Archive for the ‘Prisoners’ Category

“condemned to hard labor instead of execution”

During her stay in Philadelphia in 1786-87 ANN HEAD WARDER described in her diary a sight that didn’t seem to disturb her very much.

3 mo. 30th. [1787]—The convicts here have recently been condemned to hard labor instead of execution, and now clean the streets. They have an iron collar around their neck and waist to which a long chain is fashioned and at the end a heavy ball. As they proceed with their work this is taken up and thrown before them. Their clothing is a mixture of dark blue and brown stuff; their heads shaved; they wear parti colored woolen caps, so that an attempt to escape would early be discovered. A guard accompanies each gang. At first the prisoners were much averse to this shameful exposure, and preferred death to it. Two things I think need regulating, suffering people to talk to them, and to prevent their receiving money.

As the states began to limit the number of crimes that warranted the death penalty they were faced with an increase in convicted criminals. Confining them in jails where they would often work at hard labor was one option. There was another: an experiment in Pennsylvania that involved both shaming and hard labor which were thought to be reformative. The Wheelbarrow Law was enacted in 1786; it required convicts to labor in the streets during the day, just as described by Ann Warder, and be housed in jails at night. Although the law was copied by other states it was soon deemed a failure. Fights broke out among the convicts and/or with the public; passersby jeered or cheered them.

In 1790, an addition to the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia was built based on a concept put forward by Quakers. Prisoners were housed in individual cells—formerly they had lived together in large rooms—where, in basically solitary confinement, they were expected to reflect on their crimes and repent. It was the first state penitentiary (from the Latin, meaning remorse or penitence) in the country, shown in the illustration in 1800.

“Extracts from the Diary of Mrs. Ann Warder,” 61, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XVII, 1893, No. 1. For information about the Philadelphia treatment of convicts see Wheelbarrow Law. For information about the “reform” in Pennsylvania’s prison system see HERE. The illustration can be found HERE.

posted October 17th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Philadelphia,Prisoners,Warder, Ann Head

“such a great quantity of snow fell”

Outside the window next to my computer I see that snow is falling, along with the temperatures, yet again. Fie on the polar vortex. Yet it puts me in mind of Valley Forge and the suffering of the Americans there in the cold winter of 1777-78. And of other examples of severe winter weather described by women, some in our book and others I have since come upon. It seems appropriate to present a few.

In 1777, Frederika von Riedesel, with their three children, had joined her husband in Canada where he commanded the German mercenaries hired by the British. General von Riedesel pushed south into New York with British General John Burgoyne and his troops in an attempt to cut off New England from the other colonies. Frederika, who was with him, witnessed the decisive defeat of their combined forces by the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The British and Hessian troops were marched to Boston, where the Von Riedesels were put up in a house in Cambridge. In the following year as winter approached, Congress decided to move the prisoners to Virginia where their maintenance would be less costly. The Baroness and her children traveled by carriage while her husband made the journey with his troops. Frederika described what the family had to contend with.

Before we passed the so-called Blue mountains, we were forced to make a still further halt of eight days, that our troops might have time to collect together again. In the mean time such a great quantity of snow fell, that four of our servants were obliged to go before my wagon on horseback, in order to make a path for it. We passed through a picturesque portion of the country, which, however, by reason of its wilderness, inspired us with terror. Often we were in danger of our lives while going along these break-neck roads; and more than all this we suffered from cold, and what was still worse, from a lack of provisions. When we arrived in Virginia, and were only a day’s journey from the place of our destination, we had actually nothing more remaining but our tea, and none of us could obtain any thing but bread and butter. A countryman, whom we met on the way, gave me only a hand full of acrid fruits. At noon we came to a dwelling where I begged for something to eat. They refused me with hard words, saying that there was nothing for dogs of Royalists. Seeing some Turkish [Indian] meal lying around, I begged for a couple of hands full, that I might mix it with water, and make bread. The woman answered me “No, that is for our negroes, who work for us, but you have wished to kill us.”

. . . The place of our destination was Colle in Virginia, where my husband, who had gone ahead with our troops, awaited us with impatient longing. We arrived here about the middle of February, 1779, having, on our journey, passed through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and having traveled in twelve weeks, six hundred and seventy-eight English miles. . . .

The passages from the Baroness’s journal appear on pages 268-69 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 30th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Canada,Hessians,New York,Prisoners,Saratoga,Travel,Weather

“No respite can I gain”

Annis Boudinot Stockton was one of the best known and accomplished poets in eighteenth century America. The wife of Richard Stockton, a prominent lawyer, delegate to the Continental Congress, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, she presided over their home called “Morven,” near Princeton. During the Revolution the British ransacked Stockton’s estate, destroyed his library, drove off his stock, and took him prisoner. The ill effects of captivity and the stress of financial impoverishment took their toll on Stockton’s health, and he succumbed to cancer in 1781. “Confined to the chamber of a dear and dying husband,” Annis gave voice to her grief in this poem:


I.
Sleep, balmy sleep, has clos’d the eyes of all
But me! ah me! no respite can I gain;
Tho’ darkness reigns o’er the terrestrial ball,
Not one soft slumber cheats this vital pain.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
III.
While through the silence of this gloomy night,
My aching heart reverb’rates every groan;
And watching by that glimmering taper’s light,
I make each sigh, each mortal pang my own.
IV.
But why should I implore sleep’s friendly aid?
O’er me her poppies shed no ease impart;
But dreams of dear departing joys invade,
And rack with fears my sad prophetick heart.
V.
But vain is prophesy when death’s approach,
Thro’ years of pain, has sap’d a dearer life,
And makes me, coward like, myself reproach,
That e’er I knew the tender name of wife.
VI.
Oh! could I take the fate to him assign’d!
And leave the helpless family their head!
How pleas’d, how peaceful, to my lot resign’d,
I’d quit the nurse’s station for the bed.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 7, page 201. For information about Morven, click here.

posted February 2nd, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Death,Looting,Marriage,Prisoners

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