From Newgate to Dannemora: The Rise of the Penitentiary in New York, 1796

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Overview

A significant chapter in the history of American social reform is traced in this skillful account of the rise of the New York penitentiary system at a time when the United States was garnering international acclaim for its penal methods. Beginning with Newgate, an ill-fated institution built in New York City and named after the famous British prison, W. David Lewis describes the development of such well-known institutions as Auburn Prison and Sing Sing, and ends with the establishment of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. In the process, he analyzes the activities and motives of such penal reformers as Thomas Eddy, the Quaker merchant who was chiefly responsible for the founding of the penitentiary system in New York; Elam Lynds, whose unsparing use of the lash made him one of the most famous wardens in American history; and Eliza W. Farnham, who attempted to base the treatment of convicts upon the pseudoscience of phrenology.

The history of the Auburn penal system—copied throughout the world in the nineteenth century—is the central topic of Lewis's study. Harsh and repressive discipline was the rule at Auburn; by night, the inmates were kept in solitary confinement and by day they were compelled to maintain absolute silence while working together in penitentiary shops. Moreover, the proceeds of their labor were expected to cover the full cost of institutional maintenance, turning the prison into a factory. (Indeed, Auburn Prison became a leading center of silk manufacture for a time.)

Lewis shows how the rise and decline of the Auburn system reflected broad social and intellectual trends during the period. Conceived in the 1820s, a time of considerable public anxiety, the methods used at Auburn were seriously challenged twenty years later, when a feeling of social optimism was in the air. The Auburn system survived the challenge, however, and its methods, only slightly modified, continued to be used in dealing with most of the state's adult criminals to the end of the century.

First published in 1965, From Newgate to Dannemora was the first in-depth treatment of American prison reform that took into account the broader context of political, economic, and cultural trends in the early national and Jacksonian period. With its clear prose and appealing narrative approach, this paperback edition will appeal to a new generation of readers interested in penology, the history of New York State, and the broader history of American social reform.

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Editorial Reviews

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"This book ably reviews New York's experimental prison efforts. . . . Lewis shows how the contrasting personalities of successive agents and inspectors gave a varying emphasis to the conflicting objectives of punishment and correction, economy and discipline. He writes a fascinating account of the fluctuating contest between the brutal regime of Elam Lynds and other both at Auburn and Sing Sing and the modified version of the silent system developed by such men as Gershom Powers and David Seymour. He suggestively relates each of the principal administrators, including John Luckey, the chaplain, John W. Edmonds, the inspector, and Mrs. Eliza Farnham, the matron, to contemporary social and political trends in America, thus giving his book a broader relevance for pre-Civil War history. Despite the sometimes lurid character of his subject, Dr. Lewis maintains historical objectivity."—The New-York Historical Society Quarterly

"In his account of the formative half-century in the history of prisons in New York State, Lewis presents a carefully documented study that offers to the serious student or administrator the key to much of the development of modern correctional practices."—American Journal of Correction

"This book contributes substantially to our knowledge of prison reform, long neglected by historians of nineteenth-century reform movements. It is a study of both the ideas and practices of penology, and it places them in their national and international setting. . . . On a number of accounts this is an excellent study. It relates attitudes towards criminals to the prevailing social and political environment. It is based upon a variety of sources. . . . Finally, the well-organized narrative is presented in a clear and readable style."—Quaker History

"This is a useful addition to the literature of penal history. . . . It makes for some macbre reading, for over the building and operation of the two great prisons of Sing Sing and Auburn brooded the evil genius of Elam Lynds, a fanatical flogger—even of women far gone in pregnancy and epileptics—whose like was only found in the British penal settlements in Australia and the Nazi concentration camps. Part of the story recounted by Lewis is of the efforts of humanitarian reformers to control the abuses and excesses of Lynds and his small band of assiociates."—New Society

"Much of the material presented is dramatic enough in itself to interest a general reader . . . . The research is thorough and the documentation complete . . . . Certainly no one doing research in the history of American penology could afford to neglect this book, and students of New York State history will find no better account of one of the state's most significant social reforms, the Auburn penal system."—The Historian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801475481
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 6/9/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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