Michael Treadwell

James C. Loomis

December 13, 2018

by Michael Treadwell

At the start of his career, attorney and politician James Loomis posted the following advertisement in a Bridgeport newspaper: “James C. Loomis, Attorney & Counsellor at Law. Has removed to the City of Bridgeport, and taken an office over the store of Messrs. Hall & Niles, in Water Street, fronting State Street.   April  22, 1839”.[1]

In addition to practicing law, Loomis became involved in local politics.  Loomis was a candidate for mayor of Bridgeport in 1842, only six years after Bridgeport was incorporated in May of 1836.[2]  Two Bridgeport newspapers during this time were the Republican Farmer and the Republican Standard.  The October 3, 1842 election was anything but easy for Loomis.  The Standard’s coverage of the election was difficult to follow:

Our City Election yesterday, was a very curious affair. Five Tickets, all of a mixed order as to politics were in the field.  An ‘Anti-holding City Meetings to talk over Rail Road matters’ Ticket, first made its appearance and the others were got up in opposition. At the time of this present writing, it is ascertained that nobody in particular is elected Mayor by a great majority. [3]

The Standard referred to an “anti–holding meetings concerning railroad matters ticket”.   Perhaps this represented one or more of the candidates in the race.  One can only guess what the issues were and the differences between the candidates.

A second vote occurred one week later to determine who would be the winner.  Three candidates were running, D. B. Nichols, D. Thatcher, and Loomis.  Nichols received 128 votes, D. Thatcher, 109, and Loomis, 14, with a scattering of 13 additional votes.  Two hundred and sixty-four people voted.  In order to win, one candidate had to receive 133 votes.   None of the candidates reached that number, therefore, “no choice was effected”.[4]

Two weeks later the Standard reported:

a meeting was called in this city, on the 20th and a resolution was passed requesting Mr. Loomis to continue in the office of mayor, during the ensuing year.  In reply to an application, made by a committee appointed at this meeting, Mr. Loomis, after stating that he at first had no desire to retain the office with which he had been honored”, agreed to continue as mayor.[5]

[1] Bridgeport Republican Standard, Aug. 21, 1839
[2] Charles W. Bradley, Connecticut Register Being an Official State Calendar of Public Officers and Institutions in Connecticut for 1847 (Hartford: Brown & Parsons), 178.
[3] Bridgeport Republican Standard, Oct. 4, 1842
[4] Bridgeport Republican Farmer, Oct. 11, 1842
[5] Bridgeport Republican Standard, Oct. 25, 1842

The Standard provided no further details.   Did the voters appoint the committee that requested Loomis to continue as mayor?  Who was on the committee?  Nichols and Thatcher received more votes than Loomis.   Did they drop out and step aside for Loomis?

The following year, Mayor Loomis ran for reelection. The Standard endorsed Loomis with a sly reference to his personality, as well as referring derisively to the office of mayor:

As to a candidate for mayor, we go for the present incumbent, [Mayor Loomis]. Bating his sneaking propensity and a little superfluous grandeur which he carries about with him, he makes a very respectable functionary and we take pleasure in urging his claims for another ‘hold over’, particularly, as we know of nobody else just now, who would like to be honored or bothered with the office in question. [6]

Loomis was reelected by a majority of about 130 votes.[7]

After retiring as mayor, Loomis served as the City Attorney for Bridgeport from 1850 to 1858.  In 1859 he was succeeded as City Attorney by H. T. Blake.  He was listed in the 1857 and 1861 Register as a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, in the House of Representatives, representing Bridgeport.[8]

In February of 1861, Loomis was nominated by the Democratic party to run for governor.  His opponent was the incumbent governor, William A. Buckingham.  The country was in the middle of a crisis. Several Southern states had already seceded from the union and formed their own separate government.  In his acceptance speech delivered on February 6, 1861 he said,

What can be done to save our country? What reconciliations can be made to restore confidence, peace, concord, the reunion of the now dissevered states.  Let us strike for the reconstruction of this union, not with the sword, but with the olive branch.”[9]

Loomis believed there was still time to bring the Southern states back into the union through peaceful negotiation.

The Standard, having endorsed his opponent Buckingham claimed: “The nominee for Governor, in his speech is reported as saying that some of the Southern states had, “Not unreasonably” withdrawn from the union”[10]

[6] Bridgeport Republican Standard, Sept. 26, 1843
[7] Bridgeport Republican Farmer, Oct. 3, 1843
[8] Bradley, Connecticut Register, 1850-1854, 1856-1859, 1861-1863.
[9] Bridgeport Daily Advertiser and Farmer, Feb. 7, 1861
[10] Bridgeport Daily Standard, Feb. 7, 1861

The Farmer, which endorsed Loomis, printed his entire acceptance speech.  Loomis had said the Southern states “have suddenly withdrawn their allegiance and are now forming a separate confederacy, independent of, if not in direct hostility to us,” [the North]. [11]  Loomis never mentioned his support whatsoever for any of the Southern states that had withdrawn from the union.  He tried to find a way to convince the Southern states to return to the union.   Like the future president, Abraham Lincoln, he did not want a war.

In addition, the Standard mentioned that somebody had “reported” the information to them about what Loomis had said in his acceptance speech, yet they never identified who the person was.  The Standard was using character assassination against Loomis during his campaign, in an attempt to convince the voters that he was really a traitor who backed secession.

In 1860 Loomis made a speech at a “union meeting” at Bridgeport’s Washington Hall prior to the South’s secession from the Union. The purpose of the “union meeting” was to promote the union of the country, and to do all that could be done to prevent the Southern states from seceding and breaking up the Union.

Abolitionists had limited popularity in the North, partly because some advocated violence. [12]  William Lloyd Garrison, who published the abolitionist newspaper Liberator, delivered a speech in which he hoped that “Southern slaves ought, or at least had a right, to cut the throats of their masters”. [13] Connecticut born abolitionist John Brown was associated with the Pottawatomie Massacre, an infamous, “bleeding Kansas” incident in which Brown led a group of abolitionists to kill five pro-slavery party settlers in Franklin County, Kansas.[14]

Loomis staunchly opposed slavery but he believed that abolitionists such as Garrison, and especially Brown, only escalated the tension and animosity between the North and the South, and made a hostile situation worse.   He said the actions of “Northern fanatics” interfered with a “plan for gradual emancipation of the slaves” and had antagonized Virginia into forming a Southern Confederacy. [15]

[11] Bridgeport Daily Advertiser and Farmer, Feb. 7, 1861
[12] Lloyd Paul Stryker, Andrew Johnson A Study in Courage (New York: Macmillan Company, 1929), 49.
[13] Stryker, 49.
[14] David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1976), 211-212.
[15] Bridgeport Daily Advertiser and Farmer, Jan. 7, 1860

The election took place on April 1, 1861. In Bridgeport, Loomis received 1,270 votes to Buckingham’s 1,024. He won in Bridgeport by 246 votes.[16]  However, it was not enough. Buckingham won the election statewide.  He received 43,012 votes and Loomis captured 40,986 votes. Loomis lost the election by approximately 2000 votes.[17]

Eleven days after his defeat the Civil War began at Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12th, 1861. His hope to convince the Southern states to reunite with the Union without a civil war was lost.

Loomis ran a second time for governor one year later against the same opponent, Governor Buckingham. The election occurred in April of 1862, in the midst of civil war.  Loomis lost Bridgeport by a margin of 251 votes. [18]  He lost the election statewide by a wider margin of 9,148 votes than the year before.  Buckingham received 39,782 votes and Loomis captured 30,634.[19]

Loomis supported the war effort in the North.  On August 15, 1862, he delivered a speech at a meeting to recruit a company of soldiers for the union army. [20]

After the war, Loomis became involved in several noteworthy Bridgeport organizations.  He was President of the County Bar Association, of the City Board of Education, of the Mountain Grove Cemetery, and most importantly, the Bridgeport Library Association.  He died on September 16, 1877.[21]

Loomis witnessed the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the subsequent secession of the Southern states that led to civil war. His career took place in the middle of a turbulent time in American history.  He never made history on a national scale, but he was a prominent figure in Connecticut politics.  He fell short of being elected governor, however, he was a prominent citizen of Bridgeport and served his city well as mayor, city attorney, and member of the General Assembly.

[16] Bridgeport Daily Standard, Apr. 2, 1861
[17] Bradley, Connecticut Register, 1862.
[18] Bridgeport Evening Standard, Apr. 8, 1862
[19] Bradley, Connecticut Register, 1863.
[20] “Stamford’s Civil War: At Home and in the Field a 2003 Exhibit,” Stamford Historical Society, http:www.stamfordhistory.org/cw_timeline.htm.
[21]“James Chaffee Loomis,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Chaffee_Loomis.

Bridgeport Mayors, Politics

The Late 19th Century Bridgeport Police Controversy

May 02, 2018

By Michael Treadwell, May 1, 2018

In the last decade of the 19th Century Bridgeport experienced a traumatic event with their Police Department. The press referred to it as the police muddle.[1] The dispute was unsettling for the individuals involved, and for the citizens of Bridgeport.

In January of 1890 a new police chief named John Rylands was sworn in. For some reason, there was friction between Rylands and some of the Police Commissioners. The reasons for the friction had to have been complicated, but to research further on that specific issue, while interesting, would go beyond the scope of this article.

A relatively minor incident occurred, which subsequently erupted into a major Police Department controversy. Nobody could have possibly predicted what that minor incident would lead to. It started when Chief Rylands suspended John Murphy, one of his officers, for being intoxicated while on duty.

But the Board of Police Commissioners held a meeting and adopted the following resolution with instructions for Rylands to carry out. The resolution adopted was:  “That Officer Murphy be and is hereby reinstated until such time that the Commissioners hear charges that are pending against him”. [2]

Mayor William H. Marigold then countermanded the order of the Police Commissioners. Marigold drew up his own instructions for Rylands to follow:

I hereby give you [Rylands] notice that any business done by anybody purporting to be the Board of Police Commissioners of the City of Bridgeport at any meeting held Saturday evening May 16, 1891, was void. You will therefore govern yourself accordingly and refuse to execute any orders issued at any such meeting. [3]

Rylands obeyed the orders of Marigold and refused to reinstate Murphy.

The Police Commissioners quickly followed up and adopted another resolution in response to Marigold’s instructions:  “That John Rylands be dismissed from the police for gross, willful, and continued disobedience of the instructions and orders of the Board of Police Commissioners”.[4]  Since Rylands defied the commissioners by not reinstating Murphy, they fired him.

1 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, June 13, 1891, p. 5.
2 Bridgeport Daily Leader, May 18, 1891, p. 3.
3 Bridgeport Daily Leader, May 18, 1891, p. 3.
4 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, June 17, 1891, p. 2.

After Rylands was dismissed, the commissioners appointed police captain John P. Pinkerman as the acting Chief of Police, on or about June 15, 1891. Shortly thereafter, on June 16, 1891, the commissioners appointed Sergeant Eugene Birmingham, to succeed Rylands as Chief of Police. Birmingham accepted the appointment, and was sworn in.

In the space of only two to three days a police chief had been dismissed, [Rylands], an acting chief was appointed for barely one day, [Pinkerman], and a new chief was hired. [Birmingham]. What happened next was bizarre. Birmingham said to Rylands, “When you vacate I am ready to fill your place, until then I will continue to obey your orders as Chief. You can trust me in this”.

Birmingham had accepted the offer of Chief of Police from the Police Commissioners, was sworn in, and then refused to challenge Rylands for the job, as long as Rylands continued to ignore the order from the Police Commissioners, who dismissed him!

Therefore, Rylands carried on as chief, at least for a little while. Three months later the Bridgeport Common Council took matters into their own hands.  “A yea and nay vote was taken [by the Common Council], on the matter which resulted in the adoption of the ordinance abolishing the office of Chief of Police by a vote of 10 to 4”. Upon the passing of this ordinance, Rylands could not possibly remain as the Chief of Police, because the common council had just abolished the position.

The common council then chose Captain John P. Pinkerman, who had briefly been the acting chief immediately after Rylands had been dismissed in June of 1891, to take command. Pinkerman kept his title of captain. Pinkerman officially took charge of the Police Department on September 23, 1891. Rylands was now the ex-chief.

Journalist Elsie Danenberg wrote a book about the history of Bridgeport, which included the following summary of the police controversy: “The political heads then in power found a solution for the problem by prevailing upon the state legislature to abolish the office of Chief of Police, thereby abolishing also, Rylands”.

The state legislature did no such thing. Danenberg’s conclusion that the state legislature abolished the office of Chief of Police was inaccurate. The Bridgeport Common Council was the only legislative body to have abolished the office of Chief of Police, by passing their own ordinance, with a vote of 10 to 4.

5 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, June 15, 1891, p. 5.
6 Bridgeport Daily Leader, June 16, 1891, p. 2.
7 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, September 11, 1891, p. 4.
8 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, September 23, 1891, p.4.
9 Elsie Danenberg, The Story of Bridgeport, (Bridgeport, CT., Bridgeport Centennial, Inc., 1936),
p. 106.
10 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, September 11, 1891, p. 4.

Rylands did not give up. With the advice of his attorneys he objected to the Common Council’s ordinance that abolished the office of Chief of Police. His objection focused on whether the Common Council had the authority to abolish the office.

On December 15, 1891, Judge Charles Andrews sustained the objection of Rylands. Judge Andrews ruled that “the Common Council had not in fact abolished the office”. Was Rylands chief again?  A subsequent trial was held in 1892. On March 23, 1892, Judge Samuel Prentice issued an important ruling at the conclusion of the trial. His decision was as follows:

The result of my conclusions is, that Mr. Rylands was not lawfully dismissed, as alleged by the respondent. He is therefore entitled to reinstatement in the office of Chief of Police, of which he has been unlawfully deprived by the respondent.

Judge Prentice focused strictly on Rylands being illegally dismissed by the Police Commissioners back on June 17, 1891. Judge Prentice did not address the separate issue of the Common Council’s ordinance that abolished the office of Chief of Police. That was because Judge Andrews had previously decided that issue on December 15, 1891, when he sustained the objection of Rylands and his attorney’s.

Although not certain, based on the fact that Judge Prentice had ordered Rylands reinstated, on March 23, 1892, it seems likely that Captain Pinkerman was in charge of the Police Department since September 23, 1891, when the Common Council selected him, after abolishing the office of Chief of Police.  However, it was certain that Rylands was now chief of the Police Department again, after the ruling by Judge Prentice in March of 1892, and that Pinkerman was no longer in charge.

The opponents of Rylands refused to give up. Appeals were filed, and were being heard by the Supreme Court. Fifteen months passed before the Supreme Court issued its ruling. In a 4 to 1 decision, the majority ruled that the Bridgeport Common council definitely had the authority to abolish, or create, the office of Chief of Police, by ordinance back on September 9, 1891. The Court’s decision was final and ended the controversy once and for all. The office of Chief of Police was extinct.

The Police Commissioners acted upon the Supreme Court’s decision by informing Rylands “that he would not in the future be expected to perform the functions of the office that had been abolished”.

11 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 15, 1891, p. 5.
12 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, March 23, 1892, p. 1.
13 Bridgeport Evening Post, June 8, 1893, p. 1.
14 Bridgeport Evening Post, June 12, 1893, p. 1.

Rylands seemed to take the news fairly well. Upon leaving his meeting with the commissioners he said: “Well I am a citizen again, gentlemen”. Perhaps he welcomed the fact that he did not have the job any longer.

Rylands was gone, but the Police Department was still there. Who was in charge? It certainly was not Captain Pinkerman. One year before Rylands was removed, in June of 1892, Pinkerman himself had been dismissed by the Police Commissioners, in a controversial decision, for being insubordinate to Rylands.
However, Eugene Birmingham was still on the force. Back in June of 1891, Birmingham had been appointed chief by the Police Commissioners, after Rylands had been dismissed the first time, and then refused to challenge Rylands for the job.

With Rylands out of the picture, the situation had changed. In June of 1893, the Police Commissioners “informed Captain Birmingham that he was in command of the department for the present and would be expected to perform the duties which formerly devolved on the chief officer of the department”.

In The Story of Bridgeport Elsie Danenberg wrote the following about the course of events: “Political unrest culminated in a veritable upheaval in 1895 and the incumbent police chief, John Rylands was slated to go”. Rylands could not have been dismissed in 1895 because he was no longer a member of the Police Department. His dismissal took place in 1893.

With Captain Birmingham in charge of the department, the Common Council, 10 months later, in April of 1894, created the title of Superintendent of Police. In section 2 of the ordinance, the Common Council wrote: “That said superintendent of police shall be vested with all the powers and responsibilities, and shall perform all the duties formerly exercised by and imposed upon the Chief of Police”.

In section 3 the Common Council went even further: “That wherever in the ordinance of the city of Bridgeport the words Chief of Police occur the same are hereby stricken out and the words superintendent of police are hereby inserted in lieu thereof”. The common council Could not have been clearer. By a vote of 8 to 2, the ordinance was passed.

15 Bridgeport Evening Post, June 12, 1893, p. 1.
16 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, June 27, 1892, p. 5.
17 Bridgeport Evening Post, June 12, 1893, p. 1.
18 Danenberg, p. 106.
19 Bridgeport Evening Post, June 12, 1893, p. 1.
20 Bridgeport Evening Post, April 3, 1894, p. 2.
21 Bridgeport Evening Post, April 3, 1894, p. 2.
22 Bridgeport Evening Post, April 3, 1894, p. 2.

The wheels of government tend to move slowly, and this was no exception. The citizens of Bridgeport waited another year before Captain Birmingham became Superintendent Birmingham, Bridgeport’s first Superintendent of Police. He was sworn in on April 24, 1895.

The long drawn out controversy and uncertainty of who was actually in charge of the Police Department, and what title he held, was finally over. The citizens of Bridgeport must have been relieved.

City Government and Civil Service