Watchman’s Rattle

This rattle would have been used by a 19th-century watchman in a town without a police force or the means for rapid communication in case of an emergency.

Although many American counties had sheriffs during the colonial era, it was not until the mid-1800’s that cities, and later towns, formed police departments. Morris County’s first sheriff took office in 1739, a year after the county was created, but Madison did not have its own police department until the 1890’s.

Without a police force, towns relied on hired watchmen to walk the streets, especially at night. A watchman would have used a noisemaker, much like the one shown here, to alert people in the case of an emergency.

This very nicely made rattle, a gift of Theodore Trowbridge of Madison, is crafted from what appears to be cherry wood. Unusual is that the clackers and the frame that supports them are carved from one piece of wood.

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