Washington I. James


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Washington Irving James was born on May 1, 1851 to Samuel and Mary Ann (Cushing) James.   His family was known for pioneering sea rescue as a profession. The first of eight children, James was raised in Hull, Massachusetts. On November 26, 1878 he married Catherine L. Foley, and the couple lived in Hingham, where James worked at Melville Garden (see image below).  While living in Hingham James and his wife would have three children together.

In 1887 the town authorized the hiring of four policemen, a number that was increased to eight in the 1890s.  It was during this latter era of police recruitment that James joined the force.  Although these policemen were hired by the town, they did not form an actual department until 1907, when James was named the first police chief.  Called "Wash" James, he was known for taking his horse and buggy from the the department headquarters at 70 North Street and patrolling the city with his dog at his side.

James was police chief during a difficult era in New England history.  The streets were confusing and dangerous; congested with automobiles, frightened horses, streetcars, trains, and pedestrians.  This resulted in many accidents, arguments, and injuries.  It was up to James and his police officers to manage this chaotic traffic and keep the peace.

There were other difficulties as well.  During his years as police chief, James came up against Ku Klux Klansmen, bootleggers, and strikers. In 1923, during Prohibition, Chief James oversaw a raid in which four hundred cases of alcohol were found hidden inside a local barn.  The cases were worth $80,000 and were going to be distributed by trucks.  Police officers were able to find the hidden stash by following one of the trucks to the barn. They also found many other trucks parked there, so everyone at the scene was arrested.

James retired from his position as police chief on December 31, 1927.  He died less than a year later, on May 31, 1928, of a kidney disorder and heart disease.  His funeral was attended by hundreds of Hinghamites who spoke of his generous nature and his loyalty to the town.  They recalled, for example, the night that he made sure that the residents who had taken the midnight theater train from Boston were escorted safely to their homes. This kind of thoughtfulness would be remembered for many years to come.

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Washington I. James