Sunday, July 22, 2018

Penitentiary Records

NY, Governor's Registers of Commitment to Prisons, 1842-1908 ancestry.com
12 State Prison  Research Treasures
From Alaska to Arkansas, California to Connecticut or Maine to Montana every state in the Union has state prisons, sometimes called the State Penitentiary. California has 33! As “black sheeps” and criminals sprinkle every family tree (if you look hard enough), prison records are a gem to family genealogists and historical researchers.


Find Your Blacksheep  
Liberty Tribune, 1857
Liberty Tribune, 1855

Although your black sheep may have visited the city jail, county jail, or Federal Penitentiary, be sure to check the following resources for those held in state prisons or penitentiaries. Although census records may enumerate your ancestor as “resident” of the penitentiary, remember newspaper articles provide accounts of not only the crimes, but often the trial, and witness statements.  In addition the details of your ancestor’s crime can be uncovered in a series of the following state held documents.

Top 12 Collections to Research
Many of the following records can be found at State Archives or the State Historical Society, but we have also noted collections that may be found in university collections.

  1. Original court case. With a bit of legwork, researchers may find copies of an original court case in the county courthouse, the State courthouse or at the federal level.
  2. Warden Papers. Most states have an extensive collection of Warden Papers. Maryland Historical Society Warden Papers date from 1797-1851.
  3. Prison Escapes. Of course the newspapers announced escapees, but also official papers may be located in the Board of Inspectors Records. Excess escapes often led to investigations of the lessee’s management of the prison by the Penitentiary Board of Inspectors.
  4. Penitentiary Board of Inspectors Records. It’s not always clear how collections cross the states, but the Missouri Board of Inspectors Records 1843-1854 can be located at the University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library: Finding Aid for Mo. Penitentiary Board of Inspectors Records 1843-1854.
  5. Discipline Papers. Guards and Wardens recorded “official’ disciplinary actions and so did prisoner advocates. Researchers may find records, like the Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy dated as early as 1845 from the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons.
  6. Penitentiary Physician Collections. Physician reports can most likely be located at the State Archives.  The Texas State penitentiary from 1860 - 1880 is located at the Texas State Archives, 1846-1921.
  7. Pardon Papers. Although Pardon Papers may be extensive with explanation of decision, or may be as scant as a Certificate of Pardon, these collections are useful. Often pardons were initiated by community petitions. 
  8. Papers of Governors. As pardons were issued by the Governors, these papers are crucial in understanding a “missing” prisoner, a pardoned prison, or one note housed in the prison. Governor’s papers were often preserved and may be found at the State Archives as is the case for Missouri. Papers of Governor Meredith Miles Marmaduke have been salvaged from 9 Feb 1844 – 20 Nov 1944 and those of Governor Thomas Reynolds from 1840 to 19 Feb 1844 are available. 
  9. The Journal of the Senate. Names and events provided in the Senate Journal of the State provide delightful hints to prisoners and activities of the penitentiaries. A good example is the Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1841).
  10. County Histories. County Histories are commonly found at local libraries, State Archives, and online. It’s a welcomed surprise to find one’s ancestors in these county history books.
  11. State Historical Reviews. The Missouri Historical Review held a wonderful article on Strangers to Domestic Virtues: Nineteenth-Century Women in the Missouri Prison by Gary R. Kremer that proffered a wealth of knowledge.
  12. Dissertations and Thesis. The study of Prisons and the culture of penitentiaries has long been a favorite for graduate studies. Be sure to read "A History of the Missouri State Penitentiary, 1833-1875" written by William Charles Nesheim, M. A. thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1971).
Other Tips & Hints to Prison Research

Researchers will find that some documents will separate inmates by race and gender. The New York, Prisoners Received at Newgate State prison, 1797-1810 enumerates Black Women, Black Men and Foreigners separately.  This annual account of prisoners in the State Prison lists includes the crime.

The following records have been digitized on ancestry.com:  
  • New York, Prisoners Received at Newgate State Prison, 1797-1810
  • New York, Governor's Registers of Commitments to Prisons, 1842-1908
  • Alabama Convict Records (county and state), 1886-1952
  • Louisiana, State Penitentiary Records, 1866-1963
Review Penitentiary Records: Part I Women in Prison

And your military veteran may have served a few months in a county jail for being a "slacker" and not reporting to draft office on time.  More to come on this one later. 

    Kathleen Brandt
    a3Genealogy.com
    Accurate, accessible answers

    Wednesday, July 4, 2018

    Freedom, Rights, and Independence Day

    The African American 4th of July
    Today Americans of all colors, race and religion are free to join in the festivities of the 4th of July.  Not to dampen the spirit, but we can't forget that in 1776 slavery was a welcomed institution even while the words freedom and rights were widespread. Colonies fought against the British forces in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 for such freedoms and rights that were not extended to slaves for another 80 plus years. 

    African American Revolutionary Soldiers
    In some states, like North Carolina,  free-coloreds, like my ancestor Ned Griffin, were allowed to serve as soldiers, others as laborers.  Slaves, too, served as substitutes for white men.  In exchange they were most often promised their freedom, as my ancestor, Ned Griffin.  But they had to fight in the field, and then upon their return to their home state, had to fight in court, for the freedom promised to them. 

    Ned Griffin
    An Act for Enfranchising Ned Griffin, Late the Property of William Kitchen.

    [An Act for Enfranchising Ned Griffin, Late the Property of William Kitchen Colonial Records. Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, 1784 April 19, 1784 - June 03, 1784
    ; Volume 24, Pages 543 - 649.]
    I. Whereas, Ned Griffin, late the property of William Kitchen, of Edgecomb county, was promised the full enjoyments of his liberty, on condition that he, the said Ned Griffin, should faithfully serve as a soldier in the continental line of this State for and during the term of twelve months; and whereas the said Ned Griffin did faithfully on his part perform the condition, and whereas it is just and reasonable that the said Ned Griffin should receive the reward promised for the services which he performed;
    II. Be it therefore Enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby Enacted by the authority of the same, That the said Ned Griffin, late the property of William Kitchen, shall forever hereafter be in every respect declared to be a freeman; and he shall be, and he is hereby enfranchised and forever delivered and discharged from the yoke of slavery; any law, usage or custom to the contrary thereof in anywise notwithstanding.
     
    As many as 10% of the Continental Army soldiers were African Americans. Ancestor Ned Griffin, served in The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, March 15, 1781. The following history is available on the History from the National Park Service, Guilford Courthouse website.

    Ned Griffin, a “Man of mixed Blood,” served as William Kitchen’s substitute in the North Carolina Militia.  William Kitchen deserted the army prior to the battle of Guilford Courthouse and purchased Griffin to serve in his place.
    Hiring a substitute was a common practice for those who could afford it. In this case, Kitchen promised 
    Griffin his freedom upon return. Griffin fulfilled his service (it is believed to have been at the battle of 
    Guilford Courthouse), but Kitchen instead sold him back again into slavery [upon his return].
    In April 1784 
    Griffin petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly for his freedom based on Kitchen’s “promise.”  The assembly acted quickly and enacted legislation that freed and enfranchised Ned Griffin and declared him “forever delivered and discharged from the yoke of slavery.”

    The Slave and the Fourth of July
    If the 4th of July is a celebration of the birth of America's independence, and the works of the Continental Congress' adoption of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, filled with fireworks and cookouts, one must be reminded that it was not the birth of its citizens freedoms or independence.  

    In July 1852 Frederick Douglass, a former slave and a leader in the Abolitionist Movement was invited by the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York to speak at the Independence Day celebration. Millions of Americans of African descent were yet trapped in the tyranny of slavery decades after the Revolutionary War. Douglass delivered his Meaning of July Fourth for the Negrospeech as planned. First paying tribute to the United States, to Jefferson, to the Founders, to the Declaration of Independence, he then shared his "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?" famous oration. This excerpt well explains not only what Ned Griffin endured for years after serving in the Revolutionary War, but the pains of his fellow plantation mates, not yet free. Douglass speaks on the limited celebration of Independence Day:
    I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.
    Kathleen Brandt
    a3genealogy@gmail.com