.38 8 20.51
1889 26 56.52 10 21.74 10 21.74
1890 43 68.25 3 4.76 17 26.98
1892 33 78.57 0 0 9 21.43
1893 55 74.32 0 0 19 25.68
1894 49 71.01 0 0 20 28.99
1895 55 78.57 0 0 15 21.43
Total 358 66.17 42 7.76 141 26.06


Naturally as the general intelligence of a community increases the general intelligence of its criminals increases, though seldom in the same proportion, showing that some crime may justly be attributed to pure ignorance. The number of criminals able to read and write has increased from 50 per cent in 1885 to 79 per cent in 1895. The number of colored men from fifteen to thirty who can read and write was about 90 per cent in the Seventh Ward in 1896. This shows how little increased intelligence alone avails to stop crime in the face of other powerful forces. It would of course be illogical to connect these phenomena directly as cause and effect and make Negro crime the result of Negro education--in that case we should find it difficult to defend the public schools in most modern lands. Crime comes either in spite of intelligence or as a result of misdirected intelligence under severe economic and moral strain. Thus we find here, as is apparently true in France, Italy and Germany, increasing crime and decreasing illiteracy as concurrent phenomena rather than as cause and effect. However the rapid increase of intelligence in Negro convicts does point to some grave social changes: first, a large number of young Negroes are in such environment that they find it easier to be rogues than honest men; secondly, there is evidence of the rise of more intelligent and therefore more dangerous crime from a trained criminal class, quite different from the thoughtless, ignorant crime of the mass of Negroes.

A separation of criminals according to sex and age and the kind of crime is of interest. (See p. 256 for males.)




Ages Crimes
Larceny Assault and
to Kill
Murder Bawdy and
to Murder
15-19 5 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
20-24 10 1 3 2 1 .. .. ..
25-29 11 .. 1 .. .. 1 .. ..
30-34 3 .. .. .. .. .. 1 1
35-39 1 .. .. .. .. 1 .. ..
40-44 1 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
45-49 1 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..


The women are nearly all committed for stealing and fighting. They are generally prostitutes from the worst slums. The boys of fifteen to nineteen are sentenced largely for petty thieving:

Whole number of male convicts, 15-19 years of age 53
Convicted for larceny 27
" " assault and fighting 8
" " sexual crimes 5
" " burglary 5
" " other crimes 8


Making a similar table for two other age periods we have:

Men, 20-24 Years. Men, 25-29 Years.
Larceny 62 Larceny 45
Assault. 41 Assault. 33
Burglary and robbery 30 Burglary and robbery 22
Sexual crimes 6 Sexual crimes 13
Other crimes 14 Homicide 4
Other crimes 3
153 119



There is here revealed no especial peculiarity: stealing and fighting are ever the besetting sins of half-developed races.

It would be very instructive to know how many of the 541 criminals had been in the hands of the law before. This is however very difficult to ascertain correctly since in many, if not the majority of cases, the word of the prisoner must be taken. Even these methods however reveal the startling fact that only 315 or 58 per cent of these 541 convicts are reported as being incarcerated for the first time. 226 or 49 per cent can be classed as habitual criminals, who have been convicted as follows:

Twice 105 46.5 per cent.
Three times 60 26.5 "
Four " 24 11.0 "
Five " 19 8.0 "
Six " 9 4.0 "
Seven " 4 1.8 "
Nine " 1 2.2 "
Ten " 1
Eleven " 2
Twelve " 1
226 100 per cent.


When we realize that probably a large number of the other convicts are on their second or third term we begin to get an idea of the real Negro criminal class.19

A few other facts are of interest: if we tabulate crime according to the illiteracy of its perpetrators, we have:

Larceny 31 per cent of illiteracy.
Assault, burglary and homicide 34 " " "
Sexual crimes 55 " " "


Or in other words, the more serious and revolting the crime the larger part does ignorance play as a cause. If we separate prisoners convicted for the above crimes according to length of sentence, we have:

Under five years 464   90.5 per cent.
Five and under ten years 40 8.0 "
Ten years and over 9 1.5 "


Of the 49 sentenced for 5 years and over, 18 or 37 per cent were illiterate; of those sentenced for less than 5 years,I60 or 35 per cent were illiterate.

From this study we may conclude that young men are the perpetrators of the serious crime among Negroes; that this crime consists mainly of stealing and assault; that ignorance, and immigration to the temptations of city life, are responsible for much of this crime but not for all; that deep social causes underlie this prevalence of crime and they have so worked as to form among Negroes since 1864 a distinct class of habitual criminals; that to this criminal class and not to the great mass of Negroes the bulk of the serious crime perpetrated by this race should be charged.

40. Some Cases Of Crime.--It is difficult while studying crime in the abstract to realize just what the actual crimes committed are, and under what circumstances they take place. A few typical cases of the crimes of Negroes may serve to give a more vivid idea than the abstract statistics give. Most of these cases are quoted from the daily newspapers.

First let us take a couple of cases of larceny:

Edward Ashbridge, a colored boy, pleaded guilty to the larceny of a quart of milk, the property of George Abbott. The boy's mother said he was incorrigible, and he was committed to the House of Refuge.

William Drumgoole, colored, aged thirty-one years, of Lawrenceville, Va., was shot in the back and probably fatally wounded late yesterday afternoon by William H. McCalley, a detective, employed in the store of John Wanamaker, Thirteenth and Chestnut streets. Drumgoole, it is alleged, stole a pair of shoes from the store, and was followed by McCalley to the corner of Thirteenth and Chestnut streets, where he placed him under arrest. Drumgoole broke away from the detective's grasp, and running down Thirteenth street turned into Drury street, a small thoroughfare above Sansom street. McCalley started in pursuit, calling upon him to stop, but the fugitive darted into an alleyway, and when his pursuer came up within a few yards of him, he threatened to "do him up" if he followed him any further. McCalley drew his revolver from his pocket, and as Drumgoole again broke into a run he pointed the weapon at his legs and fired. Drumgoole fell to the ground, and when McCalley came up to him he was unable to rise. McCalley saw at a glance that, instead of wounding him in the leg, as he had intended, the bullet had lodged in the man's back. He hurriedly sought assistance, and had the wounded man taken to the Jefferson Hospital. McCAlley then surrendered himself to Reserve Policeman Powell, and was taken to the Central Station.

Fighting and quarreling among neighbors and associates is common in the slum districts:

Etta Jones, colored, aged twenty-one years, residing on Hirst street, above Fifth, was stabbed near her home last night, it is alleged, by Lottie Lee, also colored, of Second and Race streets. The other woman was taken to the Pennsylvania Hospital, where her injuries were found to consist of several cuts on the left shoulder and side, none of which are dangerous. Her assailant was arrested later by Policeman Dean and locked up in the Third and Union streets station house. The assault is said by the police to have been the outcome of an old grudge.

Joseph Cole, colored, aged twenty-four years, residing in Gillis' alley, was dangerously stabbed shortly before midnight on Saturday, as is alleged, by Abraham Wheeler, at the latter's house, on Hirst street. Cole was taken to the Pennsylvania Hospital, where it was found the knife had penetrated to within a short distance of the right lung. Wheeler fled from the house after the cutting and eluded arrest until yesterday afternoon, when he was captured by Policeman Mitchell, near Fifth and Lombard streets. When brought to the station house Wheeler denied having cut Cole, but acknowledged having struck him because he was insulting his wife. He was locked up, however, to await the result of Cole's injuries.

Sometimes servants are caught pilfering:

Theodore Grant, colored, residing on Burton street, attempted to pledge a woman's silk dress for $15 at McFillen's, Seventeenth and Market streets, several days ago. The pawnbroker refused, under his rule, to take women's raiment from a man, and told Grant to bring the owner. Grant went away and returned with Ella Jones, a young colored woman, who consented to take $7 for the dress. Since that time C. F. Robertson, residing at Sixtieth and Spruce streets, made complaint to the police of the loss of the dress, and as the result of an investigation made by Special Policemen Gallagher and Ewing, Grant and Ella Jones were arrested yesterday charged with the larceny of the silk dress, which was recovered. Grant admitted to the special policemen that Ella had given him the dress to pawn, but asserted that he had nothing to do with the matter except to offer to pledge the article. At a hearing before Magistrate Jermon, at the City Hall, yesterday, Mr. Robertson stated that the girl had made a statement to him, saying that Grant had induced her to take the dress. He said the girl had been perfectly trustworthy up to the time of her acquaintance with Grant, and had been left in full charge of the house, and that nothing was ever missed. He said he also expected to show that Grant had been concerned in two or three robberies. Ella Jones, a neatly dressed girl, who said she came from Maryland, stated to the magistrate that Grant had been coming to see her for about a year past. She said he had been importuning her to take something and let him pawn it, so that he could raise some money, until she finally consented. After she started to go to her mistress' room to get the dress her heart failed and she turned back, but he persuaded her, telling her that Mrs. Robertson would not miss it, and then she took the dress. Mr. Robertson informed the magistrate, and Ella assented to the statement, that Grant had taken every cent of her earnings from her for weeks past and had also pawned all of her clothing, so that at the present time she was penniless and had not a single garment except what she wore. The magistrate said it was undoubtedly a hard case, but he would have to hold Grant and Ella on the charge of larceny, and Grant under additional bail for a further hearing next Thursday on the charges referred to by Mr. Robertson. The police say that Grant, who is a smooth- faced, cross-eyed mulatto, is a "crap fiend," and that whatever money he has managed to obtain by threats and cajolery from his victim, Ella Jones, has gone into the pockets of the small-fry gamblers.

There is growing evidence of the appearance of a set of thieves of intelligence and cunning: sneak thieves, confidence-men, pickpockets, and "sharpers." Some typical cases follow:

Marion Shields and Alice Hoffman, both colored and residing on Fitzwater street, above Twelfth, had a further hearing yesterday before Magistrate South, at the City Hall, and were held for trial on the charge of pilfering wearing apparel, money, vases, umbrellas, surgical instruments, and other portable property from physicians' offices and houses, where they had made visits, under the presence of desiring to hold consultations with the doctors. The Magistrate said there were ten cases against Marion Shields individually on which she would be placed under $2500 bail, and six cases against both women on which the bail would be $1500. For her frankness, Marion Shields was given the lighter sentence, one year in the Eastern Penitentiary, and Alice Hoffman was sentenced to eighteen months in the same institution.

Two daring thieves yesterday entered the jewelry store of Albert Baudschopfs, 468 1/2 North Eighth street, and secured a number of articles of jewelry from under the very eyes of the proprietor. They had left the store and proceeded leisurely down the street before the jeweller discovered his loss, with the result that before an alarm could be given the thieves had traveled a considerable distance. One of the men was captured after a long chase, but the other's whereabouts is unknown. About half-past one o'clock two colored men entered the store and upon their request were shown trays of various articles. One of the men engaged the proprietor in conversation while the other continued to inspect the jewelry. They said they did not intend buying then and would call again and opening the door walked hurriedly down the street. Mr. Baudschopfs says the men got away with a gold-filled watch case, a silver watch, three gold lockets, each set with a small diamond; two dozen ladies' gold rings, not jewelled; a gold scarf pin and a man's gold watch.

A crime for which Negroes of a certain class have become notorious is that of snatching pocketbooks on the streets:

While passing down Eleventh street, near Mount Vernon, shortly after nine o'clock, Mrs. K. Nichun, of 1947 Warnock street, was approached from behind by a Negro, who snatched a pocketbook containing $2 from her hand and ran down a small thoroughfare towards Tenth street. Very few pedestrians were upon the street at the time, but two men, who were attracted by the woman's scream, started in pursuit of the thief. The latter had too much of a start, however, and escaped.

Williann Williams, colored, of Dayton, O., was locked up in the Central Station yesterday, by Reserve Policeman A. Jones, on the charge of snatching a pocketbook from the hands of Mrs. Mary Tevis, of 141 Mifflin street. The theft occurred at Eighth and Market streets. After securing the pocketbook Williams ran until he reached the old office of the city solicitor, at Sixth and Locust streets. He was followed by Reserve Jones, who captured him in the cellar of the building. Williams was taken to Eighth and Sansom streets to await the arrival of the patrol wagon, and while getting into the vehicle the pocketbook dropped from out of his trousers.

Detectives Bond and O'Leary and Special Policeman Duffy, of the Eighth and Lombard streets station, arrested last night Sylvester Archer, of Fifth street, below Lombard, William Whittington, alias "Piggy," of Florida street, and William Carter, of South Fifteenth street, all colored and about twenty-one years of age, on the charge of assault upon and robbery of Mrs. Harrington Fitzgerald, wife of the editor of the Evening Item. The assault occurred ou Monday at noon. As Mrs. Fitzgerald was passing Thirteenth and Spruce streets, a purse which she carried in her hand, and which contained $2o, was snatched from her by one of three colored men. They took advantage of the crowd to strike her after the robbery had been perpetrated and escaped before her outcry was heard. When the men were brought to the Central Station last night and questioned by Captain of Detectives Miller, Whittington, it is said, confessed complicity in the crime. He told the captain that they had been following a band up Thirteenth street, aud as they reached Spruce street Carter said, "There's a pocketbook; I'm going to get it." "All right; get it," came the response. Carter ran up to Mrs. Fitzgerald and and in a moment shouted, "I've got it!" Then he and Archer ran up Thirteenth street. Each man has a criminal record, and the picture of each is in the Rogues' Gallery. Carter has just completed a six months' sentence for purse-snatching, while Williams and Archer have each served time for larceny.

So frequent have these crimes become that sometimes Negroes are wrongfully suspected; whoever snatches a pocketbook on a dark night is supposed to be black.

A favorite method of stealing is to waylay and rob the frequenters of bawdy houses; very little of this sort of crime, naturally, is reported. Here are some cases of such "badger thieves," as they are called:

William Lee, colored, and Kate Hughes, a white woman, were convicted of robbing Vincenzo Monacello of $10. Lee was sentenced to three years and three months in the Eastern Penitentiary and his accomplice to three years in the county prison. Mary Roach, jointly indicted with them, was acquitted. Monacello testified that, while walking along Christian street, between Eighth and Ninth streets, on Thursday night of last week, he was accosted by Mary Roach and accompanied her to her home on Essex street. Here he met Lee and Kate Hughes and they all drank considerable beer. Later in the night he started with Kate Hughes, at her suggestion, to a house further up the street. While on their way the prosecutor said he was struck in the face with a brick by Lee, after which the money was stolen from him. Mary Roach took the stand against the other two defendants and the case against her was abandoned.

Ella Jones, colored, claiming to be from Baltimore, was arrested yesterday by Policeman Dean on the charge of the larceny of a $10 bill from Joseph Gosch, a Pole, who came from Pittsburg on Sunday, and claims that while he was looking for lodging he was taken to the woman's house and robbed.

From pocketbook snatching to highway robbery is but a step:

Before Judge Yerkes, in Court No. 1, Samuel Buckner, a young colored man, was convicted of robbing George C. Goddard of a gold watch and chain and a pocketbook containing $3. He was sentenced to ten years in the Eastern Penitentiary. Mr. Goddard, with his head swathed in bandages, was called to the stand. He said that a few minutes past midnight of November 28 he was returning to his home, No. 1220 Spruce street, after a visit. He placed his hand in his pocket, drew out his key and was about to mount the steps when a dark form appeared from Dean street, a small, poorly-lighted thoroughfare, next door but one to his home, and at the same instant he was strnck a violent blow full in the face with a brick. He sank to the pavement unconscious. When he recovered his senses he was in the Pennsylvania Hospital. There was a long, deep cut on his right cheek, another across the forehead, both eyes were blackened and swollen, and his nose was also bruised. At the same time he discovered the loss of his pocketbook and jewelry. Judge Yerkes reviewed the facts of the case, and in imposing sentence said: "When you committed this offence you were absolutely indifferent as to the consequences of your cowardly attack. You rifled this man's person of all his valuables and left him lying unconscious on the pavement, and for aught you knew he might have been dead. It is necessary not only that society be protected from the depredations of such fiends as you, but also that an example be made of such ruffians. The sentence of the Court is that you undergo an imprisonment of ten years at labor in the Eastern Penitentiary, and stand committed until this sentence shall be complied with." The official record shows that Buckner was arrested on December 11, 1893, by policeman Logan, of the Lombard street station, on the charge of the larceny of a purse from Mrs. Caroline Lodge, of 2416 North Fifteenth street, on the street, and was sentenced December 14, 1893, by Judge Biddle, to one year's imprisonment.

Cases of aggravated assaults, for various reasons, are frequent:

Rube Warren, colored, thirty years, of Foulkrod and Cedar streets, was held in $1000 bonds, by Magistrate Eisenbrown, for an alleged aggravated assault and battery on Policeman Haug, of the Fraukford station, during a dog fight about a month ago. The policeman attempted to stop the fight when Warren, it is charged, assisted by several companions, assaulted him, broke his club and took away his revolver. During the free fight that followed, in which other policemen took part, Warren escaped and went to Baltimore. There, it is said, he was sent to prison for thirty days. As soon as he was released he went back to Frankford, where he was arrested on Saturday night.

William Braxton, colored, aged twenty-eight years, of Irving street, above Thirty-seventh, was yesterday held in $800 bail for a further hearing, charged with having committed an aggravated assault on William Keebler, of South Thirtieth street. The assault occurred about three o'clock yesterday morning on Irving street, near Thirty-seventh, where the colored folks of the neighborhood were having a party. Keebler and two friends, none of whom were colored, forced their company ou the invited guests, it is said, and a fight ensued. Keebler was found a short time afterward lying in the snow with one eye almost gouged out. He was conveyed to the University Hospital and the police of the Woodland avenue station, under Acting Sergeant Ward, upon being notified of the affair, hurried to the Irving street house and arrested twenty of the guests just in the height of their merrymaking. All of them, however, were discharged at the hearing, upon Braxton's being recognized as the man who struck Keebler. The physician at the hospital says that the injured man will very likely lose the sight of one eye.

Gambling goes on almost openly in the slum sections and occasions, perhaps, more quarreling and crime than any other single cause. Reporters declared in 1897 that--

"Policy playing is rampant in Philadelphia. Under the very noses of the police officials and, it is safe to say, with the knowledge of some of them, policy shops are conducted openly and with amazing audacity. They are doing a 'land office' business. Hundreds of poor people every day place upon the infatuating lottery money that had better be spent for food and clothing. They actually deny themselves the necessaries of life to gamble away their meagre income with small chance of getting any return. Superintendent of Police Linden, discussing the general subject of policy playing with a Ledger reporter, said: 'There are not words enough in the dictionary to express my feelings upon this matter. I regard policy as the worst evil in a large city among the poor people. There are several reasons for this. One is that women and children may play. Another is that players may put a few cents on the lottery. Policy may do more harm than all the saloons and "speak easies" in the city. The price of a drink of liquor is five or ten cents and the cost of a "growler" is ten cents, but a man or a woman can buy two cents' worth of policy. The effect of this is obvious. Persons who have not the price of a drink may gamble away the few pennies they do possess in a policy shop. Then the drain is constant. Policy "fiends" play twice a day, risking from two cents to a dollar upon the chance. They become so infatuated with the play that they will spend their last cent upon it in the hope of making a "hit." Many children go hungry and with insufficient clothing as a result of policy playing. I have heard of young children engaging in this sort of gambling. Of course the effect of this is very bad. The policy evil is, to my mind, the very worst that exists in our large cities as affecting the poorer classes of people.' " 20


Once in a while gambling houses are raided:

Twenty-three colored men, who were arrested in a raid of the police on an alleged gambling house, on Rodman street, above Twelfth, had a hearing yesterday, before Magistrate South, at the City Hall. One man, residing on Griscom street, testified that the house was supposed to be a "club," and that it was customary to pay a dollar before admission could be secured, and that he had been gambling at "crap" and a card game known as "five-up," and had lost $18. He said there was a president, marshal and sergeant-at- arms. He pointed out Bolling, Jordan and Phillips as the principals. Special Policeman Duffy testified that the crowd was playing "crap" with dice on the floor when he headed the raid on Monday night. He said he had notified Bolling, as the head of the house, three months ago, when he had heard that gambling was going on there, to stop it. On cross-examination the witness said he did not know that it was a social club called the "Workingmen's Club." Patrolman William Harvey testified that he went to the house on last Saturday night and got in readily, and was not called on to pay a dollar initiation fee, as had been claimed was the rule. He said he played "sweat" and lost twenty-five cents, but did not win anything. He said Bolling was running the game. He said that when he entered the house somebody called out "Sam's got a new man," and that was all that was said.

More and more frequently in the last few years, have crime, excess, and disappointment led to attempted suicide:

Policeman Wynne, of the Fifth and Race streets station, last evening found an unknown colored woman lying unconscious in an alleyway at Delaware avenue and Race street. Beside the woman was an empty bottle labeled benzine. Wynne immediately summoned the patrol wagon and had the woman removed to the Pennsylvania Hospital, where her condition was said to be critical. The physicians said there was no doubt the woman had drunk the contents of the bottle, and narcotics were at once administered to counteract the effect of the poison. At midnight the woman showed signs of returning consciousness and it was thought that she would recover. The police have no clue to her identity, as she could not tell her name, and the alleyway where she was found is surrounded by business houses, and no one could be found who knew her.

It is but fair to add that many unsustained charges of crime are made against Negroes, and possibly more in proportion than against other classes. Some typical cases of this sort are of interest:

W. M. Boley, colored, thirty years old, who said he resided in Mayesville, South Carolina, was a defendant before Magistrate Jermon, at the City Hall, yesterday, on the charge of assault with intent to steal. Detective Gallagher and Special Policeman Thomas testified that their attention was attracted to the prisoner by his actions in a crowd at the New York train gate at Broad street station on Saturday. He had with him several parcels which he laid on the floor near the gate, and they said they saw him make several attempts to pick women's pockets, and arrested him. The man however proved by documentary evidence that he was a clergyman, a graduate of Howard University, and financial agent of a Southern school. He was released.

Under instructions from Judge Finletter, a jury rendered a verdict of not guilty in the case of George Queen, a young colored man, charged with the murder of Joseph A. Sweeney and John G. O'Brien. Dr. Frederick G. Coxson, pastor of the Pitman Methodist Episcopal Church, at Twenty-third and Lombard streets, testified that on the night in question he was about to retire, when he heard a disturbance on the street. Upon going out he saw three young men, two of whom were leading the other and persuading him to come with them. At the same time the prisoner, Queen, came along in the middle of the street, walking leisurely. Immediately upon seeing him the three men attacked him, and were shortly afterward joined hy three others, and the entire crowd, among whom were Sweeney and O'Brien, continued beating and striking the colored man. Suddenly the crowd scattered and Queen was placed under arrest; he had fatally stabbed two of his assailants. This testimony showed that the accused was not the aggressor, and without hearing the defence Judge Finletter ordered the jury to render a verdict of not guilty. The case, he said, was one of justifiable homicide, the defendant having a right to resist the attack by force. The judge further said he thought the case would have a tendency to repel the brutal attacks made on inoffensive persons in the community, and to make the streets safe for every man to walk on at any hour without fear.


Leaving for a moment the question of the deeper social causes of crime among Negroes, let us consider two closely allied subjects, pauperism and the use of alchoholic liquors.


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1 Throughout this chapter the basis of induction is the number of prisoners received at different institutions and not the prison population at particular times. This avoids the mistakes and distortions of the latter method. (Cf Falkner: "Crime and the Census," Publications of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, No. 190). Many writers on Crime among Negroes, as e.g., F. L. Hoffman, and all who use the Eleventh Census uncritically, have fallen into numerous mistakes and exaggerations by carelessness on this point.

2 "Pennsylvania Colonial Records," I, 380-81.

3 See Chapter III, and Appendix B.

4 Cf  "Pennsylvania Statutes at Large," Ch. 56.

5 Watson's ''Annals,'' I, 62.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., pp. 62-63.

8 "Pennsylvania Colonial Records," II, 275; IX, 6; "Watson's Annals," I, 309.

9 Cf. Chapter IV.

10 Reports Eastern Penitentiary.

11 Average length of sentences for whites in Eastern Penitentiary during nineteen years, 2 years 8 months 2 days; for Negroes, 3 years 3 months 14 days. Cf. "Health of Convicts" (pam.), pp. 7, 8.

12 Ibid., " Condition of Negroes," 1838, pp. 15-18; "Condition," etc., 1848, pp. 26, 27.

13 "Condition of Negroes," 1849, pp. 28, 29. "Condition," etc., 1838, pp. 15-18.

14 "The large proportion of colored men who, in April, had been before the criminal court, led Judge Gordon to make a suggestion when he yesterday discharged the jurors for the term. 'It would certainly seem,' said the Court, 'that the philanthropic colored people of the community, of whom there are a great many excellent aud intelligent citizens sincerely interested in the welfare of their race, ought to see what is radically wrong that produces this state of affairs and correct it, if possible. There is nothing in history that indicates that the colored race has a propensity to acts of violent crime; on the contrary, their tendencies are most gentle, and they submit with grace to subordination."' Philadelphia Record, April 29, 1893; Cf. Record, May 10 and 12; Ledger, May 10, and Times, May 22, 1893.

15 Except as otherwise noted, the statistics of this section are from the official reports of the police department.

16 Cf. Chapters IV and VII.

17 The chief element of uncertainty lies in the varying policy of the courts, as for instance, in the proportion of prisoners sent to different places of detention, the severity of sentence, etc. Only the general conclusions are insisted on here.

18 For the collection of the material here compiled, I am indebted to Mr. David N. Fell, Jr., a student of the Senior Class, Wharton School, University of Pennsylsania, in the year '96-'97. As before noted the figures in this Section refer to the number of prisoners received at the Eastern Penitentiary, and not to the total prison population at any particular time.

19 Witness the case of Marion Stuyvesant accused of the murder of the librarian Wilson, in 1897.

19 The following Negroes were measured by the Bertillon system in Philadelphia during the last three years:

1893 64 (Whites101)
1894 66 (Whites 248)
1895 56 (Whites 267)
1896 75 (Whites 347)

The arrests by detectives for five years are given on the following page (258).



Crimes 1887 1888 1889 1890 1891 1892
Fugitives from justice .. 10 2 4 4 9
Larceny 10 19 17 19 18 29
Pickpocket 7 4 1 .. .. 13
Burglary 1 .. 2 .. 2 4
Professional thief 1 4 2 1 2 3
Sodomy .. .. .. .. .. 1
Misdemeanor .. 1 .. 1 .. 1
Absconding .. .. .. .. .. 1
Assault to kill 5 6 1 1 4 4
Stabbing .. .. .. .. .. 1
False pretense .. 2 .. 1 .. 1
Forgery .. .. .. .. .. 1
Receiving stolen goods 1 4 8 .. 3 ..
Murder 3 2 1 3 2 ..
Abortion .. .. .. 1 1 ..
Breach of peace .. .. .. 2 .. ..
Abandonment .. .. 1 1 .. ..
Gambling house .. 4 .. 5 .. ..
Fornication and adultery .. .. 1 .. .. ..
Infanticide .. 1 .. .. .. ..
House robbery .. 1 .. .. .. ..
Lottery 1 8 .. .. .. ..
Embezzlement .. 1 .. .. .. ..
Perjury .. 1 .. .. .. ..
Seduction 1 .. .. .. .. ..
Bawdy house 1 .. .. .. .. ..


20 Although the police lieutenants have reported to the Superintendent that few policy shops exist, the Ledger has information which leads it to state that such is not the fact. Many complaints against the evil have been received at this office. A reporter found it easy to locate and gain admittance to a number of houses where policy is written. A policy writer who is thoroughly informed as to the inside working of the system is authority for the statement that at no time in recent years has policy playing been so prevalent or the business carried on as openly as it is now.

While the locations of the policy shops are well known and the writers familiar to many persons, the backers, who, after all, are the substantial part of the system, are hard to reach, for they exercise an unusual cunning in the direction of the business. There are several backers in Philadelphia of greater or less pretensions, but a young man who resides uptown and operates principally in the territory north of Girard avenue, is said to be the heaviest backer of the game in this city. He owns sixty or seventy "books," and his income from their combined receipts is sufficient to support himself and several relatives in magnificent style.

A Ledger reporter spent one day last week looking up the policy shops in one of the sections where this backer operates. He found, in addition to several places where policy is written, the rendezvous of the writers and the headquarters of the policy king himself

The writers who hold "books" from the backer in question meet twice every day, Sundays excepted, in a mean, dirty little house overlooking the Reading tracks, just below Montgomery avenue. They enter by the rear through a narrow alley leading off Delhi street, several yards below Montgomery avenue. At noon and at 6 o'clock in the evening the writers hurry to this rendezvous.

The unusual number of men gathering at this point at regular intervals, and the business-like manner in which they go through the alley and back gate is enough to attract the attention of the Twelfth District policeman on this beat and arouse his suspicions. Whether he notices it or not, these proceedings have been going on for months.

Each writer, when he reaches this central point, turns in his "book" and receipts. There are two drawings daily, hence the two meetings. Two relatives of the backer receive the "books" and the money. A copy of each writer's "book" and all the money are carried by one of these men to the house of an ex-special policeman, a few squares away, and there turned over to the backer, who has received a telegram from Cincinnati stating the numbers that have come out at that drawing.

The "books" are carefully gone over, to see if there are any "hits." If there are they are computed, and the backer sends to each writer the amount necessary to pay his losses. The numbers that appear at each drawing are printed with rubber stamps in red ink, on slips of white paper and given to the writers to distrihute among the players.

These drawings are usually carried to the rendezvous by the ex-policeman. The backer pockets the half day's receipts, mounts his bicycle and rides away.

To establish beyond a doubt the character of the building in which the writers meet, the reporter made his way into it on the afternoon in question. It is a well-known policy shop, conducted by a colored man, who has been writing policy for years. He is president of a colored political club, with headquarters near by. On the occasion of the visit the back gate was ajar. Pushing it open, the reporter walked in without challenge.--From the Public Ledger, December 3, 1897.



From W.E.B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Chapter XIII, pp. 235-268.

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