From Newgate to Dannemora

From Newgate to Dannemora

The Rise of the Penitentiary in New York, 1796–1848
David Lewis

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.