During the early 1800s, Alexandria had both policemen and night watchmen. Watchmen had arrest powers and were authorized law enforcement officers, earning $150 a year to patrol designated wards from 10 p.m. to daybreak. On March 20, 1817, the Alexandria Common Council elected Gerrard Arnold and ten others as watchmen to serve one-year terms. Watchman Arnold was re-elected each year for the next ten years.
Watchman Arnold was born around 1780 and was a shoemaker by trade. He and his wife Elizabeth lived in a two-story house on Queen Street near North Patrick Street. They had several children before Elizabeth died.
In 1827, Watchman Arnold was attempting to make an arrest at a home along the waterfront. As he approached the house, he encountered a woman trying to enter the same residence. He shoved her aside so that he could enter and continue with his lawful duties. The woman was outraged by this treatment and told her husband, Willis Anderson, how the watchman had treated her. Watchman Arnold later apologized to Anderson for offending his wife.
However Anderson became drunk and retaliated against Watchman Arnold. On August 30, 1827, Anderson found Watchman Arnold in a business and brutally attacked him, beating and kicking him. Watchman Arnold was critically wounded and succumbed to his injuries on September 9, 1827. Anderson fled from Alexandria and President John Quincy Adams issued a proclamation offering a $250 reward for his capture. In October, Anderson was captured in Ohio and returned to Alexandria. In November, he was tried for murder and convicted of manslaughter. His sentence is not known but he was fined $300.
Watchman Arnold was survived by his children. His final resting place is unknown.