Detective Benjamin Thornton: Black Police Officer In Victorian Indianapolis by Patrick R. Pearsey

Detective Benjamin Thornton: Black Police Officer In Victorian Indianapolis by Patrick R. Pearsey tells the remarkable story of Benjamin Thornton. Born a slave in Virginia, he escaped at age 12 and ended up in Indianapolis. Here he was a celebrated police detective, civil rights leader, real estate investor and devoted family man. Pearsey recounts the little known about Thornton’s early life and travels to Indiana. Interestingly, after his escape from slavery, Thornton befriended the men of the 16th Indiana Regiment in Virginia. When his former owner’s father came looking for Thornton, Col. Oran Perry of the 16th Indiana protected Thornton by lying in his statement that he had no knowledge of Thornton.
Thornton came to Indianapolis as a cooper. It wasn’t long, however, before he was hired as a turnkey, watching over the prisoners in the jail. Even as a turnkey, he solved a couple of cases. Thornton was promoted to Patrolman in 1876 and Detective in 1886. Much of the book describes the cases on which Thornton worked. There are way too many to list them all. Some of the really interesting ones included a boy who was arrested for arson after setting fire to many buildings. It seems he liked to watch the fire trucks arrive. There were many persons injured by razors — not a big problem today. My overall takeaway, though, was that although methods and weapons change, crime remains pretty much the same throughout the years.
Pearsey also recounts stories of Thornton’s private life. He tells of Thornton’s courtship and marriage, the adoption of his daughter, the founding of an African-American literary society, his real estate transactions, joining the Odd Fellows and his actions in support of Civil Rights.
Along with the stories about Thornton, the reader learns a great deal about the history of Indianapolis and its residents.
Pearsey’s footnotes demonstrate the depth of his research. The book also features many pictures. Pearsey will launch his new book on the history of African-American police officers, Guardians of the Avenue, at 2 p.m. on Sun., April 2 at Bookmamas, 9 Johnson Ave. Call 317-375-3715 or visit for the latest on book signings and special events.