One of my favorite spots to view the 4th of July fireworks is from the DC end of the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge where it hovers over the Potomac River. This year, as I contemplate the 235th anniversary of America's proclamation of independence from Great Britain, I will also think of an event that happened 107 years ago about 300 feet west from where I will be standing, the shooting and eventual death of Metropolitan Police DC officer and Georgetown resident John Jacob Smith.
Officer Smith was born in Washington, DC on January 6, 1850. On June 27, 1872 he married Barbara M. Oschesenrider, also of the District. Between 1875 and 1892 they had six children; Frank A., John Jacob Jr., Loretto, Edith, William, and Eddie. In 1902 the family moved to 3019 Cambridge Place, NW in Georgetown. Smith joined the MPDC around 1869 and served in its Second and Eighth Precinct as well as at the White House. In 1899 he was assigned to Georgetown and given the detail of the Aqueduct Bridge.
The Aqueduct Bridge had been built between 1833 and 1843 to link the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which ended at Georgetown, with the Alexandria Canal on the Virginia side. By 1888 the canal portion of the bridge that allowed barges to cross the Potomac River had been replaced with a steel bridge and opened to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The bridge was razed in 1933, but a stone abutment featuring two arches remains on the Georgetown side.
It was late in the evening of July 4, 1904, when 23 year-old Samuel R. Young, a trumpeter with Troop H, Fifteenth Cavalry, stationed at Ft. Meyer, VA, decided to walk across the bridge with four fellow cavalrymen to celebrate the 128th anniversary of America’s independence. Young had been drinking most of the evening and wanted to go see the fireworks in the District. As the group reached the end of the Aqueduct Bridge, they stopped at the point where it crossed the canal so one of them could roll a cigarette. In doing so they blocked others trying to get into Georgetown. Officer Smith approached them and told them they needed to keep moving. One of the men said he would not move until he rolled his cigarette and asked, “Won’t that do?”
Asking them to move again, Smith took one of the men by the arm when they again refused. Young drew his revolver and said, “I’ve got you covered and I dare you to pull your gun.” Before Smith could draw his baton (he was unarmed, having left his revolver in the watch box at the end of the bridge) three shots were fired, one of them striking Smith in the abdomen. Young fled the scene and was apprehended one hour later on a streetcar at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 22nd Street, NW.
Smith underwent surgery that night, but died of his wound at 7:15 a.m. on Thursday, July 7th, a result of hemorrhage and shock. An autopsy indicated that Smith’s wound was not caused by a bullet but by a blank, which Young had claimed from the beginning was in his revolver. Young maintained that he had saved some blanks from drill practice earlier on the day of the shooting, intending to fire them to celebrate the Fourth of July. When he fired at Smith as a bluff and heard him cry out that he was shot he panicked and ran, fearing that Smith would return fire.
Funeral services for Officer Smith were held at Georgetown’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, 1300 Bladensburg Road, NE, Washington, DC.
Young remained in jail for five months and released the following December on $3,5000 bail (nearly $84,000 in today’s money). A trial was held in DC Criminal Court #1 on April 10-13, 1905, with Young accused of manslaughter. A verdict of “not guilty” was returned. The Washington Post reported that after the trial concluded, Young exited the courthouse and “kicked his hat down the steps and ran after it, laughing like a child.” He secured his hat and excused himself with the remark, “I am going to telegraph my mother.”
John Jacob Smith was the seventh MPDC officer killed in the line of duty and the first in the 20th century. His name is engraved on panel 12 west, line 9 of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC. For a list of MPDC officers killed in the line of duty, visit http://tinyurl.com/6bze7ho.
The Smiths had six children so chances are good that there are descendants. The Peabody Room would like to obtain a photograph of Officer Smith and any additional information on him and his family. Please contact special collections librarian Jerry A. McCoy at email@example.com or 202.727.0233. Thank you.