Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Missouri Penitentiary Board of Inspectors Records, 1843-1854

James V. Medler Crime Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, April 1998

Summary Information
Title: Missouri Penitentiary Board of Inspectors records
Creator: Missouri Penitentiary. Board of Inspectors
Inclusive dates: 1843-1854
Extent: 277 pages
Abstract:
The Minutes of the Board of Inspectors of the Missouri State Penitentiary were kept irregularly during the somewhat irregular meetings of the Board between 1843 and 1854. The most detailed sections of the minute book were kept in 1843, when the existing prison structures were being improved (with the use of convict labor) and when a rash of prison escapes led to inquiries into the lessees' management of the prison.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1998. M-3464.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

No copyright restritions.

Preferred Citation:

Missouri Penitentiary Board of Inspectors Records, , James V. Medler Crime Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


History

When Jefferson City was selected as capitol of Missouri in 1821, it was also selected as site for a penitentiary to handle the state's worst criminal offenders. Established during a period of intense interest in using institutions to rehabilitate and punish criminals, the Missouri State Penitentiary was overseen by a Board of Inspectors consisting of three appointees who were charged with examining "into the condition of the convicts, and the prison generally." The day to day operation of the prison was handled by lessees contracted by the state, however, under the rough conditions of the time, this arrangement did not always work smoothly. After a rash of escapes during the summer of 1843, the lessees, Ezra Richmond and James Brown, were charged with violating their lease through failure to provide sufficient guard. These charges came about after two prisoners were sent outside the prison walls to bring in building materials (ironically to raise the walls higher), and made their escape down river. To make matters worse, Richmond and Brown then sent out a guard and two prisoners to track down the escapees, and to their apparent surprise, the pursuing prisoners also escaped.

The charges against Richmond and Brown were suspended after they agreed to seek additional assistance, but the problems were apparently not solved. On October 23, 1843, seventeen prisoners escaped by cutting a hole in the back gate and ten more escaped from the brick yard. After an investigation in November, the Board concluded the obvious: although the prison was run humanely, it was lacking in discipline. Perhaps in response, when three prisoners were found guilty later in the month of attempting to manufacture a key to unlock the gate, they were sentenced to receive between 35 and 39 lashes each, to wear heavy chains for three months, and to have half of their hair closely shaven. Whether this signaled a change in dispensing discipline is uncertain, but by 1847, with new lessees in place, the Board of Inspectors confronted a bevy of complaints from prisoners, including a man who insisted that he had been punished twice and had been whipped with a cowskin without cause, and others who complained of being overworked, "a complaint that is very frequent among the chain spinners and coopers."


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Minutes of the Board of Inspectors of the Missouri State Penitentiary were kept irregularly during the somewhat irregular meetings of the Board between 1843 and 1854. Although the minutes of a typical meeting are brief and minimally informative, on occasion, situations arising at the prison necessitated longer deliberation and more specific instructions.

The most detailed sections of the minute book were kept in 1843, when the existing prison structures were being improved (with the use of convict labor) and when a rash of prison escapes led to inquiries into the lessees' management of the prison. Of greatest value is the set of regulations passed for oversight of convict labor leased to private contractors (March 18, 1843), which includes specifications on the duties of the overseer of the prisoners, the guards, the prison physician, chaplain, and miscellaneous rules pertaining to prisoners and visitors. A second set of regulations (February 6, 1846) provides some emendations of these rules, including the banning of swine from the prison grounds. From the perspective of an historian interested in the relationship between architecture and institutional functioning, the lengthy and detailed specifications for the construction of a new prison wing, June 9, 1845, are of equal importance.

Following a gap in the records between January, 1844, and May, 1845 -- during which time the Board probably met, but "appeared to be somewhat remiss in their documentation of events at the prison" -- the records suggest that discipline was imparted with somewhat greater zeal, with a corresponding rise in prisoners' complaints.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Escapes--Missouri.
    • Prison administration--Missouri.
    • Prison discipline--Missouri.
    • Prisoners--Medical care.
    • Prisons--Design and construction.
    • Prisons--Missouri.
    Genre Terms:
    • Minute books.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Minutes of the Board of Inspectors of the Missouri State Penitentiary,  1843 January 2-1854 April 29 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Records of the Missouri State Penitentiary for the period 1837-1933 are available at the Missouri State Archives.

    Partial Subject Index
    Brown, James
    • 1843 September 16, 20
    • 1843 October 27, 28
    • 1843 November 21
    Escapes--Missouri
    • 1843 March 13
    • 1843 June 10
    • 1843 July 10
    • 1843 August 25
    • 1843 September 16
    • 1843 October 23
    • 1846 November 11
    • 1847 August 6, 7, 9
    • 1853 March 28, 30
    Prison administration--Missouri
    • passim
    Prison chaplains
    • 1843 March 18
    Prison discipline--Missouri
    • passim, but see esp.
    • 1843 March 18
    • 1843 November 24
    • 1846 February 6
    • 1847 September 18
    • 1847 November 20
    • 1853 March 28, 30
    • 1853 August 6
    Prisoners--Medical care
    • 1843 March 18
    • 1846 September 5
    • 1853 April 4
    • 1853 July 30
    • 1853 August 30
    Prisons--Design and construction
    • 1845 May 27
    • 1845 June 9-12
    • 1846 November 11
    • 1848 September 1, 18
    Prisons--Missouri
    • passim
    Richmond, Ezra
    • 1843 September 16, 20
    • 1843 October 27, 28
    • 1843 November 21
    • 1843 December 7
    Richmond, Joel
    • 1843 November 21
    • 1843 December 7