Memorial to Robert Fleet

End of Watch: August 20, 1874
Rank: Officer, Badge No. 13
Age: 32  Years of Service:  4 years, 10 months
Location of Death: 15th and Q streets, NW
Duty Assignment: Second Precinct

 

A message from the DC Police Memorial, Inc:

Officer Robert Fleet was recently discovered missing from the Honor Rolls of Fallen Officers from the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department when we received information from researcher, Ms. Emma Jacobs of Gwinnett County, GA, informing us of the death of DC Police Officer Robert Fleet in 1874.  We, and the Metropolitan Police Department, confirmed the information and Officer Fleet is now an honored member of Fallen Officers from MPD. As our motto says, “Some Gave All, All Gave Some, and We Shall Never Forget Them.”

 

Circumstance:
On Thursday, August 20, 1874, at about 1:20 am, Officer Robert Fleet, while walking his beat, observed a house on fire. He immediately ran to fire alarm box 79 at 15th & Q Streets. Upon reaching the fire alarm box, he pulled the alarm and then, according to witnesses, fell to the ground as a result of an apparent heart attack.  Officer Fleet had served with the Metropolitan Police Department for just under five years and is believed to be the second African American officer hired by the department. He was the first African American officer to die in the line of duty.

 

Biography:

Robert Fleet was born in Washington, DC in 1840 to Margaret Simpson. He enlisted in the Navy on May 30, 1859, in the city of Boston, serving for 3-years as a Civil War sailor. After his honorable discharge he married Mary Green in Washington, DC and had two children. He was appointed as a patrolman on the Metropolitan Police Department on the 29th of October 1869, and served over three years in the Fourth Precinct, and in April 1873, was transferred to the Second Precinct. He was a member of the Social Lodge of Mason No. 1. He was survived by his wife and two children. 

There is conflicting information, some says he was the second African American officer appointed to the department, other says he was the fifth Black officer appointed. What is known, he that was the first African American officer to die in the line of duty.

Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE DEATH OF OFFICER ROBERT FLEET ON AUGUST 20, 1874

EVENING STAR ARTICLE DATED AUGUST 20, 1874, PAGE 4

A POLICEMAN DROPS DEAD WHILE TURNING IN A FIRE ALARM

This morning, at 1:20 o’clock, Officer Robert Fleet, of the second precinct, being at the corner of 15th and Q streets, saw the light made by the fire near the head of 15th street, and started to box 79 on a run to turn in an alarm. He succeeded in turning in the alarm, but dropped dead immediately afterward, leaving his key in the box. Some of the neighbors found him lying dead, and help was called, and his body removed to the fourth precinct station.

He had been complaining for several days of an uncomfortable feeling about his heart, but did not regard it as serious, and it is supposed that the exertion of running and excitement caused the rupture of a blood vessel. Others attribute his death to apoplexy.

He had recently been summoned before the Police Commissioners on charges preferred for neglect to turn in an alarm promptly on the occasion of a fire some eight days ago which occurred on his beat—two small frame shanties near Boundary street having been destroyed, and in order not to incur a like censure it is probable that he over-exerted himself last night.

The area allotted to the police as “beats” in several of our police precincts is unreasonably large, and it is to be hoped that the Commission will take some action to remedy this, and also to provide for the family of the deceased, who are left in poor circumstances.

Officer Fleet was the second colored man appointed on the police force, Detective Tillman having been the first, and he was regarded as a first-rate officer. He was appointed a patrolman on the 29th of October 1869, and served over three years in the fourth precinct, and in April, 1873, was transferred to the second precinct, where he has been doing duty.

There was hardly an officer on the force more generally liked, being of quiet, unassuming manners, and faithful and discreet in the discharge of his duties. As was remarked by some of the officers who had been his colleagues, “He was a gentleman.”

He was 32 years of age, a native of the First ward, and resided with his wife and two children, at the corner of 21st and K streets. He was a member of Social Lodge No. 1, of Masons, whose officers, in the absence of his family (who are in the country), took charge of his remains.

The coroner did not deem an inquest necessary.

 

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NATIONAL REPUBLICAN NEWSPAPER DATED AUGUST 24, 1874, PAGE 4

The funeral of Officer Robert Fleet took place yesterday from his late residence No. 2039 K street northwest. The remains were attended by a detail of police, under Lieutenant Noonan, and were interred in Harmonial Cemetery.

ADDITIONAL STORIES ABOUT OFFICER FLEET:
PARTIAL NATIONAL REPUBLICAN NEWSPAPER DATED FEBRUARY 4, 1870, PAGE 4
BOARD OF METROPOLITAN POLICE

The Board of Police at its meeting yesterday transacted among other business the following:
C.E. Simmons, Benjamin F. Harper, Thomas Young, James A. Dodd, John J. Hill and W.T. Tarpin were appointed additional privates for twelve months.

Privates Robert Fleet and Jas. H. Smith, who have served the usual probationary period on the force, were ordered by the board to be commissioned.

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EVENING STAR DATED NOVEMBER 7, 1870, PAGE 4

DEAD INFANT IN THE STREET
On Saturday last, Officer Fleet found a dead male infant (colored) on an open lot on the corner of 17th and K streets. It was taken to the station-house, and Dr. Potter, the Coroner, notified, but no inquest was held.

 

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EVENING STAR ARTICLE DATED SEPTEMBER 8, 1871, PAGE 4
THREE FIRES THIS MORNING
About 2:20 o’clock this morning Officer Fleet turned in a alarm from box 74, for a fire discovered in the back building of a two-story frame house, corner of New York avenue and 18th street, occupied by John Erwin, and in a few minutes the whole house was in flames. The firemen responded promptly and got in service, but the flames spread to the three frame houses belonging to Mr. Thomas Waggaman, and occupied by Mr. Furlong, Mrs. Clark, and two colored families, which were entirely destroyed, they being of very light material. The adjoining building, belonging to Mr. Hays, was saved, as also most of the furniture in the buildings. The loss is about $3,000.

Wile the members of No. 2 engine were giving it a trial, about 9 o’clock, at corner of 13th and D streets, to ascertain, if it was damaged by a jolt received last night, an alarm was given that the roof of house No. 1308 D street—a two-story brick dwelling, occupied by colored people, and known as “Slewfoot Lize’s”— was on fire, and the stream was turned on it. The fire appeared to have got in under the shingles, and at one time, on account of the high wind, it was feared that they be unable to check the progress of the flames, and an alarm was struck from box 38, (No. 2 engine-house,) which brought out the rest of the department. The flames were subdued, however, before the other engines got into service. While the firemen were at work on the roof, some of the inmates utilized the water pouring through the ceiling by scrubbing the lower floor. The fire is supposed to have caught from a spark from the engine. The loss will trifling.

About 8:30 o’clock this morning some little boys gathered up on the street some wood shavings, used in filling mattresses, and took them to the rear of the house No. 411 Eleventh street, occupied by Mr. F. Heygster and Mr. A. Boudoin, where they piled them against the board fence and set fire to them. The wind soon spread the blaze to some frame sheds, which would soon have been in flames had not a colored man extinguished the fire. This is the third time within a week or two that these boys have set fire to the same premises. The Franklin was on hand, but their services were not needed.

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EVENING STAR ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 23, 1872, PAGE 4
SHOCKING HOMICIDE IN GAS HOUSE
A MAN’S SKULL SMASHED IN WITH A SHOVEL
KILLING OF PATRICK WELCH BY JOHN LYDEN
THE ACCUSED QUIETLY WALKS OUT WITHOUT INTERFERENCE, GOES TO HIS HOME, WASHES AND DRESSES, AND LEAVES FOR PARTS UNKNOWN.

Our citizens were shocked yesterday by the report that another homicide had been committed, the victim being a laborer at the Washington gas-works named Patrick Welch, who had been killed by a fellow laborer names John Lyden. It seems that the men, who were neighbors, residing at the west end of the city, and both night workmen at the gas-works, left their homes on Saturday night about 11:30 o’clock for the scene of their nightly labors. So far as is known they had been previously on friendly terms with each other, and after their arrival at the gas-house both began drawing their fires, for the purpose of making them up anew. Welch, it appears, missed some coke that he had ready, and inquired of a fellow workman, named Redman Sullivan, if he had taken it, and received a reply in the negative, when Lyden stepping up said he had used it in firing up. This led to angry words and an affray, which was stopped by the interferences of the other workmen but was afterwards renewed. Welch was seated on a pile of coal near to Lyden, who, as soon as he had filled up his wheelbarrow, started to dump it, and in doing so had to pass by Welch, when he stopped, and, raising his coal shovel, struck Welch twice on the top of the head, felling him to the floor. Michael Clancy ran in between them and caught Lyden, thus preventing a third blow. The latter resumed his barrow, while Welch was laying on his back apparently lifeless. Lyden finding what he had done and that Welch did not rally, exclaimed, “Is he going to die?” and at once rushed out and to his home, where he washed himself, and, putting on a change of clothing, left without saying a word to his wife of the murder or what his purposes were. He has not been seen since. Both are natives of Galway, Ireland.

Welch came to this country about four years ago and had been living in this city ever since. He leaves a wife and one child.
Lyden is about forty-five years of age and came to this country ten years ago and has been a fireman at the gasworks since that time. He has a wife and two children living at the house adjoining that where Welch lives, on 23rd street, between L and M streets, northwest.

When the facts became known, Sergeant Swindell, with Officers Toomey, Fleet, Crump, and Trunnell, repaired to the gashouse, where, after an examination, it was found there were cuts on the top of the head of Welch,

THE SKULL BEING CRUSHED.
The coroner was notified, and after viewing the body ordered it to be removed to the fourteen precinct station-house, Lieut. Green in charge, and at once dispatched Officers Warwick and Hawkes to arrest Lyden, but they returned with the information that he had left the city. The scene which took place when the wife and child of the murdered man arrived and beheld Welch cold in death was heartrending, and it was with difficulty that they were removed.

THE INQUEST
Coroner Patterson arrived at the station-house at 11 o’clock this morning, and, assisted by Dr. J.F. Hartigan, proceeded to hold an inquest, Sergeant Kneas having summoned a jury, with J.J. Eliott as foreman. Mr. O.D. Barrett appeared as counsel for accused. The body of the victim was laying in the loft over the tier of cells in the rear building of the station-house, dressed in grey pants, with a blue flannel shirt. The face was blackened with coal dust. The jury were called in called in to view the body, and Dr. Patterson administered the oath to them, when they repaired to the sitting-rooms of the station, and the first witness called was Eugene Murphy, who testified that Patrick Welch and John Lyden had some words together about a pile of coke which had been dumped for use on the floor of the furnace room; Welch went away, and when he came back he found the coke gone, and inquired what had become of it. He asked Daniel Sullivan who had taken it, and at that time John Lyden stepped up and said he had used it. Thereupon Welch slapped him with an open hand, and a fight was about to commence, when the men interfered and parted them. A quarter of an hour afterwards, perhaps, Welch had fired up his furnace, and went and sat down on a pile of coal. Lyden was engaged in taking out some dirt from a barrow, and he walked over to Welch and struck him with a shovel on the head; witness did not see the first blow struck, but heard it, looked around, saw the second blow struck; heard no words passed between them at this time. Cross-examined:- Welch’s head was turned from Lyden when he struck the blow; he was not asleep, and Lyden went up behind him or on one side, and struck him; neither had been drinking that he knew of, as they showed no signs of intoxication; thought they had some drinks in the fore part of the night, but they did show it; did not see Lyden when he went towards Welch; witness is a laborer at the gas works.

Daniel Welch testified that a few words had taken place between deceased and Lyden; saw the hat off of Lyden and his nose bleeding, but everything had been settled between them, and nearly half an hour afterwards Welch was sitting down on a pile of coal, when Lyden was filling his dirt into a barrow; witness heard a noise, and turned about just in time to see the second blow struck by Lyden; saw no other blow struck.

By Mr. Barrett: – The noise he heard was the hands calling out, “The man is killed;” witness was some six or seven yards off, and they got some water and commenced to bathe Welch’s head.
By a juror: – It was close upon 5 o’clock when the blows were struck; Welch was sitting on a pile of coal close by the wall, and Lyden approached him from as side direction, his left side being turned towards Lyden.
By Mr., Barrett: – The blow was struck from the side of deceased, and not from behind; he made no noise except to give a sort of grunt.

Redman Sullivan, laborer at the gas-works, testified substantially as the preceding witnesses
Michael Clancy was sworn. His testimony was corroborative of that of the preceding witnesses.

The last witness testified that he heard Lyden say just as he struck Welch with the shovel, “You son of a gun, you hit me a while ago.” Welch had his head resting on his hand, leaning up towards the wall, when struck. He first struck a right-handed blow and then a left-handed one, each time on top of the head.

Matthew Donohoe’s testimony was corroborative.
Dr. Hartigan testified that he performed the autopsy; found a cut and an extensive fracture of the skull, the bone being driven into the brain; the wound produced death very soon afterwards.

The jury then retired, and soon afterwards rendered a
VERDICT
“That the deceased came to his death between the hours of 4 and 5 o’clock, on the 22nd instant, at the works of the Washington Gas company, corner of 26th and G streets, from a blow on the head , inflicted with a coal shovel held in the hands of John Lyden.”
The body was handed over to the undertaker, who conveyed it to the friends of the deceased. His family are very poor and in great distress.

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PARTIAL WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 7, 1894, PAGE 7
ON THE DOCKET SINCE 1872
CHARGE OF MURDER AGAINST JOHN LYDEN NOLLE PROSSED–CRIMINAL COURT MATTERS

The charge of murder against John Lyden was for the killing of Patrick Welch, December 23, 1872. It was said to have been caused by some quarrel between them over the possession of a small quantity of coal. Lyden is supposed to be in England, and it is now nearly impossible to secure witnesses against him.

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EVENING STAR ARTICLE DATED JULY 11, 1874, PAGE 4
Two mad dogs were killed yesterday, one by Officer Fleet, on I, between 20th and 21st streets; the other by Officer Brooks at the corner of 13th and M streets northwest.

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NATIONAL REPUBLICAN ARTICLE DATED AUGUST 6, 1874, PAGE 4
HOW KATE STEWART GOT TWO MEN INTO TROUBLE
It would seem as if the razor had taken the place of the revolver as a weapon of offence or defense, especially with the colored people of this community. Scarce a day passes that a cutting affray is not recorded in which the razor is the implement used to do the work, and ofttimes with serious results. Example appears to have little beneficial effect in this respect, for the more punishment, not only for carrying this coward’s weapon, but for using it, does not deter others from operating with it. On Tuesday night, shortly after 10 o’clock, George H. Boston and William W. Fisher, both colored, met on P, between Sixth and Seventh streets. For some time, past there has not existed a feeling of brotherly love between the two on account of the attachment both entertained for a female which in reality belonged to neither. However, both were expending their spare change at the same time on the willing female, until the tempter jealousy arose between the men, and hence worth no peace existed among them. Especially was this so with Fisher, and the fiery passion could not be controlled; his rival must be driven from the path. He must die. Consequently, the razor business of Tuesday night.

George Boston is a married man–or was–at least the court so regards him, having refused his petition for a divorce. He, however, does not look at matters through the same glasses as the judicial tribunal, and believes if the separation was not decreed by law it should have been, and consequently divorced himself from his wife, with whom he had some trouble not long since, and from which sprang his application for a release from the nuptial vows.

There resides in Foundry church alley, located between G and H and Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, a very attractive colored girl named Kate Stewart, towards whom Boston has been looking with a longing eye, and doubtless intending that when freed from the first wife she should become Mrs. Boston No. 2. That fact may, perhaps, account for his devoted and constant attentions to the bewitching female for some previous to filing the application for a divorce, and which have been increased since.

Wm. Fisher was inclined in that direction himself, and entertained a preference for Kate, naturally thinking Boston should consider himself well supplied with one partner of his joys and sorrows, and not aspire for another, thus committing bigamy in this civilized community. Therefore, he was jealous of Boston, but this was not all that caused the ill-feeling between them.

Petty quarrels have arisen with the same parties about the girl more than once, and on one occasion Boston had Fisher, together with a friend of his named H.A. Williams, arrested, charging them with committing an assault upon him, which trouble originated from the same source as the present.

These differences have had the effect of creating a bitter spirit between the men, and the meeting was not surprising to those acquainted with all the circumstances. Fisher applied the razor with the skill of a journeyman barber and gave Boston a clear cut across the left breast and another across the stomach.

He was taken to the office of Dr. W.H. Taylor, who dressed the wounds, after which he was removed to his home, on Eighth street northwest, near O. As is generally the case, there are two sides to the story. Boston asserts that he did not see Fisher, nor have any knowledge of his presence, until he was cut; while on the other hand Fisher (afterwards arrested by Sergeant Perry and Officer Fleet) gives us his version: that he was in company with the bonnie Kate and Sidney Desper, and that Boston ran up behind them and struck him (Fisher) with a stone. He then drew and used the razor, but only in self-defense. The case came up in the Police Court yesterday morning but was postponed for a further hearing.

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EVENING STAR ARTICLE DATED AUGUST 20, 1874, PAGE 4
A POLICEMAN DROPS DEAD WHILE TURNING IN A FIRE ALARM

This morning, at 1:20 o’clock, Officer Robert Fleet, of the second precinct, being at the corner of 15th and Q streets, saw the light made by the fire near the head of 15th street, and started to box 79 on a run to turn in an alarm. He succeeded in turning in the alarm, but dropped dead immediately afterward, leaving his key in the box. Some of the neighbors found him lying dead, and help was called, and his body removed to the fourth precinct station.

He had been complaining for several days of an uncomfortable feeling about his heart, but did not regard it as serious, and it is supposed that the exertion of running and excitement caused the rupture of a blood vessel. Others attribute his death to apoplexy.

He had recently been summoned before the Police Commissioners on charges preferred for neglect to turn in an alarm promptly on the occasion of a fire some eight days ago which occurred on his beat—two small frame shanties near Boundary street having been destroyed, and in order not to incur a like censure it is probable that he over-exerted himself last night.

The area allotted to the police as “beats” in several of our police precincts is unreasonably large, and it is to be hoped that the Commission will take some action to remedy this, and also to provide for the family of the deceased, who are left in poor circumstances.

Officer Fleet was the second colored man appointed on the police force, Detective Tillman having been the first, and he was regarded as a first-rate officer. He was appointed a patrolman on the 29th of October 1869, and served over three years in the fourth precinct, and in April, 1873, was transferred to the second precinct, where he has been doing duty.
There was hardly an officer on the force more generally liked, being of quiet, unassuming manners, and faithful and discreet in the discharge of his duties. As was remarked by some of the officers who had been his colleagues, “He was a gentleman.”

He was 32 years of age, a native of the First ward, and resided with his wife and two children, at the corner of 21st and K streets. He was a member of Social Lodge No. 1, of Masons, whose officers, in the absence of his family (who are in the country), took charge of his remains.

The coroner did not deem an inquest necessary.

NATIONAL REPUBLICAN NEWSPAPER DATED AUGUST 24, 1874, PAGE 4
The funeral of Officer Robert Fleet took place yesterday from his late residence No. 2039 K street northwest. The remains were attended by a detail of police, under Lieutenant Noonan, and were interred in Harmonial Cemetery.