Lawrence native's book traces roots of Massachusetts State Police, the first in the country

Mass SP History

A grammar school in Lawrence is dedicated to Henry Kemble Oliver who was a city superintendent, mayor, school committee member and state representative.  In a new book written by a Lawrence native, we also learn Oliver was also one of the first deputy constables, the historical equivalent of today's state trooper, in Massachusetts.  Similarly, to a state police detective, Oliver was specifically tasked with investigating child labor in mills and factories some 149 years ago.  Oliver's yearlong investigation ended in 1868 "with two scathing reports to the Legislature detailing how the current school law 'was so thoroughly emasculated as to render it of no effect whatever,'" according to Ronald Guilmette's new book titled "First to Serve."  "He wrote of 'righting the downright wrong of keeping at work, young children pent up in a factory room, continuously, day after day, and those days of twelve and fourteen hours each, in some instances, without interruption for education and recreation,'" Guilmette wrote.  The culmination of four years of research by Guilmette, "First to Serve" is a 200-page historical book that traces the birth of Massachusetts State Police, the nation's oldest state police agency, from its inception in 1865 and through the next 10 years.  The majority who first served on state police were Civil War veterans, said Guilmette, 70, a Lawrence native who himself served 31 years on the Massachusetts State Police retiring in 1999 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.  Then, they were appointed as deputy constables.  "Today, we know them as troopers," he said.  "I just got hooked on reading some of these guys' stories," said Guilmette, a father of four and grandfather of five who lives at Salisbury Beach.  His introduction in the book notes: "Alcohol was the genesis for the state police force and the primary reason why several other New England states looked to establish state police forces during the nineteenth century."  Other reasons a state police force was needed included gambling, houses of ill repute and general lawlessness including a lack of policing in rural communities, he wrote.  But driving the state police's birth was "a total disregard for alcohol enforcement in major cities, primarily due to political influence," Guilmette wrote.  His research revealed there were 335 deputy constables that served during that initial decade of the Massachusetts State Police.  The average length of service was 2 1/2 years and the constables were everything from farmers, shoemakers, cotton spinners, blacksmiths, dentists, doctors and more.  Many were immigrants including one deputy constable who "was born at sea while crossing the Atlantic to his new home in America," Guilmette wrote.  "The pay for a constable was three dollars per day; there were no benefits and no pension.  Constables were assaulted, shot, stabbed, arrested, had their horses stolen and poisoned, their houses and barns burned to the ground, were falsely accused of crimes, suspended for lack of budgeting, and in some cases forced to resign."  "Still they forged on and established a legacy that would survive the test of time," wrote Guilmette in the book's introduction.  Guilmette said he looked to the state archives for information on the deputy constables but found information there was scarce or nonexistent.  Newspaper reports from the time, however, helped Guilmette shape short biographical sketches of the constables including where they were from, married, settled, served and buried. Reporters' accounts in the newspapers also detailed "arrests and adventures of the early constables," he said.  Guilmette included newspaper accounts from that time in the self-published book.  Proceeds benefit the Massachusetts State Police Museum and Learning Center in Grafton.  The cost of Guilmette's book is $19.95 plus $3 for shipping and can be purchased by emailing him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

9/27/17

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