THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Source: The Early Life of Lexington [KY] before the Year 1820, Mary Estelle Delcamp, A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Transylvania College in Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts June, 1916
Good government is necessary for the welfare and happiness of any society. Just as soon as a locality becomes settled and prosperous, military rule, or lawless armed force must give way to civil rule. Lexington had passed the first stage, and was well on its way in the development of the second at the beginning of this period. Party politics had no place in the government of the town; in fact, it was looked upon with disfavor, if one may take an article in the Gazette as the expression of popular opinion: "In party contests public good is sacrificed to private views. The spirit of party is the spirit of enmity; and whether politics or religion, philosophical opinions, or family feuds have called it into existence--it has always been hostile to the peace, and obnoxious to the virtue of mankind. At different periods it has unfurled the standard of civil war, and unsheathed the two-edged sword of persecution; but at all times when it has prevailed, the private peace of security has been disturbed and domestic felicity interrupted by it (Oct. 20, 1787).
The town was governed by trustees, chosen by popular vote in elections which were held at the last of the old year, or the beginning of the new (Apr. 30, 1791; Cf. also law on p.). At the resignation or death of a trustee, a special election was called, and the place filled as soon as possible (Dec. 17, 1791; Mar. 31; 1791). It was the duty of these officials to levy taxes, and to make ordinances for the property and safety of the citizens. The property owners were notified, whenever the taxes for the year were to be levied; and anyone who thought his taxes were too high might come on that day, and lay his case before the city fathers (Oct. 27, 1787; Feb. 23, 1793; Feb. 14, 1803).
In 1810 the citizens, believing 'that the number of trustees was inadequate, the police not rigid enough, and the town funds too small', petitioned the legislature for a change. This resulted in "a law for the better regulation of the town of Lexington";
Section one. to the seven trustees, elected on the first Saturday in January (According to the law of 1796), there shall be added on the first Saturday in March four additional trustees.
Section two. All citizens, entitled to vote for representatives, may vote in the town election. The election shall be conducted by one trustee, appointed by the board. Ten days notice shall be given of the election.
Section three. Only inhabitants shall be eligible to hold office.
Section four. Vacancies shall be filled by special elections, designated by the trustees.
Section five. The trustees shall assess on each free male, above 21, a poll tax not exceeding $1.00 per annum, and on each male slave, above 18 years, a light tax. They shall also levy on all property, real and personal (Except male slaves above 18), such as they deem necessary, not exceeding 25 cents for every $100.00 They shall also have the power to enact by-laws, ordinances, and regulations not contrary to the laws of the state (Jan. 22, 1811).
The business affairs of the town were sometimes carried on in a very democratic way: for instance, in 1815 advertisement was made for one of the trustee books, which had been lost because, in the preceding years, it had been the custom to lend these records to any person who wanted to examine the titles and numbers of lots (May 1, 1815).
For the safety of the citizens day and night watchmen were employed. An ordinance, passed in 1816, laid down the rules for this police force:
First, One of five watchmen shall be elected and appointed captain of the watch, whose duty it shall be to attend the watch-house every night at ten o'clock, and cause the bell to ring, call the roll, and see that the watchmen are on time, and in condition to do their duty.
Second, It shall be his duty to send out one watchman on each ward - each to go the rounds of his ward once an hour, and to cry the time of night at the several corners. The captain may dispose of the remaining watchmen to act as silent watch, and to perform the same route without crying the hours, each returning to the watch-house on the completion of his tour.
Third, Watchmen must obey the captain. They must also take up all slaves and disorderly free persons of color, who may be found after ten o'clock. There are to be taken to the watch-house and dealt with, except slaves who have passes from their masters specifying their particular destination.
Fourth, disorderly houses, riots or unlawful assemblies of slaves within watch-hours, must be dispersed, or rioters taken to the watch-house. The watchman may call on the citizens for help.
Fifth, slaves shall be kept until one hour after sunrise, given ten lashes and dismissed, unless released by their masters.
Sixth, the captain must attend to prosecuting according to the law.
Seventh, the captain , must visit the different parts of the several wards each night, and keep the minutes of the proceedings to lay before the trustees. He must call the roll at daybreak.
Eighth, the present scale-house shall be used as a Watch-house.
Ninth, the captain's salary shall be $320.00, the watchman's $275.00 (Mar. 18, 1816).
In the same year as the passage of these regulations the trustees decided to employ five or six men for police duty. Instead of placing their friends in the positions, persons who wished employment were expected to apply (Jan. 15, 1816).
In the years of 1819 and 1820 the Lexington property guards had been organized, and were holding meetings (Dec. 8, 1819; Mar. 31, 1820).
Present civilization has felt the restraint of laws and customs for years; hence many of the ordinances of those days sound strange to the modern man. Yet these regulations show a developing conscience on the subject of social hygiene and welfare: for instance, in 1791, wooden chimneys, butcher shops (i.e., slaughter houses), and all other nuisances were banished from within the city limits, and hogs were no longer suffered to run at large (June 18, 1791). Two years thereafter, steps were taken to stop the dangerous pastime of horse-racing in the streets (Oct. 26. 1793). It was not until 1795, however, that the trustees felt they had the power to abolish this sport, and to prohibit the showing of stud horses on any other street except Water (Apr. 4, 1795). In the same year the public springs were no longer to be used as washing places (Aug. 15, 1795). According to a regulation of 1797 no person was to fire a gun or pistol within the inlots of the town, unless under absolute necessity (July 12, 1797).
Inasmuch as slavery existed, laws to regulate the conduct of slaves were required as early as 1800. In this year the watchmen were ordered to arrest all disorderly negroes (July 31, 1800). Two years later, because of the bent of the Southern slaves to insurrection, so slaves from the far South could be sold here (July 2, 1802). In 1809 a sad occurrence gives insight into some of the troubles with the negroes. A group of slaves had gathered around the jail. Having been dispersed by the jailer, they began to jeer him from the opposite side of the street. The jailer in anger threw a brick among the crowd, which hit and killed a young white child (June 13, 1809). The following year the citizens, thoroly (sic) aroused by the evils arising from the unlawful assemblies of boys and negroes on Sundays, resolved that a special watch should be appointed to execute the state laws respecting slaves, and to patrol the streets and public places every Sunday (June 12, 1810).
In 1814, in order to prevent the throwing of squibs, rockets, and fire-combustibles in the streets, alleys, or inlots of the town, a fine of from $3.00 to $5.00 was made the penalty for such offences (Oct. 17, 1814).
Five years later great complaint was made concerning the great number of dogs running at large. It was claimed that at least two-thirds of the people of every description owned a dog, and at times there was such a formidable array of the canine species that it looked like an army about to wage war on its owners (July 23, 1819). To remedy the evil, this ordinance was found necessary; first, no person, except owners of tanyards, shall keep more than one dog at one time under penalty of $10.00 fine; second, no person under 21 shall keep a dog, under penalty of $10.00 fine; third, any slave who owns a dog shall be given ten lashes; fourth, any housekeeper suffering more than one dog (except of transient person) shall be fined $5.00; fifth. any dog without a collar - the owner shall be fined $5.00; sixth, any person of a tanyard owning more than two dogs shall be fined $10.00 (June 2, 1820).
Many attempts were made to improve the streets, and to persuade people to build. In 1790 a petition was presented to the General Assembly of Virginia asking for the authority to lay and collect taxes for the purpose of keeping the streets in repair (July 19, 1790). Five years after, the money received from confiscated swine, which had been found running at large, was used to repair lots and highways (Mar. 15, 1795). One year later a lottery was held to raise money for the repair of streets, paving, building stonebridges, laying of sewers to carry off water, sinking of wells, and erecting of pumps (Mar. 17, 1796). The same year the trustees found it necessary to take action against persons caught removing gravel, clay, or earth from the streets or public grounds (Apr. 16, 1796).
The owners of lots put down their own pavements. In 1799 the town officers gave the Main Street property holders until August to begin paving; in case they failed to comply, the city would take the task upon itself at the expense of the said owners (June 6, 1799). Six years afterwards, a committee was appointed to Main between Main Cross and Mulberry, wherever the owners failed to commence paving before September fifteen (Aug. 27, 1805) In 1809 a lottery was held to enable the town fathers to fix up Main between Wilson's Tavern and M'Gowan's Bridge (Jan. 3, 1809). In order to encourage the paving of streets and alleys, an ordinance was passed, stating that when four-fifths of the owners of lots in a square agreed to pave, the streets and alleys in that square were to be prepared at the expense of the town for the reception of such pavement. To facilitate the work, the following ordinance gave laborers certain privileges:
First, workers may have the privilege of preventing carriages of every description, and passengers using, or passing along, that half of the street, or alley, on which they are working, by stretching chains, ropes, or setting up timber, and with the consent of two trustees may shut off the whole street or alley.
Second, any person breaking or removing said chains shall be fined $10.00
Third, when surplus water from any wells or pumps, which empty into any streets or alleys under repair, annoys the workmen, the owners must stop for a reasonable time. The owner shall be fined $5.00 for each day that he fails to comply (Oct. 24, 1814).
In 1804 citizens building within the limits of the town were given the use of one-half of the street, or streets for laying their building materials (Feb. 21, 1804).
It seems very strange, at least to the modern Lexingtonian, that the city fathers of 1809 found it necessary to pass a law, which prohibited two- or four-wheel carriages from using foot-pavements (June20, 1809).
Transcribed February 2001 by pb