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Remembering John Fleet

Died May 10, 1916 (photo courtesy FRPD)

On May 10, 1916, John Fleet, former city marshal died of heart failure following several months of poor health. On May 9th he had been well enough to visit his daughter Harriet Isherwood and showed no signs at that time that death was imminent. He was stricken after midnight at his home at 85 Park St. and succumbed quickly. He was 69 years old.

Fleet was born at Ashton-Under-Lyne in Lancashire, England March 29, 1848.  He had been in America for over 50 years at the time of his death, and had begun his working career in the American Linen mills. At the age of 16 in 1864 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served until the end of the Civil War, taking part in many engagements under Admiral Farragut including the siege of Mobile and the battle against a Spanish fort. Fleet sustained a fractured arm on the same day Lincoln was assassinated when Fleet’s ship was blown up.

Returning to Fall River after the war, Fleet, who was rated as a “landsman” in the Navy, went back to work in the mills.  He worked at the Fall River Boiler Company on Water St., then began a new career direction as a house painter and decorator until he was appointed to the police force on February 27, 1877 at the age of 29.  His career would maintain a steady rise in this line of work, being promoted to sergeant on March 2, 1883, assistant city marshal on December 22, 1886 and city marshal on November 8, 1909. He retired on half pay May 31, 1915, when Medley, another officer involved in the Borden case became Fall River’s first Chief of Police, replacing the title City Marshal held by Fleet at retirement.

John Fleet was known as an efficient officer and was held in high esteem by fellow officers and citizens alike. He was the husband of Lydia Wallace Fleet, the father of four sons and a daughter and was also survived by two brothers and two sisters. His daughter was Harriet Isherwood, and sons  were John W. of Seattle, Frank W., the manager of the Westport telephone exchange, Walter R., assistant superintendent of Borden City mills, and Arthur J., a designer. Surviving brothers and sisters were Richard and Samuel Fleet, Mrs. Fannie Lewis and Mrs. Ann Thackery. A third sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Meyers predeceased her brother a month before in Providence.

Fleet was a member of Richard Borden Post 46 G.A.R. , Mt. Hope Lodge of Masons, Odd Fellows and Puritan Lodge, K.P. 

Chief Medley ordered the flag at half-mast at all stations and sent the following statement:

“ . . . His record shows clearly to the members of this department what can be accomplished by persistent effort and fidelity to duty.  In his death the department loses a friend and the community a valued citizen.  The funeral will take place Saturday afternoon, at which time I trust that as many members as can possibly make it convenient will attend.  I have this day forwarded to Mrs. Fleet and members of the family a message of condolence from the department.  As a token of respect the department will forward a floral emblem. “ W. H. Medley, Chief of Police

The funeral service was conducted from the home at 85 Park St. at 1:30 and was conducted by the Rev. Albert R. Parker of St. John’s Episcopal Church for immediate family and friends.  The body was taken to St. John’s where Fleet had been a member for many years.  The traditional Episcopal  requiem was conducted and “Lead Kindly Light”, “Nearer My God to Thee”, and  “Heart Be Still”were among the musical selections. A large number of police officers were in attendance including Chief Medley and Captain Dennis Desmond who had worked with Fleet on the Borden case in 1892. Following the service, interment took place at Oak Grove where at the grave the ritual for Grand Army members was carried out by Post 46. The Massachusetts Police Association sent a large floral tribute in the form of a policeman’s badge. R.I.P.

(sources:  Fall River Evening News May 13, 1916, Fall River Globe May 10, 1916)

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