Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Baltimore Constable and Police DetectiveThomas W. “Tom” Gorman (1821-1863)

Baltimore Constable and Police Detective

Thomas W. “Tom” Gorman (1821-1863)

A letter sold on Ebay, 2016[3]

On a Sunday morning in January 1859, Frank Thompson, a visitor to Baltimore from Charlestown, Massachusetts wrote a letter to his wife Ruthie, describing the adventure of his train ride from home to the President Street station. The first three legs of the journey were very pleasant. He was accompanied by some local notables and acquaintances from home, stayed overnight in New York, where he smoked and talked into all hours, and went on to Philadelphia the next morning. From there to Wilmington Delaware he still had people he knew to talk with, but after Wilmington, “being alone,” he moved to the smoking car, the last car in the train, where he encountered men of a different sort:

Soon after [I got there] much to my surprise some 15 to 20 of the worst looking fellows came & began to carouse, having a bottle [of] whiskey. They soon began passing around said bottle (without glasses). I declined the honor of a drink as politely as possible, fearing to offend. Soon after the leader of the crowd came & took a seat next to me & commenced conversation by informing me that one of the number (who at that moment was very drunk) had just been discharged from custody on charge of murder in Phila, the evidence not sufficient to prove it, although I have no doubt he was guilty. My friend also informed me that he was one of the Balto police and a great scoundrel … On the first chance I left the Car, but not before my friend, who informed me that his name was Tom Gorman, assured me that if I ever got into any scrapes in Balto, to send for him ...which I promised to do. That nice fellow (the conductor, afterwards informed me) was [of] a delegation of the celebrated “Plug Uglies’ club of Balto who had been on to Phila to escort their friend (the murderer) back to Balto[4]

Frank made it back safely to Charlestown to his wife and young daughter.[5]

Carpenter’s Alley in 1851 in the 14th Ward

From the revised Thomas Poppleton Map

“Tom” Gorman, born in Pennsylvania, first appears in the public records of Baltimore City as a constable (1848)[6] and then as a concerned citizen. In 1850, according to the city directory, he lived at 204 Saratoga Street in the 12th ward (what today is 513 West Saratoga), and is identified as a police officer. In 1854 he dropped his protest over a steam mill being erected on Carpenter’s alley, an alley that ran from Fremont to Howard street in the 14th ward of Gorman’s day, but which today survives only as a fragment of its former self called Lemmon street.

From the revised Poppleton map of Baltimore, 1851-5,

with white and yellow lines depicting current streets, and large numbers indicating the ward.

By 1859, Tom Gorman was living at his restaurant at 317 West Pratt Street in the 16th Ward, what today would be 427 West Pratt, and working as a police detective out of an office on Pleasant Street in or near City Hall. He had been appointed one of the first city-wide police detectives in 1858, and had clearly shown his patriotism by gaining city permission to erect a flagpole near his restaurant on the corner of Pratt and Paca. In all likelihood his restaurant was a center of political activity for both the 14th and 16th wards.[7]

Baltimore City Archives, BRG32, series 1, 1856, item 857

Baltimore City Archives, BRG 32, Series 1, 1856, item 259

In order to become a detective, Tom Gorman had to post an $800 bond, a fairly steep entrance fee for his new job. An interesting story may lay behind who were his sureties.

Baltimore City Archives, BRG 16, Series 1, item 429

Tom Gorman did not appear to make much money as a constable or a detective. His name appears on a constable’s payroll for 1856, and is said to appear on the payroll for 1860 which has gone missing since it was inventoried by the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s. In 1856 his salary was $41.66 a month or $500 a year. What he was paid by 1860 as a plainclothes detective was $10 a week or $520 a year,[8] not much of an increase, but he supplemented his income at his restaurant, and perhaps in other ways, some of which may not have been legal.

1860 was a tumultuous year for the Baltimore City Police department. That year the State conducted an extensive investigation into voter fraud and intimidation by the dominant political party in the city, the Know Nothings, that may have been abetted by the Police.[9] According to a history of the Baltimore Police published in 1888,

the [police] force was gradually filled [after 1857] with " Know-nothing" recruits, who, instead of maintaining the peace, became willing tools of violence and riot. Thus, in many instances, the men sworn to enforce an observation of the law became the chief instruments in subverting it. For several years the city was given up to a mob. At every election, riot swept many quarters of the city. Because of these facts a committee of the Reform party in 1859 drafted a number of bills, known as the "quot;reform bills," and among these was the police bill.[10]

As civil war approached and pressures increased for Maryland to secede from the Union, Detective Gorman garnered considerable press, local and national, for his success at apprehending criminals. In his first year as a detective he arrested a forger of a $384.75 bank draft who posed as traveling lightning rod salesman and who was found by Gorman in bed with his male accomplice at Columbia House at the corner of Pratt and Paca, not far from Gorman’s restaurant.[11]

Odd Fellows Hall on North Gay Street, 1864

Detail from the Sanborn Insurance Maps of Baltimore, 1879/1880

In February 1860, Detective Gorman gained national recognition for foiling the attempted robbery of Thomas Wildey[12], founder of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a wealthy organization that had built a large and impressive building not far from City Hall and Detective Gorman’s office. The National Police Gazette, published in New York, reported in its February 18, 1860 issue that on February 10 Grandsire Wildey (in his late70s) was returning home

From the Holliday Street Theatre, and as he was stepping into a city railway car, an attempt was made by two notorious pickpockets to rob him. The “old king,” however, was a little too wide awake, and detected the hand of one of them in his pocket, and called for aid, when the fellow was nabbed by Tom gorman, who happened to be on hand. He proved to be -- Brown, one of the most noted pickpockets and villains in the city. The other was Reese, especially noted in the same line, and the man who personated Flim Flam, and aided his escape from the County prison some time ago. This villain was supposed to be in jail, but it seems he has been discharged on bail, and allowed to continue his course. Both of these men belong to the Holliday street party, and it was near that den that the robbery was attempted.[13]

In that same issue the Baltimore correspondent goes to great length to describe the tribulations of the police department suggesting that Tom, as a member of the old guard would have been displaced by a new appointment under the recent law that placed the police department under the control of the State, if the Mayor had not refused to recognize the new board and kept the old police force at work.

It seems that Detective Gorman made more than one trip to Philadelphia to retrieve criminals. In August 1860 he brought back a burglar, Charles Everett, alias White, alias the Doctor, a fugitive from justice accused of burglarizing several Baltimore establishments including the auction house of Samuel H. Glover, the bacon house of Messrs. McConkey & Co., and the store of Mr. White. Everett was sent to jail to await the action of the grand jury.[14]

On November 28, 1860, Deputy Marshall Gifford, Detectives Stevens and Gorman, and policeman White investigated a robbery of $30 worth of clothing at Archibald Stirling’s on Hillen Road. They were able to find the tracks of the gig (a vehicle with two wheels drawn by a horse). They found the tracks

on the Harford road to Aisquith st. and thence along the wall of Greenmount cemetery to the tunnel under the York road, near that point. It appears that there was so much water in the tunnel that the thieves concluded it was not a safe place, and went up on the hill near the cemetery and concealed the clothing in a sand bank, where it was all found. The gig was found some distance up the York road, where it had been left after burying the stolen clothing. No clue has yet been obtained as to who were the perpetrators of the robbery.[15]

Marshall Kane's Crime Statistics for Baltimore for 1860, Baltimore Clipper, January 1, 1861

It would appear from the Baltimore Clipper, that until late June of 1861, Detective Gorman continued to pursue pickpockets and other robbery suspects, but those accounts stop suddenly with the arrest of Marshall Kane and the Union interests take over the Police Department.

Kane and then the Mayor, George William Brown, were thrown into prison and deported from the City without benefit of an appearance in court (they were prevented by the military from availing themselves of Habeas Corpus). As Mayor Brown later recalled:

On the 10th of June, 1861, Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks, of Massachusetts, was appointed in the place of General Cadwallader to the command of the Department of Annapolis, with headquarters at Baltimore. On the 27th of June, General Banks arrested Marshal Kane and confined him in Fort McHenry. He then issued a proclamation announcing that he had superseded Marshal Kane and the commissioners of police, and that he had appointed Colonel John R. Kenly, of the First Regiment of Maryland Volunteers, provost marshal, with the aid and assistance of the subordinate officers of the police department, the police commissioners, including the mayor, offered no resistance, but adopted and published a resolution declaring that, in the opinion of the board, the forcible suspension of their functions suspended at the same time the active operation of the police law and put the officers and men off duty for the present, leaving them subject, however, to the rules and regulations of the service as to their personal conduct and deportment, and to the orders which the board might see fit thereafter to issue, when the present illegal suspension of their functions should be removed. [16]

Detective Gorman was out of work After having his successful arrests recorded on the front pages of the Baltimore Clipper ten times between January and May 1861 and having been sent by Marshall Kane only a few days after the April 19th riots to report on the retreat to Harrisburg of the Pennsylvania militia, he was relegated to hiring himself out as doorkeeper and private detective at the Maryland Institute fair where he was attacked by three rowdies.[17]

Is it no wonder that he took to drink, was arrested for brawling, and for his vocal support of the Southern cause?

The last the public in Baltimore heard of former police detective Tom Gorman was in flight:

BALTIMORE, MD., May 25 [1862]

THE excitement and exasperation of feeling that has been smouldering in this city ever since the memorable scenes of April, 1861, culminated yesterday in acts of violence and serious breaches of the peace….

In the course of the morning, Thomas W. Gorman was observed standing in the portico of the City Hotel, when a crowd started in pursuit, but they were not quick enough, for he managed to escape by a private entrance.[18]

Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina

What happened to Detective Gorman next is not known for certain, but it is likely that he went South to join the Confederacy as did his chief, Police Marshall George Proctor Kane (1817-1878), later the 26th mayor of Baltimore (1877-1878).[19] That he was dead by August 1863 in Wilmington, North Carolina, is suggested by an undocumented tombstone.[20] His family remained in Baltimore. His son William, according to the 1870 census, became a teacher, and Fannie, Tom Gorman’s wife, who lived for at time with her son, never re-married. She died in 1902 at the age of 79 and was buried in Western Cemetery as was her daughter-in-law the year before. In her later years she may have lived alone near her daughter-in-law, also named Fannie, with one or the other of them earning a living as a seamstress.[21]

In all Tom Gorman’s life in Baltimore encompassed one of the more raucous and strained times in the City’s history, one in which the city was ruled by an unruly democracy and served, perhaps, by a not always honest constabulary. Jean H. Baker, William Evitts, and Tracy Matthew Melton have provided excellent historical contexts for Tom Gorman’s world in the years leading up to the Civil War, and are required reading for guidance in understanding the politics of that era.[22] The surviving evidence of Tom Gorman’s life provides additional and personal insight into the day to day experiences of those who lived during those times, helping us to better understand the rhythm of city life in the context of where people lived and worked.

That we know as much as we do about Detective Tom Gorman’s life in those divisive times is due to fragmentary evidence scattered in many places, some of which is only available on the internet, and all of which is threatened by the instability of the electronic world and the inadequate care of underfunded, understaffed, and in some cases, failing archival institutions.

[3] image courtesy of David Chesanow

[4] quotation courtesy of David Chesanow, transcribed from the image provided on Ebay

[5] Considerable details about the Thompson family can be found on I wonder if any of the rest of the family correspondence has survived?

[6] The Baltimore Sun, 1849/09/15, p. 2

[7] In the 1860 census Detective Gorman, age 39, is living with his wife Annie (Fannie/Fanny?), age 35, and two sons, John, age 11, and William, age 15, in the 14th Ward. The ward designation is probably an error. The restaurant was just across Pratt street in the 16th ward. The 1850 census, when he was living in the 12th ward at 204 Saratoga, Thomas W. Gorman was listed as a white male born in Pennsylvania, age 27, with a wife Fanny, age 26, and two sons, William, age 4, and John age 1. See for images of the census schedules. In order to translate the street addresses of the 1850s and 60s to their location today, see: R. L. Polk & Co’s Baltimore City Directory for 1887. It appears to be the only year that the city directory provided conversion tables by street name of old addresses to new, with old numbers first and new numbers preceded by *.

[8] de Francias Folsom, Our Police ..., 1888, p. 29. Folsom’s history is available on the web at For an extensive and informative study of the Baltimore Plug Uglies, see Tracy Matthew Melton, Hanging Henry Gambrill, The Violent Career of Baltimore’s Plug Uglies, 1854-1860, Baltimore: The Maryland Historical Society, 2005.

[9] For a study of the unsuccessful court case brought to prevent the State takeover of the Baltimore City Police Department see: "Displaced by a force to which they yielded and could not resist": A Historical and Legal Analysis of Mayor and City Counsel of Baltimore v. Charles Howard et. al by Matthew Kent, 2011, and The Baltimore Police Case of 1860 by H. H. Walker Lewis, 1966, Md. L. Rev. 215.

[10] More needs to be done with investigating the individuals mentioned in the legislative investigation of the police in Baltimore and the court cases that followed the act transferring control over the police to the State. The court cases are to be found at the Maryland State Archives.. For an extensive study of the Plug Uglies and Police involvement at the polls see Tracey Melton … and Walker Lewis. For the best histories of Maryland in this period including Baltimore politics, see Baker, Evitts,

[11] Baltimore Sun, 1858/03/05, p. 1. In 1859 Columbia house is listed in the 1860 City Directory as: BLANCK JOHN, Columbia house, 471 w Baltimore. From the city directories it appears that Columbia House moved around to different locations suggesting that it was not the most reputable of boarding houses or hotels.

[12] Thomas Wildey (1782–1861) was the founder of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) in North America in Baltimore in 1818. See: and, another blog that may well disappear in time. The Baltimore monument to the Odd Fellows and Thomas Wildey is to be found at N Broadway & E Fayette Street, south one block (Street View) GPS: 39° 17′ 36.19″ N 76° 35′ 38.24″ W. Thomas Wildey died in October 1861 at his residence at the northwest corner of Gay and Fourth Streets in Baltimore.

[13] The National Police Gazette, February 18, 1860.

[14] Baltimore Sun, 1860/08/27, p. 1

[15] Baltimore Sun, 1860/11/28, p1. There are other mentions of Tom Gorman in the Sun, and they will also be found in the American and the other newspapers of the day that are not available on line with ocr’d text indexes. This particular chase took place in the Northeastern Police District. Tracy Matthew Melton in Hanging Henry Gambrill. Baltimore, 2005, consulted all the extant newspapers for the period when Gorman was a detective, but did not mention him or his connection to the Plug Uglies and Know Nothings. The newspapers published in Baltimore between 1855 and 1865 are listed by Jean Baker, The Politics of Continuity, Baltimore, 1973, pp. 223-224, and William Evitts, A Matter of Allegiances, 1974, p. 198. Only the Baltimore Sun is adequately indexed on line. The Baltimore newspapers that will prove helpful to following Tom Gorman’s career, are the American, the Daily Gazette, the Baltimore Clipper (a Know Nothing newspaper), and the two German language dailies, Der Deutsche Correspondent and Baltimore Wecker. Images of the American (various titles) and the Der Deutsche Correspondent are on line through Google,, while the surviving images of the Baltimore Clipper are available from the Maryland State Archives: M8521 - March 3, 1847 - December 31, 1863; M8522 - January 1, 1864 - December 31, 1864; M8523 - January 2, 1865 - September 30, 1865, and original scans presented in pdf format. Sadly, no reasonably accurate on-line ocr text generated index is planned for these newspapers, making it very difficult and time-consuming to trace individuals named in their pages. Generally speaking even if ocr text indexing is available based upon the microfilm, the results are spotty. As I tried to explain in the sample I provided on line of the American for 1814, the original newspapers that have survived need to be scanned on flatbed scanners using a method I developed to preserve the paper when it is passed through the scanner and then ocr’d using ABBYY or some other good ocr program. I took sample images of the Clipper that had been scanned to the standard I set at MSA and ocr’d them with Abbyy myself at home. As a result I was able to locate quickly several articles that related to Tom Gordon that are referenced here. It is sad that Archival repositories that have original newspapers do not follow the example I set. It is in their best interest to do so.

[16] Brown, George William. Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April 1861: A Study of the War. Baltimore: N. Murray, 1887. <>, pp 97-98.

[17] See: for a compilation from the Baltimore Clipper of the mention of Tom Gorman in 1861.

[18] Frank Moore, The Rebellion Record, Vol 5, New York, 1866, p. 430. Images from the Baltimore Clipper will be added in the near future to this post with citations that will document Gorman’s difficulties following his probable ouster as one of Baltimore’s first detectives.

[19] See:,, and

[20] It is not certain that this is the grave of Detective Tom Gorman from Baltimore. There is a Mary Gorman buried in this cemetery who died in 1866. Perhaps Tom had relatives in Wilmington who he was visiting when he died in 1863, or perhaps this is another Thomas W. Gorman, although the coincidence of the Baltimore reference, and the age of the deceased, strongly suggests it may very well be the detective.

[21] Based on census records in and

[22] William J. Evitts,A Matter of Allegiances: Maryland from 1850 to 1861. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974, Jean H. Baker,The Politics of Continuity; Maryland Political Parties from 1858 to 1870. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973, and Ambivalent Americans: The Know-Nothing Party in Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977, Tracy Matthew Melton,. Hanging Henry Gambrill: The Violent Career of Baltimore's Plug Uglies, 1854-1860. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2005. For anyone interested in the history of the Baltimore police before the Civil War see the topical analysis of the surviving records in a public archives at: Also it has been brought to my attention that for the Southern District the desk sergeant's log of events in that district for 1850-1853 is available in Special Collections at the Albert O. Kuhn Library. See: HV8148.B2 B35 1851.