Connecticut. --New Haven. --Hartford. --Weathersfield Penitentiary. --Large number of colored Convicts accounted for. --Hartford Retreat for the Insane. --Mode of Treatment --Character of the late Superintendant. --Mr. Wadsworth's Villa (Monte Video). --Confectioner's nonchalance.
10th. I left New York for Hartford in Connecticut with Mr. Crawford (the
Commissioner for inspecting the prisons) and his coadjutor Mr. Newman.
We went by the steam-boat to New Haven, (eighty-four miles,) and the rest
of the way (about forty) by stage. The whole fare (by sea and land) was
three dollars each. It was eight o'clock
we arrived at the end of our journey, having started at seven in the morning,
--New Haven --a very beautiful town, with many well-built houses and neat
gardens. I had afterwards an opportunity of revisiting it. We passed through
a delightful country, more remarkable, however, for picturesque scenery
than fertility of soil; some of the towns on the road, particularly Middletown
on the Connecticut river, are well chosen for salubrity of air,
cheerfulness of situation, and beauty of prospect.
At the hotel where we put up, the first on entering Hartford, we found every thing extremely good. The rooms were clean and well furnished, and the people of the house particularly civil. 'The next day we proceeded to the prison at Weathersfield, four miles from Hartford. The plan, on which it is built, and the system, upon which it is conducted, are something similar to those at Singsing except that the prison is much less in extent, and the discipline milder. No flogging is used for breach of rules. A diet of bread and water, with solitary confinement in a dark cell, is found to bring the most refractory to reason in a very short time. It should be observed, that the time thus spent by the convict is added to the term of his imprisonment. He has therefore a direct interest in shortening its duration. Add to this consideration, that every prisoner is charged, on his entrance, with the expenses of arrest, prosecution, &c.: amounting, on an average, to 100 dollars*.
This debt he is made to work out, should he be guilty of any misconduct.
* This law is of long standing. By the code of 1650 for the colony of Connecticut, it is ordered by the General Court, "That all persons hereafter committed uppon delinquency, shall beare the charges the country shall bee at in the prosecution of them; and shall pay to the master of the prison or howse of correction, two shillings sixpence, before hee bee freed therefrom."
These little auxiliaries to the ordinary motives for good conduct lessen the chances of disobedience. The number of cells for male prisoners is 236, and that for females 312. Of the former there were 187; and of the latter 14. The "cat", though allowed by law, is never employed by the warden; a man who unites great firmness of character with mildness of disposition; and who has now an additional stimulus for vigilance and attention to his official duties in the injustice with which he has been treated, having been displaced by the basest intrigue --an event that too often befals this class of functionaries in many of the States. At the period of our visit, he had just been reinstated, in the most honorable manner, after an absence of nine months, during which the laxity of discipline, that ensued, cost his life to one of the keepers, who was murdered in attempting to prevent the escape of four convicts --two of the murderers were then under sentence of death for the crime. The proceeds from the labor of the convicts more than cover the expenditure of the establishment. There are no outer walls to the prison: to prevent escape, two guards with rifles parade the rampart or projection, that overlooks the yard, and commands every part of the building. Two or three, at the first establishment, attempted to make their escape, but were retaken. It seems hardly justifiable to subject a man to the penalty of death for obeying a natural impulse, and to inflict the same punishment for an offence, without regard to the character of the offender, or the consequences of his guilt. The proportion of free blacks among the convicts is about twenty or twentyfive per cent., while they form but three per cent. upon the whole population of the State. This difference may be accounted for by the greater degree of temptation to which they are exposed *,
and the little encouragement they receive to good conduct. To be excluded, directly or virtually, from many employments, (for the whites will not work with them) and to be despised in all, affords but sorry inducements to honesty and self-correction. What attachment can they have to virtue, when it affords them no protection, and meets with no reward? How can those, who are disposed to crime, retain their honesty, when they see the honest treated like criminals? How singular is the policy of this country! On one hand it prepares men for the penitentiary, while on the other it is laboring at the diminution of crime, and the reformation of offenders. But what shall we say of its justice, which thus forces its subjects into by-paths, and then punishes them for the deviation? Crime, of course, increases, as the motives to good conduct are removed, and the means of an honest livelihood refused. The same principle may be seen in the manufacturing districts of France and England - where the criminal calendar is found to swell with the pressure of commercial distress, and diminish with its removal. It is a trick of very long standing to refuse straw to the brickmakers, and then exclaim against them --ye are idle. ye are idle! Among the blacks was a native of St. Domingo, and formerly one of Napoleon's Mamelukes. He had been condemned, about three months before, for adultery with a woman, who, he declared, had deceived him by concealing her marriage. Adultery is considered in the State of Connecticut a civil offence, and is punished by imprisonment.
*By the report of the inspectors of the Massachusett's State Prison, in 1832, three-fourths of the colored convicts confined there could not write; while out of sixty-eight white prisoners, thirteen only were equally uneducated; whereas to preserve the same proportion between crime and ignorance, the number should have been fifty-one. The latter, therefore, had not so good an excuse for their guilt.
Of the different trades here pursued, some of the contractors (shoemakers, for instance) require a certain quantity of work from those under them. If it is completed within the time, the rest of the week belongs to them; when they are paid for extra labor, and the money is delivered to the warden, who makes it over to them when the term of their confinement has expired --or, if they wish it, transmits it to their families. A colored man had just informed the chaplain, from whom I had this account, that he had finished his week on the preceding Tuesday. One observation the chaplain made struck me as singular; he said, that the generality of convicts were, in point of intellect, below mediocrity. There is a passage in the African Repository for January 1834, that ought to have some weight with the haughty Caucasians, in modifying the unfavorable inference they are so fond of drawing from the disproportion numbers of the colored race, who are found in the prisons and penitentiaries. It is of the more value as it comes, according to the Editor, from the Rev. R. J. Breckenridge of Baltimore, who, by his speeches and exertions in aid of the colonization society, has long been doing his utmost to drive them out of the country. -- "It is true," he says, "that the proportion of convictions of free persons of color is greater than that of white people. But this is to be taken with great allowance, as evidence of criminality. For their temptations are, usually, manifold greater and more pressing: their offences are more narrowly looked after; and therefore a greater proportion are detected, and of those detected a greater proportion are convicted, by reason of their possessing less public sympathy, smaller opportunities of escaping, and less means of blinding, seducing, or bribing justice. In addition to all this, the very code of offences in the slave-states is more stern as to them than to the whites; and the very principles of evidence are altered by statute so as to bear most rigorously against them. Or, if we contrast them with the slaves, we have no means of founding a judgement; for the very nature of offences and punishments is different in the different classes. We have known a slave hanged for what a white man would hardly have been prosecuted for; and we have known free blacks put into the penitentiary for several years for evidence that was illegal by statute against a white man; and for offences, for which a gentle-tempered master would have rebuked his slave, and a hot-tempered one have caned him. We admit the general corruption of free blacks; but we deny that it is greater than that of the slaves; and we affirm that is is judged of by false methods, and is in a high degree exaggerated. We once thought differently; but we have seen reason to change our opinion." *
To the other causes here alluded to, should be added the suspicion, which, when any crime that excites general attention has been committed, attaches itself, through public opinion, to those whom public opinion has already condemned to vice and ignominy; and the strong inducement in white criminals to shelter themselves by false accusations, or cunning inveiglement, of these helpless and friendless people. There was, at the very time we were there, an old black in this penitentiary, nearly a hundred years of age. He had been confined within its walls a long time, under a charge, which was supported, as was well known in the prison, by evidence of a nature anything but conclusive of his guilt. There seemed, indeed, to be little or no doubt of his innocence.
* I have given the above passage in full length, because it affords an unanswerable argument against slavery; for if it were possible for any one, possessed of common sense, to believe that slaves could be happy, he never can maintain that the free blacks can be so under such a system, or be ever secure against injustice and oppression.
Here my fellow-travellers left me; and we agreed to meet again at Boston. In the afternoon, I called on Mr. Wadsworth, a relative of the gentleman from whom I had received so much attention at New York. He received me with that urbanity and kindness, which are habitual to men of gentlemanly feelings and an amiable disposition. He belonged to an old and wealthy family, that had long been settled in the country. Our conversation turned upon the social economy, that prevailed in the land of his birth. His remarks upon the rank, which servants hold there, and the treatment best adapted to their condition and expectations, were highly interesting and just. For nearly forty years, that he had kept house, he had found, he told me, but one domestic who had proved dishonest or unfaithful. He had met with no disrespect from them, for he had never, shewn any towards them. They were attached to him, because he was indulgent to them; and obedient, because their services were neither exacted with rigor, nor received with indifference. The next morning, he took me in his gig to the Retreat for the Insane, of which he was a director. On our way, we turned a little out of our road, to visit the famous old oak, where the charter, on which the Colony was founded, was concealed in 1686 by a lineal ancestor of Mr. Wadsworth. The bole, into which it was put, is now closed over. The tree, however, is in full vigor, and likely to survive many years. That arbitrary power, the baneful effects of which are presented to the mind by the sight of this tree, cost the monarch his crown, and one of his successors its "brightest jewel." What will it cost this great confederation, when it is wrested from the hands of the slaveowner? The house in the grounds attached to which the charter-oak stands, belongs to a man who made a considerable fortune as a shopkeeper in Charleston. Not having much taste or inclination for laying out grounds or improving his fields, he has sadly neglected the place. It commands a fine view of the country beyond the river, and might, with little trouble or expense, be made a very agreeable spot. A man of color, who happened to be in the garden, shewed me the grounds, while my "guide, Philosopher, and friend" remained in the gig. Upon my asking the man, how his brethren were treated in the town, he replied that they were insulted and annoyed in a very shameful manner. Frequent broils and fights were the consequence; and the bitter feeling of animosity, that existed against them, had much increased since the Colonization Society had become more active.
After this, we proceeded to the Retreat, on arriving at which we found that the superintendant, Dr. Todd, was out. An officer of the institution, however, conducted us over the building, and explained its details in such a clear and satisfactory manner, as to make me feel less regret for the absence of a man who had obtained great celebrity by his skill in curing insanity. The principle, on which the establishment is conducted, differs very considerably, and, as far as I was enabled to judge from what I saw and heard, very successfully, from the methods usually pursued in the treatment of lunatics. No kind of deception, and, if possible, no restraint, is exercised upon the patients, who are allowed every indulgence and gratification that are not incompatible with the object for which they are sent hither. They are informed, on their first arrival, that they are laboring under some disease, which has affected their minds, and requires peculiar treatment. If, as is generally the case, they deny that they are thus afflicted, they tire requested to submit to a fair experiment, that they may be restored to their friends, with the testimony of competent judges, to confirm or disprove their own account of themselves. With the aid of soothing language, occupation suited to their inclinations, proper exercise, and appropriate medicines, an alleviation, if not a cure, of the malady is effected. The confidence of the most suspicious, and the acquiescence of the most refractory, are thus obtained; and, by the judicious employment of the principle of association, the mind is gradually led to exert its dormant powers, and the bodily functions are restored to their natural state. No one is confined, however violent or intractable, in irons or in solitude. No breach of promise, no attempt to mislead, is ever permitted. The little glimmering of reason, that remains even in the worst cases, is skilfully employed by the keepers and assistants to lead the sufferer into feelings and habits, that at last conduct him to a clearer sky, if not into open day. "Let gentleness my strong enforcement be", seems to be the guiding rule to all -,who are to co-operate in carrying this principle into practice. The whole machinery throughout is consistent in its structure and operation ; and the results are most gratifying and encouraging. Even in those unhappy cases, where certain functions of the body are involuntarily and unconsciously performed, some peculiar want or fancy may be discovered, which, when combined with the decent and regular discharge of this office, will ultimately destroy these distressing symptoms, and substitute a habit, to which the former will gradually yield. While we were standing in front of the house, some of the invalids (three young women) were returning from a ride with some of the assistants in a barouche. We assisted them to get out of the carriage, and made the customary observations, which were received in the usual way, on the weather, and other topics of a similar kind. Riding on horseback for both sexes is found very serviceable: gardening, or any other occupation that may interest or amuse, is employed with good effect; and, as the house is open to visitors at all times, and the same courtesies are observed towards the inmates as are practised in common life, a constant succession of objects presents itself, to give gentle exercise to the tastes and affections, and dispel the morbid illusions of the imagination. To gain his confidence, and imperceptibly lead him to the exercise of its disused energies and faculties --"waking thoughts that long had slept" --is all that the physician studies in the management of his patient, who seems to give to candor and conciliatory mildness those affections and regards, which harshness and distrust had driven from their natural channels. The patients attend their respective places of worship, when not incapacitated by the nature of the malady, under which they labor. This is considered an indulgence; and, as it may be withdrawn on disobedience or infringement of the conditions on which it is granted, an additional motive for self-restraint is obtained, beyond what may be expected from attendance on public worship in the house. The wish to be admitted, in common with those who are in good health, and the apprehension of being thought undeserving of that privilege, are powerful inducements with persons, who find their comforts to depend upon their conformity with the will of their attendants. Whenever it is necessary to put a strait-waistcoat upon a patient, it is done, if possible, with his consent. He is told that the excitement under which he suffers may be considered as the work of an enemy, and not the result of any voluntary action of his own mind, for which he would, if in sound health, be responsible; and that self-defence requires and excuses a precaution that might otherwise appear degrading. He is thus induced to submit, when any attempt to control his own violence by force, would be resisted or resented. Cases often occur of patients, under the conviction of an approaching paroxysm suggesting themselves the propriety of being bound.
A man of
highly cultivated mind had resolved upon suicide, from what he deemed a
sense of religious duty. The monomania, with which he was afflicted, consisted
in supposing that the wicked one had substituted an imaginary for a real
body; and had placed him under this dreadful metamorphosis in the midst
of an ideal world, with the object of obtaining from him such an acquiescence
in the new order of things, as would make him act and be acted upon in
the same way, in which created beings perform their respective parts in
life. Upon this contingency depended the fate of his immortal soul: --should
he once yield to the enchantment, and give way, but for a moment, to the
belief that he was a living material man, he would fall immediately and
irrevocably into the power of Satan. To escape the charm, he had determined
to take laudanum. He made no secret of his intention; and no inducement
could make him swerve from his purpose. Dr. Todd, to whom the treatment
of this singular case was referred, after trying various methods of diverting
his mind into some other channel, reasoned with him, at last, in this way.
--"In your present state," said he, "you are, as you are well aware, a
mere spiritual existence, upon which nothing that is material can have
any action. The poison you are about to take, ought, in order to produce
the desired effect, to be adapted to the recipient, and analogous, in its
qualities, to that, of which the functions are to be affected by it. Would
it not be better that you should apply imaginary laudanum to an imaginary
body?" The question was answered by a laugh; and not one word was ever
again uttered upon the subject. Still the wish to commit suicide remained;
and the patient made up his mind to starve himself to death. The Doctor's
tact did not forsake him in this emergency. Finding that the illusion arose
from an apprehension that guilt existed, where the will was consenting
to do or suffer any thing, that might tend to prolong existence, he peremptorily
ordered the monomaniac to sit down, that his hands might be bound; assuring
him that he would call for assistance, if he did not comply, and telling
him at the same time, that he was no longer a free agent, as he was under
coercion. "I submit," said the patient, " because I am compelled; but I
protest most earnestly against such usage." "Now, Sir, you will open your
mouth,'' said the physician. --"No!" nothing should make him yield to such
an indignity. A repetition, however, of the same sort of argument succeeded:
--and by successive appeals --to his physical fears, and his fancied conscience,
food was administered to him; and as the real man was strengthened, the
ideal man vanished. He is now so far recovered as to live with his family;
enjoying, though not perfect health, yet a greater degree of comfort, than
it seemed possible for human power to bestow upon him. Not many months
after my visit to this interesting spot, the intelligence, which had shed
its healing influence upon it, had returned to its kindred spirits. Dr.
Todd had terminated his earthly career. His loss may be viewed in the light
of a national calamity, as it is almost impossible to find a man at once
qualified and willing to fill his place*.
He had been at one time, a victim to all the horrors of dyspepsia; and having, it is said, had two members of his own family afflicted with insanity, experience and observation had supplied him with materials for reflection, which an acute and powerful intellect had moulded into a most effective instrument of practical utility. One little anecdote I was told of him will give a good idea of the quickness and sagacity, with which he converted any minute incident or feeling to his own purposes. One of the female patients put her head out of the window one night, and commenced uttering the most horrid screams and cries imaginable. Throwing up the sash suddenly, and putting his bead out of the window, he called out in a loud voice: "Is that you, Mary, making such a noise? --I could not have believed it! Here have I been working all day for you, and the rest of the house; and to-morrow I have a great deal to do. It is very hard that you thus disturb my rest." "Doctor!" she replied, "I beg your pardon most sincerely; if I had thought I was disturbing you, I would not have made any noise for the world." She immediately retired to her bed; and all was quiet again.
* The importance of having the situation properly supplied must be great indeed, if Dr. Brigham's opinion be correct. In a work published by him in 1833, second edition, he says that there was in Connecticut, in 1812, one in 262 inhabitants insane --more than twice as many as in any part of Europe. This he takes as a standard for the whole country. Dr. Emerson of Philadelphia would restrict the observation to the Eastern States, though he doubts its correctness there. Dr. Brigham ascribes this melancholy preeminence in misfortune to premature and excessive employment of the intellectual faculties.
One of the greatest advantages resulting from the method pursued at this asylum, is the obvious tendency, in the publicity with which it is conducted, to destroy a very silly, but a very pernicious and a very prevalent feeling --a prejudice that confounds misfortune with crime, counsels concealment of what ought to be known to be fairly dealt with, and makes a man blush for an infirmity, to which the noblest minds are most subject. But it is of still greater value, as it strikes at once at the root of an evil, to which all private receptacles of the kind are exposed, in spite of every legal enactment for their regulation. That evil arises from self-love, whether it operate upon the keeper, the visiting physician, the trustee, or the patient himself. Here we see arrayed against one poor unfortunate being the profit to be made out of his malady; the importance, if nothing worse, to be derived from the management of his worldly affairs; and his own distrust of all who approach him. How can parliamentary commissioners give disinterestedness to the sordid, clear-sightedness to the ignorant, or confidence to the suspicious? Were more eyes upon these institutions, fewer would be blinded by exculpatory circulars, medical testimonials, and official acquittals.
The next day Mr. Wadsworth drove me over in his gig to Monte Video --a very beautiful place belonging to him, about ten miles from Hartford. We passed through a fine country, studded with farm-houses, and resembling England in its fields and enclosures. The grounds surrounding the villa, were, before they came into the possession of the present owner, a wild and impassable forest; the approach to which was so difficult and dangerous as to require a whole day to visit the mountain from the city. It took twenty men two years to clear away the wood and make the road. Three thousand loads of stone were precipitated into the valley beneath, before the work was completed. The proprietor has been well repaid for the trouble and expenditure of the undertaking. A nobler view, than is here presented on each side of the mountain, is rarely to be met with. On the west is seen a considerable part of the State of Connecticut, with the Farmington dividing the valley with its woody banks; on the opposite side, Massachusetts beyond the Connecticut river; and towards the north-east the view stretches into the States of New York and New Hampshire: the one presenting the mountain Taghkonic, the western branch of the green mountains and the other Monadnock, distant about ninety miles. Beneath your feet, whichever way you turn, is a foreground of the finest forest scenery. The house is merely a summer residence for two or three months during the sultry season. It was at first but a small cabin; and has become, by successive additions, what it is at present --a small but convenient cottage -suited to the modest wants of the proprietor, and large enough for the claims and pleasures of hospitality. Nature had done every thing for this beautiful eminence; and asked but the hand of art to remove the obstructions to her temple: and well has the task been performed. There is no misplaced ornament, and no attempt to surprise the spectator by unexpected contrast, or artificial embellishment. The only deviation from the rigid observance of simplicity is in the erection of a wooden tower on one of the summits, into which the ridge of rock seems to have been abruptly broken by some great convulsion of nature --a shock that has left between the corresponding heights one of the most charming features of the scene --a lake of pure and transparent water. The opposite summit consists of bare and crumbling rock; and, being the first visited, presents at once a view of the lake, the house and grounds, and the distant prospect, which is terminated by the horizon.
The top of the tower, which is hexagonal, is 960 feet above the Connecticut. The house is 640 feet above the Farmington. The place reminded me strongly of the grounds belonging to Colonel Maclean (Coll) near Tobermory in the isle of Mull. There were equal difficulties to contend with in both cases. As the latter, however, resides on the spot, he has taken more pains to improve the garden and plantations. Scott's description of Loch Katrine in his Lady of the Lake, might be applied to much of the scenery at this place --my amiable cicerone, who had an excellent memory and great literary taste, repeated the whole to me, as we stood on one of the points that overlook the lake; and marked with his finger, as he proceeded, the singular coincidences and resemblances, that were to be found in the imagination of the poet and the various objects that lay before us and around us. While standing on the top of the tower, and surveying the noble prospect below, I could not but reflect how many happy human beings its circumference embraced; and how few are the eminences in Europe, distracted by the fears and hopes of revolutionary changes, whence one could look down on an equal quantity of comfort and contentment.
evening, after drinking tea with the family, and conversing with several
agreeable persons who called, --as is at Hartford and elsewhere the "custom
always in the afternoon," I went into a confectioner's shop in the town
to get some ice, and was shewn into an inner room, where I found the master
of the house, reclining at his ease upon a sofa. He made no movement to
rise; nor appeared to take any notice of my entrance. The competition,
it was plain, was more among the buyers than the sellers; and in fact,
as the weather was oppressively hot, I stood more in need of his ice than
he of my money. While the young woman who assisted, was getting what I
had asked for, I entered into conversation with him; and found him very
obliging and civil. Perceiving I was an Englishman, he was anxious to hear
how matters were going on in the old country, and his questions were readily
answered. A neighbour coming in, our talk continued for some time and when
I took my leave he begged I would call again, and have some more chat with
him. Nothing was further from his thoughts than to mortify me by any appearance
of slight or inattention: --nor was I disappointed at not meeting with
that assiduity and obsequiousness, which self-interest would have prompted
a London tradesman to display before a customer, and which would have been
as little connected with real respect, as my Hartford friend's nonchalance
with rudeness or ill-manners.