Census 1860 : State Prison : Details of the Women’s Cases

I was able to find mentions in The Hartford Courant (which is available online) of five of the twelve female inmates. Most of these were brief and sometimes tantalizing mentions.

I was interested to notice that Jane M. Brown, the woman imprisoned in 1859 for adultery, was described by the paper on July 20, 1859 as being a colored woman from New Britain, who pleaded not guilty. Her U.S. census entry when she was in prison in 1860, in contrast, said she was white (it also gives her age, 41). The newspaper’s next item on the case, on July 23, reported that “[t]he jury could not agree in the case of Peter Thompson, charged with adultery with Jane M. Brown, and the case was continued to the next term.” This is, however, the last mention of the case that I could find. But: Peter Thompson was not in prison in 1860, while Jane was.

Of Hellen Hays, a 22-year-old white woman in the 1860 Census, the newspaper reported that one Ellen Hayes was arrested in Bridgeport for passing counterfeit money, and sentenced to two years in the state prison (April 4 and 15, 1859).

The case I really want to find out more about, after the tidbits I did find, was that of Nancy M. Pinto. Imprisoned in 1858 for manslaughter, she was aged 31, and a black native of Connecticut. According to the Courant issue of September 30, 1858,

Tuesday morning John Pinto and Nancy Mary Pinto were brought before the Police Court of New London, charged with the murder of Manuel Antone, on Friday morning last. After hearing considerable testimony, Nancy Mary Pinto was bound over to take her trial at the next term of the Superior Court. John Pinto was discharged.

On November 22, the paper reported that Nancy was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 8 years in the state prison. Antone was a Portuguese sailor, according to the short paragraph, and the crime occurred “at a dance-house in New London.” I wanted more lurid details, but I haven’t been able to find any New London papers for the right year online, and apparently the Courant didn’t think it interesting enough to report more. (On June 30, 1864, though, the paper reported that her petition to the legislature for release from state prison, which would have been two years early, was denied.)

Then there is the sad case of Rebecca Smith, imprisoned in 1859 for manslaughter; she was a white woman aged 25. According to the newspaper, she was the wife of Joseph E. Smith and was charged with infanticide in Darien (and jailed in Bridgeport); she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five years (October 23, 1858 and February 12, 1859).

I was surprised to find nothing about the woman imprisoned for abandoning a child, and nothing about the two imprisoned for second-degree murder. The rest were all theft cases – most of them wouldn’t be very interesting even if they were in the paper, I expect.

But then there’s Abby Jane Wade. Stay tuned for more about her next week!

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Census 1860: Wethersfield State Prison: Crimes

The last piece on the inmates of the Connecticut state prison at Wethersfield in 1860 discussed their gender and race; this piece discusses the crimes for which they were convicted. To repeat from before, there were 179 inmates, 12 of them female.

The Census marshal also, in accordance with his instructions, reported the crimes for which they were imprisoned and the year in which they were convicted. Note that they also did this for people not residing in prison, thought for that category it was only those convicted in the past year (those who were in the prison had often been there for much longer than one year). The instructions also thoughtfully noted that for convicts living in families,

as the interrogatory might give offense, the assistants had better refer to the county record for information on this head, and not make the inquiry of any family. With the county record and his own knowledge he can seldom err.

One of the women in the Wethersfield state prison was jailed for adultery (still a crime in 1860, but she was the only person in prison for it); another for “Abandoning child” (also the only instance of that crime). One had passed counterfeit money, and four had committed theft. Two were imprisoned for murder in the second degree, and two for manslaughter. (That doesn’t add up to twelve because I failed to make a note on one of them.)


Overall, the actual crimes were overwhelmingly related to property. There were four categories that included the term “burglary,” and 61 prisoners held for them; 37 were convicted of theft alone, 3 for “Stealing” (which is different from theft in what way, I wonder?), and two for “Robbing U.S. Mail.” And another 3 for horse-stealing. That’s 59.2% of the total, if you’re wondering. (And if you’re still reading this, perhaps you are!)

5.6% of the crimes (a total of 10) were arguably sex offenses. There was the one adultress mentioned above. One man was imprisoned for “Abusing Female Child,” which is a little ambiguous. Another was in for “Buggery,” that is to say, sex with another man (very illegal until quite recently), and a startling 3 for “Incest” – especially considering the nearly identical 4 charged with rape or attempted rape (2 each).

Stepping back from the really depressing, there was apparently a difference between “Arson” (2) and “Burning barn” (6) – perhaps the latter was sometimes accidental? One man was in for an extremely vague “Felony.” Another 10 were imprisoned for forgery – 8 for unspecified forgeries, one for forging a land warrant (that is, a government grant of land), and one for forging some kind of pension document (again, this probably was a government pension). There were a total of 6 people locked up for passing counterfeit money. And I don’t know what “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” meant at the time – but 2 men were imprisoned for that. Another 3 had committed perjury, and one had obstructed a railroad (a very serious crime then and now).

Back to the violent crimes, then. 24 people (13.4%, four of them women) had killed someone. 5 had been convicted of murder, 9 of second-degree murder, and 10 of manslaughter. Another 7 were imprisoned for assaults or attempts to kill.

I have not been able to find comparable statistics for Connecticut’s current population. It does seem to me that I’ve read that most prisoners are currently in for nonviolent offenses – overwhelmingly drug offenses, which were not an item in 1860 at all (not counting the people locked in the county jails for drunkenness). For now, these 1860 numbers will have to stand on their own.


Incidentally, the quote from the census instructions is taken from Twenty Censuses: Population and Housing questions 1790-1980 (Bureau of the Census, 1979). And if you like, you can read the whole thing yourself!

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Census 1860: Census Marshals are People Too

I’ve been skimming a lot of 1860 census pages lately, and one thing I’ve noticed is that despite the detailed instructions, the census marshals still have to exercise judgment in a number of areas.  Since I’m focusing on African-Americans, I’ve noticed that some marshals didn’t identify any mixed-race people (known as “mulattoes” to the Census).  Some of them also classified people as “Indian” (meaning Native American) even though that isn’t one of the three accepted “color” designations (which were Black, Mulatto, and White).  In one case, the marshal identified several members of a family as “Ind” (for Indian) but did not count them as “colored” in the tally at the bottom of the sheet (making him different from others who did consider Indians colored).

And then there’s this example of opinion about the race of a family in Willington:

cen1860_halfbreedThat additional text along the side reads “halfbreed Indians.”  The marshal was very confused about what to put down because the reality of this family, with an Indian father and a white mother, wasn’t fitting into the supposedly nice, tidy categories of race.  What’s a poor census-taker to do?  Punt, apparently, and let somebody else make the final decision.

Opinion creeps in more directly with respect to things like “Occupation,” which the instructions didn’t even try to list out in detail – it was up to the marshal to inquire and figure out what the person’s principal occupation was.  And interaction with people apparently sometimes led to results like this description of a guy in Essex:

cen1860_loaferYes, Mr. Dickinson’s occupation was listed as “Loafer.”  It’s not the only one I’ve seen, either.  And yet, other non-working men get to be called “Gentleman.”  That’s what we call a class distinction – if you’re rich and don’t work, you’re a gentleman (or lady).  Of course it’s also a somewhat practical distinction, since a rich enough man doesn’t have to work – just collect rents, or rake in profits from the businesses he’s invested in.

I’m not sure I want to know how a different census-taker in a different town reached a decision to identify one woman’s occupation as “Whore.”  (This same guy kept listing other women’s occupations as “Public Servant,” which none of the others I’ve looked at have used – it makes me wonder if he meant … something else.)

And then there’s odd items like this one from East Hartford:

cen1860_flowrA bit of quick web-searching yielded the information that “the flower of Dumblane” is in fact a reference to this poem by Robert Tannahill.  Apparently the child made quite an impression on the marshal, or maybe he’d just been reading Longfellow’s anthology.

Overall, these things remind me that when we use these documents, to a great extent we’re relying on the judgment of human beings – not all of whose judgment is completely reliable, whether for personal or cultural reasons.

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Census 1860: Wethersfield State Prison: Gender and Race

So I’m developing a new database from the 1860 U.S. Census for Connecticut, and last week I ran across the pages for the state prison, which was in Wethersfield at the time. Some of these data are interesting – at least to me – so here’s a post about them! Oh, and this is also an excuse to mention the current exhibit at the Wethersfield Historical Society about the prison (there is a picture of it at the website).

There were 179 prisoners, of whom a total of 12 (6.7%) were female – far less than the roughly 50% of the total population, obviously.  The following two charts show the racial makeup of the prison population:


cen1860race_pctAs one would expect of a New England state, the vast majority of the prisoners were white. What is less obvious is that nonwhites (30 out of 179) are very much overrepresented. I don’t have complete numbers for the number nonwhites in Connecticut in 1860, but I do have them for 1850, and in that year they were 2.1% of the population. Unless the nonwhite population shot up by over 14% in ten years (wildly unlikely), that’s a 16.7% overrepresentation overall. Which isn’t even mentioning the disparity for Indians – less than 1% of the total population, I’m sure, but 6.7% of the imprisoned population. (I should note here that all these numbers omit the county jails, which don’t exist anymore, but I don’t think including them would change the statistics much.)

Since then, though, it’s been a lot worse. According to a 2013 article by Grace Merritt, at the start of that year there were 12,494 black and white prisoners in Connecticut; 56.7% of them (7,078) were black, and 43.3% (5,416) were white. Add in the Hispanics (another 4,419, or 26.1% of the overall total – I’m dealing with them separately because there was no significant Hispanic population in Connecticut in 1860) and the white prison population falls to 32.0%.

And what, you may well ask, was the percentage of white, black, and Hispanic people in Connecticut in the 2010 Census? According to American FactFinder, 77.6%, 10.1%, 13.4%. Suddenly the disparity of 1860 looks almost rosy, eh? But it’s also a telling fact, suggesting that decisions about who to prosecute and imprison, and what to prosecute people for, have been skewed for a very long time indeed.

Tune in next week for a post about the crimes all these people were convicted of!

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Tact and the primary school teacher (1881)

One of the benefits of doing public history is the opportunity to research things that I never would have thought to look into on my own.  For example, last year I was asked to research the history of a school.  In addition to finding information about the building itself, my remit also included the educational context.  As a result, I found myself reading a series of annual reports from the “Board of School Visitors,” the municipal committee once tasked by Connecticut state law with monitoring schools’ performance and setting local policy.


A lot of it is routine stuff and pretty dry, but this 1881 report (written by, or at least under the direction of, John Henry Brocklesby) had a lot to say about educational philosophy and the needs of the school system – all in Victorian prose that even I have to admit is stylistically wearisome.

But what I wanted to talk about is how words change meaning over time.  Take the word “tact,” for example.  To me it means something like good manners, a sense of appropriateness, and a good ability to handle difficult situations – roughly what a modern dictionary says.  My trusty 1881 high school dictionary says it meant “Nice perception or skill,” with “nice” in turn meaning “Pleasing; exact; fine; refined; squeamish” (and “squeamish” meant “Nice; fastidious; dainty”).

But to Brocklesby the word had a much broader and deeper meaning.  “Tact,” he said at page 25,

is broad and deep, and wholly sympathetic. It is ever ready to give the reason why, it explains a second time, it leads up to an idea. … It embraces so much that is wholly indescribable in words that an attempt at complete definition would be simply inadequate. It is, in part, sympathy, perception, guidance, persuasion, anticipation, naturalness, order, cheerfulness, affection, government by reason rather than by power, instruction from the standpoint of usefulness to the pupil rather than by compulsion merely, foresight based upon the idea of the best moral and intellectual accomplishments for the scholar rather than the notion of absolute duty to the child, or the gain of reputation for oneself in the line of successful teaching. All this the instructor of the primary department should have, and, if possessing tact, will be found to have.

You see what meant about his prose, I’m sure.  The other thing I wanted to point out, however, is how little has changed over the 140 years since this was written.  Brocklesby went on to explain the effect of such a paragon’s influence:

The school room mirrors the teacher, and the primary department which shows a set of children orderly, bright and natural in appearance, unabashed at a new face or an outside question, keen to listen and observe, unforced, unconscious as to rules, but in strict accord with them, respectful, ambitious to the point of fair desire, but no further, is pretty sure to have at the head of it a teacher who relies mainly on her tact for the results of her efforts ….

Nowadays the trend is to insist that a good teacher is able to successfully teach any child, no matter what disadvantages they have at home, so that all of them can pass an endless chain of standardized tests.

Brocklesby did not suggest issuing magic wands to teachers to help them get such results, any more than modern education policy wonks do.  But he did suggest that in order to attract the best teachers, they should be paid “salaries equal to those now given to instructors in higher grades.”  And he didn’t even hint at inflicting retribution for any lack of progress in results.

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Advice from 1791

Wow, a year and a half since my last post.  But I have an excuse: I was very busy finishing my dissertation! And then after that I was in a state of intellectual collapse.  I’m feeling better  now, though, thank you.

Last week I was over at the Connecticut Historical Society, researching sermons (more on that some other time) and a few other things, and happened across two catalog references to what I like to refer to as “improving literature.”  (They were printed in Danbury, Connecticut, which is the search I was doing.)  So I decided to pull them, because their titles made me curious.

They proved to be a matched pair of single-page broadsides, printed on very age-darkened paper but safely encapsulated for indefinite preservation.  Someone back in 1791 was willing to pay for the printing of several paragraphs exhorting the reader to practice virtue – specified as Christian virtues, as per standard.  The virtues also came in male and female versions, also as per standard.  This was the United States in 1791, after all.

I believe they are the earliest specimens of improving literature that I’ve ever personally looked at.  I have no doubt that they’re actually reprints of something, though I don’t know of what.  So, without further ado, here are partial transcripts of the texts, with contrasting terms highlighted.

The Happy Man, and True Gentleman

The happy man was born in the City of Regeneration, in the Parish of Repentance unto Life.  He was educated at the School of Obedience, and lives now in the Town of Perseverence.  He works at the Trade of Diligence, notwithstanding he has a large Estate in the Country of Christian Contentment; and many times does Jobbs of Self-Denial. …

A true Gentleman is GOD’s Servant, the World’s Master, and his own Man.  Virtue is  his Business, Study his Recreation, Contentment his Rest, and Happiness his reward.  GOD is his Father, the Church is his Mother, the Saints are his Brethren, and he is a Friend to all that need him.  Heaven is his Inheritance, Religion his Mistress, Loyalty and Justice his two Ladies of Honor, Devotion is his Chaplain, Chastity his Chamberlain, Sobriety his Butler, Temperance his Cook, Hospitality his Housekeeper, Providence his Steward, Charity his Treasurer, Piety is Mistress of the House, and Discretion is Porter, to let in and out, as is most fit.

Thus is his whole Family made up of Virtues, and he is the Master of the Family. …

So much for the man’s side.

The Happy Woman, and True Lady

The Happy woman was born in the City of Virtue, in the Parish of Obedience; she was educated in the School of Chastity; and now lives in the Town of Innocence.  Her Profession is Industry, and she works with her own Hands at the Trade of Diligence, notwithstanding she has large Property in the Funds called Christian-Contentment. …

The true Lady is God’s Servant, the World’s Mistress, and her own Woman.  Virtue is her Business, to do good, her Recreation, Contentment her Rest, and Happiness her Reward.  GOD is her Father, the Church her Mother, the Saints her Brethren, and she is a Friend to all that need her.  Heaven is her Inheritance, Religion her Guide, Justice and Economy her Companions; Piety is Mistress of the House, Judgment and Prudence chuse the Company, and Wisdom, Truth, and Cheerfulness entertain them.  Providence is her Steward, Temperance her Cook, and Charity her Treasurer. …

FYI, I looked up “innocence” the early 19th-century dictionary that I have on hand, and it meant “purity, harmlessness, simplicity.”  To the reader, I leave the exercise of contemplating how these two works of improving literature reflect the expected gender roles and stereotypes of their time period.

Tune in next week for whatever historical thing I come up with between now and then!  In the meantime, there may also be a cooking-related post.  We’ll see.

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Puffy Omelet from the Culinary Arts Institute (1950)

You’ve probably never heard of the Culinary Arts Institute, but in the 1940s they produced an endless stream of single-topic cookery pamphlets, like this one:

ImageNot a lot of information about the CAI or its Director (and editor of the booklets), Ruth Berolzheimer, is available.  Back in 2008, though, a Chicago reporter did some digging and learned a bit about the company, its history, and Ms. Berolzheimer.  (He also provided a link to some other documentation over here.)

On these pamphlets, the CAI’s motto was “One of America’s foremost organizations devoted to the science of Better Cookery.”  That puts it squarely in the home economics trend of the period, and as far as CAI was concerned, there were hundreds of ways to cook anything.

I have quite a few of these pamphlets now but, I confess, have not used them very much, for one reason or another.  Possibly that’s because, among things that look reasonable, they also include things like, well, this one:

Eggs in Hiding

1 tablespoon butter
1 can (1-1/4 cups) condensed tomato soup
1/2 pound American cheese, diced
6 hard-cooked eggs
1 cup cereal flakes, crushed

Heat butter and soup in top of double boiler.  Add cheese and cook until melted, stirring constantly.  Arrange halves of hard-cooked eggs (cut lengthwise) in buttered baking dish.  Pour cheese mixture over the eggs.  Sprinkle with cereal flakes.  Brown under boiler.  Serves 6.

I don’t think I’ll be trying that one any time soon.

It did, though contain a worthwhile-looking variation on the basic omelet, which we gave a try last week.

Puffy Omelet

6 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons hot water
3/4 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons butter or other fat

Beat egg whites until stiff.  Beat yolks until thick and lemon colored, beat hot water [I used hot tap water] into them and add salt and pepper.  Fold yolks and stiffly beaten egg whites together.  Melt butter in omelet pan, grease bottom and sides of pan.  Turn egg mixture into pan, cover and cook over low heat until it is puffy and a light brown underneath, then place in a moderate oven (350°F) for 10 to 15 minutes [it took a LOT less time than this] or until top is dry.  Touch the top of the omelet lightly with the finder and if the egg does not stick to the finger the omelet is done.  Do not overcook it or it will shrink and be tough.  Loosen the edges of the omelet, cut it through the center, slip a spatula or flexible knife under the side next to handle of pan, fold 1/2 over the other press lightly to make it stay in place, slip onto a hot plate and serve at once.  Serves 6.

Basically, it’s an omelet with two cooking steps instead of one.  I was quite interested to learn that somehow, my husband had never before observed the magical nature of stiffly beaten egg whites.  He was suitably impressed.

Since we cook a lot in cast-iron pans, putting the pan into the oven was straightforward.  We tried doing it in two batches, though, and discovered that the mixture has a definite tendency to start separating, so although I found I could gently fold the mixture back together again, a one-batch approach is probably best.  I rather doubt it would all fit in a standard omelet pan, though; we plan to use the big frying pan next time we make this.

The recipe actually worked quite well, though it needs fairly strong flavoring with salt and spices, or a good savory filling, because by itself the egg mixture is rather bland, like trying to eat a cloud.  But the puffiness was the point, and with cheddar cheese folded in and some paprika on top it was excellent.

Not something I’d do every day, and with all the egg beating involved it’s more of a two-person job than your typical omelet.  Definitely a success.


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