[African American Prisoners] Eighth Annual Report of William J. Mullen, Prison Agent, to The Philadelphia Society, for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons…January 1, 1862.
“The intervention of the Agent in such cases to provide for these forsaken ones…has often afforded to sorely wrung hearts a relief”
Report to The Philadelphia Society, for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons by its Prison Agent, William J. Mullen. It discusses the insane in prison, small pox in prison, and homes for discharged female prisoners.
The Civil War-time report touches on the cases of a few imprisoned soldiers and reprints newspaper accounts of the imprisonment of African Americans (both free and formerly enslaved men and women) in Washington, D.C. Mullen describes his visit there and the efforts to create a “Model Prison.” One case Mullen cites is particularly affecting:
Charles Jackson, aged 50, a respectable mulatto. Looks like a preacher. Belonged to William Dolan, three miles above all church, Fairfax County, Virginia. ... His father and mother were both sold to traders when he was five years old. Has faithfully worked through life on his owners farm… Never once received a cent from him ... He had always been honest and study; had a master who seemed never seemed pleased with his efforts; was badly whipped by cowhides by him, when a boy, and bears the marks to this day; since growing up, and even within five years, has been often knocked on the head with sticks. His master pretended to be a Union man, but secretly aided the Rebels, and has been arrested by General Porter as a spy. ... In his cell at night, twenty square feet, with twenty men and a hot stove, his tongue is parched, his head aches, and his sufferings are unspeakable. ... Cannot read, but is intelligent and speaks grammatically. Received hope from his visitor that he would soon be released, and said fervently, “Thank God! Thank God!”[p14]
“William J. Mullen (1805–82) was a wealthy manufacturer turned philanthropist. A prominent advocate for prison reform, he worked as a prison agent at Moyamensing Prison and established the House of Industry in South Philadelphia, a neighborhood center that provided temporary shelter, job training, and English-language courses to immigrants and the homeless.”¹
Mullen begins the present report by noting that he was able to liberate 1,182 persons (“forty or more of them being small children”) from prison:
[T]he imprisonment of a majority of them was either extremely unjust and oppressive, or for offences so trivial, or accompanied by such mitigations, that a further confinement did not seem demanded by either justice or expediency. It was discovered, that many of these suits sprang either from vindictive malice, or from a thirst for gain; while others were instituted by intemperate persons, who unconsciously or recklessly overlooked the wretchedness they caused by incarcerating parents, whose children were there by left without protection or support. (p)
His observations strike a chord upon modern ears.
Description: [African American Prisoners] Eighth Annual Report of William J. Mullen, Prison Agent, to The Philadelphia Society, for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons…January 1, 1862.
Philadelphia: Familton & Chemin, Printers, 1862. 20pp. Pamphlet. 8¾ x 5½ inches. Printed gray wrappers; stitched. Some toning to wrappers; vertical creasing; very good.
Curiously, the wrappers, which include printing on both endpapers, is printed in two colors—black and navy, the rear endpaper alone printed in navy. Note. 1. Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania | Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia [Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers-Camden] accessed online.