Court of Special Sessions

In connection with my ongoing Irish-American research project, I’ve had occasion to peruse The New York Times archives at length. Looking for information on one case in an 1860s version of a police blotter column, I started reading accounts of cases brought on September 7, 1867, to the city’s Court of Special Sessions. The tribunal apparently tried petty crimes. But it didn’t regard them lightly. If someone made a credible enough accusation to get a police officer take you in, you’d have your hands full at the very least and stood a good chance of being sent to prison. On the other hand, looking respectable counted for something if you were a shoplifter. From the Times:

Court of Special Sessions.

Before Justice Dowling.

There were sixty-one cases tried yesterday at the Court of Special Sessions. The charges, in but very few of the cases, were of more than ordinary gravity. These we give:


John Shay was charged by Mr. Geo. W. Shaw with attempting to steal his watch on Broadway Bridge. The prisoner was leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, looking down the street. He turned when complainant was passing and made the effort with which he is charged. Counsel for the prisoner denied the direct statement of the complainant, saying that his client was on an errand connected with his employment, and that he merely stopped upon the bridge to see the operations of a photographer, shortly after which he was arrested and charged as complained. The complainant was so positive in his evidence, and as there was no rebutting testimony, the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to three months in the Penitentiary.


Ellen Gallagher was found guilty of stealing a wash-tub from Thomas Mulholland. After gathering the tub from the door of the complainant while his back was turned, she endeavored to effect a sale to the daughter of Mulholland, whom she met on the next floor. Mrs. Mulholland recognized the tub, and the prisoner was arrested. Officer Cornelius Read was called, but stated that he knew very little of the case, only that the prisoner had confessed to him that she stole the tub. This “only” of the officer’s was sufficient to send the prisoner one month to the Penitentiary.

Under “Miscellaneous,” we find among other reports, this:

Mary Burke, a respectable looking lady, was charged with entering the store of Bertha Rosenberg, and stealing therefrom a roll of muslin containing five yards. Mrs. Burke entered the store and examined different articles but bought nothing. Mrs. Rosenberg suspected that something was wrong and stopped her on the way out, discovering the parcel. In consideration that it was her first offence, and that her connections were otherwise respectable, the prisoner was permitted to pay a fine of $50 and go.

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