An Insight into an Insane Asylum by Joseph Camp | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
An Insight Into An Insane Asylum

An Insight Into An Insane Asylum

by Joseph Camp

View All Available Formats & Editions

In 1881, Joseph Camp, an elderly and self-trained Methodist minister from Talladega County in eastern Alabama, was brought by his family to Bryce Hospital, an insane asylum in Tuscaloosa, where he remained for over five months. Camp, misled by relatives concerning the purpose of the trip, was shocked and angered at his loss of freedom and his treatment in the


In 1881, Joseph Camp, an elderly and self-trained Methodist minister from Talladega County in eastern Alabama, was brought by his family to Bryce Hospital, an insane asylum in Tuscaloosa, where he remained for over five months. Camp, misled by relatives concerning the purpose of the trip, was shocked and angered at his loss of freedom and his treatment in the hospital. After his release, he composed an account of his stay and published it at his own expense, providing a rare glimpse of 19th century mental health care from a patient’s viewpoint. Camp’s account reveals his naive trust in others, but also a sharp and retentive memory. Camp is remarkably accurate in his account of the details of his treatment and the operation and staff of the hospital, although his emotional assessments reflect his unhappiness with his situation. Adding to the importance of Camp’s account is the fact that in the 19th century Bryce was considered a remarkably humane institution focused on recovery. Camp provides a glimpse into how treatment for the insane felt to the recipient.

Product Details

University of Alabama Press
Publication date:
Library Alabama Classics Series
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

An Insight into an Insane Asylum

By Joseph Camp

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2010 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5651-4

Chapter One

My Ancestors — Birth — A Circumstance Remembered at Eighteen Months of Age — Convicted of Sin — Waiting on the Preachers — Impressions to Preach

The author of the following work is the son of Joseph Camp, Sr., who was the son of Benjamin Camp, of Virginia, who was the youngest child of twelve children of his father's first marriage — eleven sons and one daughter. By his father's second marriage there were also eleven sons and one daughter, making in all twenty-two sons and two daughters; and what is more remarkable they lived to be grown and had families; and it was published in the Christian Advocate and Journal that they met at their father's house with their families and had a great camp-meeting. A daughter of Nathan Camp (one of my grandfather's brothers) bore twenty-two children, among them Virgil A. Stewart, who detected and captured the great western land-pirate, John A. Murrel. Stewart was a son of her second marriage. The name of her first husband was Gideon; the name of her third was Howard. My father at his death had three hundred and sixteen children, grandchildren, and great-, great-grandchildren, and he had the youngest child of all, it being only sixteen days old, and an only child of his second marriage.

I was born August 2, 1811, in Jackson County, Georgia, within two miles of the Appalachie River, the boundary between the Indians and whites. My father was a native Virginian. When grown he and his father and three uncles, John, Nathan, and Thomas, emigrated to South Carolina and settled in Greenville and Laurens Districts, where my father married Elizabeth Camp, a second cousin, who was born in North Carolina, and who with her father moved from Rutherford County, North Carolina, to Laurens, South Carolina. In the year 1799 my father moved to Jackson County, Georgia, and settled with his father and uncles near the Appalachie. My mother had seven sons before she had a daughter; I was the seventh son.

I remember distinctly a circumstance that occurred when I was but eighteen months old. The Indians were very troublesome, and it became necessary to build forts for the protection of the women and children. My only sister living, Mrs. Nelson, who lives in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, born in 1813, the eighth child, was then but three days old, and it was reported the Indians were murdering the whites near by. My father placed my mother with her small children and bedding in a truck-wagon, and we were driven by my brother Benjamin, now Colonel Benjamin Camp, of Campbell County, Georgia, to the nearest fort, about two miles distant. As we started we had to go down quite a hill, and the team made an effort to run, which alarmed my mother, and that frightened me nearly to death. I remember it as distinctly as if it occurred yesterday, though I was but eighteen months old.

My original family belonged to the Baptist Church. My father and one of his cousins, Hosea Camp, who was the son of Nathan Camp, Sr., were the first of the name that ever joined the Methodist Church. Hosea also moved from Virginia, and was educated for a lawyer. When young he advocated the doctrine of the Universalists publicly, mainly for argument's sake, until he believed it firmly, he told me. Afterward he was converted and made an able minister in the Methodist Church. He lived to great age and died a triumphant death. My father was also converted and became an official member of the church. At my earliest recollection he held family prayers; always standing up to sing before prayer morning and evening. He was very punctual in his secret devotions. I remember well he had his closet in an old workshop that stood near the dwelling where he had his daily prayers. I remember on one occasion, about dusk, I heard a noise in the shop and drew near to see what it was, and found father at prayer. Our house was the preachers' home, it being in the corner of three circuits, each of which was served by two preachers annually. The Presiding elder, in passing to his quarterly meetings, generally staid with us. At that time Georgia and South Carolina were one conference.

I was convicted of sin at an early day, and was converted in my fourteenth year at a camp-meeting near Monroe, Walton County, Ga. I think my elder brothers were converted and joined the church before this at the same campground. My eldest brother, Benjamin, Walter T. Colquit (the father of the present Governor of Georgia), and Dr. Palmer were converted at the same camp-ground, in the same altar, and at the same time the year before, which was 1824. On the first Monday morning in October, 1825, I joined the Methodist Church, while Isaac Oslin was on the Appalachie circuit, giving him my hand and my name.

I was fond of waiting on the preachers; would ride their horses to water; and among my earliest recollections was when I had been watering their horses and put them in the stables they took me to a pile of straw that lay before the barn-door and prayed for me, laying their hands on my head. I had impressions to preach at a very early age. I had selected a place for secret prayer in our barn. Every evening after feeding the stock I would open the barn-door and spend a long while in crying and praying to God, and often have I gone to the house praising God. I always had a time set in the future when I would take up the cross, offering as an excuse that I was too ignorant, and for the want of an education I would procrastinate going into work until long after I had a family; and I think so long as the devil can get any one to defer taking up any cross for a more favorable time he has a "bill of sale." I thought I was too ignorant, and for want of an education I deferred it, often wishing to warn sinners; but the enemy would meet me and tell me, or suggest, you have no authority to exercise, and I would allow this to be an excuse. Finally I obtained license to exhort and preach; was licensed by Ebenezer Hearn while on the Talladega District. After I obtained license the enemy would meet me and suggest that I now had authority to preach and could not do it. He has often used this argument since, and I fear will follow me to the grave with it. I find the text in Ecclesiastes, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," is the only safe plan. I have after a way been trying to preach for forty years or more, all the while as a local preacher, though I was employed by Willis D. Mathews, Presiding elder of Talladega District, to serve the colored mission two years, and the happiest portion of my life was while I tried to preach to the slaves. I was also employed by W. R. Kirk, while on the same district, to serve the Blue Mountain Mission, which was also a pleasant part of my life.

Having a very large family, seven sons and six daughters, to raise and educate, I had to work very hard to do so. My children are now nearly all grown and some are married. My daughters are all married; two of them (one now dead) to members of the North Alabama Conference.

I was ordained Deacon in Talladega in 1854 by Bishop Andrew, also Elder in Eufaula in 1859 by Bishop Kavanaugh, and though I am vested with authority to use all the ordinances of the Church, I feel that I am less than the least of all God's ministers.

Chapter Two

Insane Hospital — Use of Tobacco — Old Sister Carper — Attending Conferences — A Contemplated Trip — Brother Whitehead — Consulting Physicians — At the Hospital — My First Night at the Hospital

I should never have thought of writing this work, but for having been placed in the Insane hospital of the State of Alabama for the term of five months and twenty days, for nothing more or less than the use of tobacco, which I consider as injurious as drinking whisky, and to the constitution I consider it the greater evil. I contracted the habit of chewing in early life, by bad associations. Parents who wish to preserve the health and morals of their children would do well to keep them from all such company, for the old proverb is true, "Tell me whom you live with, and I will tell you who you are." I had an old bachelor kinsman who lived with us, that used the weed, and I being often in his room, would smell the old cavendish. My mouth would water for the filthy stuff, and finally I would smell, then taste, and at length would carry it in my pocket until I became a slave, all unknown to my parents. Thus by degrees I became a sot. After a lapse of perhaps twenty years, I had the good fortune of becoming acquainted with the Rev. Thomas Scales, a consecrated man, who professed and lived out the doctrine of sanctification and preached it on all occasions. I, in company with that good and great man, Judge Tarrant, went to a two days' meeting in Kentuck to an adjoining mountainous settlement where Bro. Scales preached against the use of tobacco. I thought I was converted, and on our return home I mentioned it to the judge. He told me he was done with the use of the weed. So we pulled out our tobacco and threw it as far into the woods as we could. Before night I wanted tobacco, but stood it for about three weeks, when one day as I was traveling to Talladega (our county-town) I became so addled that I knew not where I was or where I was going. I had to stop my horse, and consult my mind several minutes before I could satisfy myself as to where I was. When I reached home a good old sister Carper was at my house. She told me the cause of my derangement was the want of tobacco. She gave me her pipe, and told me to smoke a little and it would relieve me of my nervous feelings. I did so, and no old drunkard who had been drinking all his life, and had quit his cup for three weeks, would have been more revived by a dram than I was by a few whiffs of that pipe; so I concluded I would use it a little while, taking a smoke after my meals, until I could wean from it. One day I was lighting the pipe and it fell off the stem on the hearth and broke to pieces, so I thought I would take a small chew, until I could procure another pipe. From that day until the 20th of May, 1881, the day I entered the hospital, I have smoked when convenient and chewed when it was not, until I became so in the habit I could not be satisfied without a pipe or cigar in my mouth. For six months before I went to the hospital, I had the pipe in my mouth nearly all the time, until I fell off in weight from one hundred and eighty to one hundred and thirty pounds. My wife and friends became alarmed.

In December, 1880, I attended the North Georgia Conference. There I learned that my two old widowed aunts were living whom I thought were dead years ago. One of them is ninety years old, the other eighty-eight. I determined I would visit them as soon as I could get things in "ship-shape." In one week after my return our own (the North Alabama) conference was held at Oxford, Alabama, which I attended, and it was my good fortune to be domiciled at that stand-plant of Methodism, Bro. D. P. Gunnel's, where I first met that good and great man, O. P. Fitzgerald, and Bros. Butt, Ripie, Emerson, and Dr. Brown, and where we enjoyed ourselves finely. After my return I worked very hard trying to get my farm in order and crop planted in order to take my contemplated trip to see my two old aunts; and to visit the place where I was born and raised.

In the meanwhile I wrote my brother Benjamin to meet me in Atlanta on Tuesday after the fourth Sabbath in May to accompany me, taking it as an omen that if he would do so, it was my duty to visit my aunts. I wrote him also if he decided to go with me, to make an appointment for us to have a meeting at old Bethlehem on the fifth Sabbath. Brother agreed to do so, and said I must bring with me an old cousin, Rev. Archibald Stroud, who was born the same year I was, 1811, and who lives in the same village. He agreed to go. So we appointed Monday to start; made an appointment to preach in Rome, Ga., at night, and expected to meet my brother in Atlanta Tuesday; but lo and behold! instead of this, I filled a room in the Insane hospital of Alabama. My family and friends became uneasy about me and said I slept too little, which was a mistake. I sleep six hours in twenty-four, which I consider enough for any man of my age. A female requires something more, seven hours, perhaps. I had several correspondents, and never could read or write with noise about me; so we would have supper and prayers and get our family to bed, then I would write to my correspondents, but would always get my six hours of sleep—enough for me. I never lie in bed awake since reading Mr. Wesley on "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."

My wife insisted on my going to my son-in-law, Dr. Bailey, early every morning for treatment. This I did for several days before starting to the hospital.

When a Brother Whitehead, from Georgia, traveling agent for the World's Publishing Company, came to my house, wishing to employ me to canvass six counties, to wit, St. Glair, Etowah, Cherokee, Cleburne, Calhoun, and Randolph, we agreed on terms that I considered would be very profitable to me. He handed me the papers giving me the sole right to said counties in the evening. Next morning I was for consummating the trade when he told me my wife was opposed to my taking the agency, stating at the same time that I was demented. I immediately sent for Drs. Bailey, Harrison, and Groce. Bailey and Harrison came and pronounced me sane. Harrison said the medicine I was taking was all right, and told me to follow directions, and I would be all right in a few days.

My wife sent for my life-long friend, the Rev. J. L. Seay, to come and see me. He came that evening and remained until next day, as it is always a treat for us to be together. In the morning my old cousin Archie called. After breakfast I proposed a walk through my farm, which was in nice order, as I had been working very hard to get it in order that I might take my anticipated trip. The exercise of walking caused my medicine to act well, and in my opinion that was the saving clause. I had not taken any thing for years before to act on my liver, and it was very, very torpid. This was Wednesday, and on that day Mr. McKibbon, my son-in-law, came to see me on business. It has always been my disposition never to suspect, and my wife said to me, as her health was poor she thought we had better go down to Tuscaloosa and see Dr. Bryce, superintendent of the hospital, and consult him about our health, and do as he might direct, to which I agreed, thinking it would be a pleasant trip and a great recreation for my wife, as she is a great home woman. Mr. McKibbon said he would accompany us if he had the means to spare. I remarked that I would bear his expenses, to which he agreed.

Upon the Monday previous to our departure, which was on Thursday, I had gone to Talladega to have a summer suit made, but the tailor had so much work on hand he could not make it. I had him to cut it, and brought it home to be made by a tailoress. On my way there I met Dr. Groce, and asked him why he did not come and examine me with the other doctors. he answered that he and one of my sons had attended to it the day before. I could not comprehend his meaning then, but I did the next day. As I was in a hurry I drove on, and left my coat to be made by the time of my return.

At the appointed time, Thursday 2:30 p.m., we left on the S. R. & D. Railroad for Calera, where we staid all night waiting for the train from Montgomery to Birmingham. We waited in Birmingham several hours for the train upon the G. S. Railroad for Tuscaloosa, where we arrived late in the evening of the 20th of May. We procured a hack to convey us to the hospital. When we arrived my wife and son-in-law ran up stairs to the ladies' parlor. I stopped behind to look at a beautiful fountain in front of the building, in the pool of which was the likeness of a great swan floating. I remained some minutes feasting my eyes; at length I went up. Not willing to appear before Dr. Bryce dusty, I asked the porter for the wash-room. I pulled off my duster and washed and combed until they sent for me. My wife stepped up and said, "Pa, did you not say we would come and see Dr. Bryce, and what he thought best for us to do, we would do?" I answered, "Yes." She, crying, said, "Pa, you will have to stay." Bryce told a gentleman to take my knife. I was immediately seized and robbed of my knife, walking-cane, pocketbook, watch, tobacco, pipe, pencil, and every thing. I jumped back and asked, "Why all this? Show your authority and I will submit. If you do not I will sue you for damages, and assess them at five thousand dollars per day, and will not pay a cent for board." He replied he would not charge any thing for board. I was immediately rushed away and put in a cell without chair, stool, or furniture of any description, without water or any thing save a mattress on the floor and a box in the corner for necessary purpose. I suppose they brought me a tin cup of tea, a ration of bread, and a tin plate of molasses, at least this was what they give those who are so unfortunate as to get in the cross-hall, as it is called. I never had such feelings on earth. They brought me a small cup of water which I used for washing my artificial teeth.


Excerpted from An Insight into an Insane Asylum by Joseph Camp Copyright © 2010 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joseph Camp was a self-educated evangelical Methodist minister from Munford in Talladega County whose family tricked him in order to commit him to Bryce Hospital for the Insane in Tuscaloosa. When he was released five months later, he wrote this expose of the treatment practices of the hospital.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >