William Stephen Devery

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William Stephen Devery
William S. Devery.gif
BornJanuary 9, 1854
DiedJune 20, 1919(1919-06-20) (aged 65)
OccupationNew York City Police Superintendent Later changed to Chief of Police
Baseball team owner
ChildrenMrs. Edward M. Fink
Mrs. Florence Oliver
William S. Devery satirized in Harper's Weekly on September 6, 1902 by William Allen Rogers.

William Stephen "Big Bill" Devery (January 9, 1854 – June 20, 1919) was the last superintendent of the New York City Police Department police commission and the first police chief in 1898.[1][2] Devery and Frank J. Farrell later co-owned the New York Yankees baseball team.


He was born in New York City in 1854. In 1878, at age 24, he was hired as a patrolman. On September 16, 1881, he was made a roundsman, and on May 28, 1884, he was promoted to a sergeant. On December 30, 1891, after 13 years on the force, he was promoted to captain. As a police captain he once told his men, "They tell me there's a lot of grafting going on in this precinct. They tell me that you fellows are the fiercest ever on graft. Now that's going to stop! If there's any grafting to be done, I'll do it. Leave it to me."[3] On February 5, 1897, he was arrested and charged with bribery and extortion. After conviction, he was dismissed from the force. He appealed his conviction in the New York Court of Appeals. It was overturned and he was reinstated to the force and promoted to inspector on January 7, 1898, and Deputy Chief on February 14, 1898. He was then appointed Chief of Police on June 30, 1898.[1][4]

In 1899, Theodore Roosevelt and Republican state legislators established a committee, headed by Robert Mazet, to investigate Tammany Hall corruption under the leadership of Richard Croker.[1] Lincoln Steffens, a popular journalist of that time wrote of Devery, "As a Chief of Police, he is a disgrace, but as a character, he is a work of art."[3]In 1901, the Police Department was re-organized again, and has been headed ever since by a Police Commissioner. The first Commissioner Michael C. Murphy appointed Devery as his Deputy Commissioner. Both Murphy and Devery went out of office on January 1, 1902, when Seth Low became Mayor of New York.

Later, with Frank J. Farrell, he bought the Baltimore, Maryland American League baseball team and moved it to New York and renamed it the Highlanders. The team almost won the American League pennant in 1904, but otherwise had poor records during the Farrell-Devery ownership era. For $300K, they sold the team in 1915 to Jacob Ruppert, Jr. and Tillinghast L' Hommedieu Huston.[5][6][7][8]

He died on June 20, 1919 at 4:15 p.m. of apoplexy in Far Rockaway, New York.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Squad Room". Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  2. ^ "The Last Police Chief". Retrieved 2010-03-25. William Stephen Devery, New York City's last chief of police, was either an "illiterate ruffian" or an amazing, openly corrupt, and utterly likable eccentric. Born in New York City around 1855, Big Bill worked as a Bowery bartender until 1878, when he bribed a Tammany politician to become a policeman.
  3. ^ a b "The Birth of the NYPD". Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  4. ^ a b "'Big Bill' Devery Dies of Apoplexy". New York Times. June 21, 1919. Retrieved 2007-06-14. New York's Picturesque Police Chief of Long Ago Stricken at Far Rockaway. Famed for his philosophy. First "Chief of Police" City Had. Van Wyck Called Him the Best. Later Ran for Mayor. Was Richard Croker's Right-Hand Man. Acquitted of Extortion Charge. Made Deputy Police Commissioner. His Characteristic Reply to Gaynor. His Philosophy of Life. His Remarks on His New Abode. Mourned by Men of the Force. William S. Devery, "Big Bill" Devery, as he was generally known, who was the city's first titular Chief of Police after consolidation, and was called by Mayor Van Wyck "the best New York ever had," who worked his way from patrolman to Chief of the department and for a time served as First Deputy Commissioner, died at 4:15 o'clock ...
  5. ^ "Owners Registry". Baseball Guru. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  6. ^ "Yankees Timeline". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 2007-06-18. January 9, 1903: Frank Farrell and Bill Devery purchase the defunct Baltimore franchise of the American League for $18,000 and then move the team to Manhattan.
  7. ^ "Yankees Timeline". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 2007-06-18. January 29, 1915: Col. Jacob Ruppert and Col. Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston purchase the Yankees for $1.25 million.
  8. ^ "Frank J. Farrell, Sportsman, Dies. Suffers a Heart Attack While Recuperating From Bronchitis in Atlantic City". New York Times. February 11, 1926. Retrieved 2007-06-18. Suffers a Heart Attack While Recuperating From Bronchitis in Atlantic City. ... Devery and Ferrell remained in baseball from 1903 until 1915, when the holdings were sold to Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the present owner, and Colonel T.H. Huston for $460,000.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
John McCullagh
as Superintendent of Police
Chief of the New York City Police
Succeeded by
Michael C. Murphy
as Police Commissioner
Business positions
Preceded by
Ban Johnson
Owner of the New York Yankees
with Frank J. Farrell 1903–1915
Succeeded by
Jacob Ruppert, Jr. and Tillinghast L' Hommedieu Huston