William Henry West was an African American soldier who served during the Civil War and later became a police officer in Washington, D.C. West is best remembered for having detained US President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The only other instance of a sitting US President getting arrested is this one.
In Prince George’s County, Virginia, in September 1842, West was born a slave to unidentified parents. West enlisted in the Union Army in 1863 and participated in the American Civil War. He served in the all-black Company K of the 30th United States Colored Infantry, which was organized by the American War Department on May 22, 1863. African Americans made up the Infantry, which was led by white officers. On June 11, 1867, in Washington, D.C., West married Kathrine “Kate” Bowie, ending the war and beginning their family of six children.
West joined the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department on August 1, 1871. West was assigned to monitor the streets near 12th and M Streets in 1872 as a result of a string of accidents involving speeding carriages and pedestrians. West was alert for speeders when he saw a horse-drawn carriage come up behind him. He quickly sprinted into oncoming traffic and stopped the carriage. He noticed that it was President Ulysses S. Grant when he peered inside the vehicle.
West warned Grant for driving his horse-and-buggy too fast before letting him go. The following day, West stopped Grant when he observed him speeding in the same place with his horse and buggy. But this time, the President of the United States was detained by a D.C. policeman for speeding. Grant was taken to the police station by West, where he was granted release after posting a $20 bond. President Grant and West grew close after the event.
West himself would run into issues with the police in his later years. West and fellow officer William H. White were tried in 1884 for failing to do their duty in front of a Metropolitan Police broad. They each received a $25 fine. West was charged with failing to repay a $40 debt in 1898. He had gotten a loan from an anonymous local lender named Mrs. Terrell. He was required by the loan arrangement to pay 10% interest once a month until the loan was repaid.
West paid $72 over the course of 19 months, but when he stopped, Mrs. Terrell decided to suit. Later, the case was dropped. Following a disagreement, West was detained for disorderly behaviour in 1901.
Later that year he retired from the Washington, D.C. police force. William Henry West died on September 15, 1915 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 73.