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This presentation’s title is a play on a phrase made popular by Saturday matinee movie Westerns where the inevitable grizzled old prospector would proclaim, Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills.” 
For this Thursday matinee show, I’m the grizzled old prospector proclaiming there’s historical gold to be found in old jailhouse (or prison) ledgers.
I seek to back up that claim by sharing a few of the many “nuggets” found in three record books from a jail that opened in 1869 in Essex County among the Adirondack “hills” bordering Lake Champlain.
The books came from the Elizabethtown lock-up first erected in 1868 but rebuilt as virtually a new jail circa 1915. The three-story brick structure was one of the smallest county jails in NYS – only a few dozen cells.
As Essex prepared to “decommission” the old jail these three books from it were being studied for historical connections:
1 -- "Cash Book -- Inmate Accounts (1952 - 1958)"
2 -- "Operating Expenses Audit Book -- (1904 - 1931)"
3 -- "Record of Inmate Commitments -- (1879 - 1924)"
The virtual tour of the Elizabethtown Jail record-keeping in pre-computer eras began with the Cash Book that tracked inmates’ accounts of personal purchases during 1952 – 1958.
Up front were 30 index pages, with lettered tabs, for entering an inmate name according to the last name’s first letter.  Each index name entry would include a numbered page reference to find where that inmate’s account began.
272 numbered pages for data entries followed the 30 tabbed index pages in the 12x7.5-inch account book.
In our example, inmate “C. R. S” was the 16th entry on the index page reserved for “R” or “S” names. Note reference to Page 144 for his account.
For the account book part of our presentation, the full names are not used because we have no way of ident-ifying those convicted from those later acquitted. The blotting out of all except initials was done only on the images digitally, not done on the actual page.
C. R. S. may not have had folding money on him when jailed. His account on Page 144 begins Jan. 21, 1957 with a check cashed for $36. On May 1 a federal check (Social Security?) was cashed for $99.75.
In 5 months, he spent $58.23 on such items as on a $9.95 pair of shoes, $1 haircuts, on $2 cigarette cartons, and on newspapers. He gave his mom $5  and a “Lucille” $1.
On June 11 C.R. S. walked out of jail, presumably in his new shoes, with the $77.52 balance.
Between unused Pages 180 – 270 was a sales slip with the name of “Kenneth Harrington.” Items, amounts and date on it track to inmate “J.T.” on Page 153. Taped to the book inside back cover was a staffing note showing “Ken” was one of the jailors.
So purchases for in-mates were made by jailors who kept sale slips and made the ‘cash book’ entries.
Cash Book review observations:
--- Cigarettes, banned in many jails today, were a major purchase items back then. --- Phone calls, candy, toiletries constituted major inmate expenditures then as now. --- Newspapers were major purchase item then; today they are available free in day rooms. --- Hand written  records of inmate purchases, a combination of sales slips and ledger entries, sufficed in the era before bar codes and PCs. --- Whereas a major city jail would have its own commissary, the tiny rural jail apparently bought items locally for inmate as requested.
The next ledger studied was the expenses audit book that an Essex County Board of Supervisors 3-member Purchasing Committee maintained to monitor jail operating costs. It covered Feb.1, 1904 through April 24, 1931.
In reviewing the items, a most intriguing term appeared in some of the early entries: “Chinese Jail.”
The phrase was used 10 times among the bill entries made through 1909 beginning 1904. Example: a $3 bill from the Port Henry Telephone Company.
[Double click]
Other entries pointed to the Port Henry jail as a detention center for US illegal immigration case detainees, mostly Chinese. On bottom of Page 1 appears a note:
A lease between Berne A. Pyrke and the County of Essex for a certain premises on Elizabeth Street in the Village of Port Henry to be used as a common jail for the detention of United States Prisoners was duly executed.” 
[Single click]
A note at the bottom of Page 2 reported:
“Committee, also S.W. Barnard, Sheriff, visited new building for the detention of U.S. Prisoners.
“Thought it to answer all requirements for which it was designed.” 
On Page 12:
“Boarding Chinese Prisoners at Port Henry Jail”
phrase was used in connection with 8 entries by Sheriff S. W. Barnard. The items totaled $3,133.
The import of the entries was that, before leasing the specially-designed detention center, the county lodged the federal prisoners in Port Henry Village facilities.
An inquiry made to the Essex County Historical Society resulted in receiving a page copy from ECHS’ own “Compendium of Local History.”
It confirmed that “Chinese Jail” was the colloquial name used locally for the lock-up where the county housed U.S. immigration case prisoners awaiting federal processing.
The 1986 Compendium page quoted a 1935 “History of Port Henry” that “when a large number of Chinese attempted unlawful entry into the U.S. by way of Canada, they were brought to Port Henry for detention... “At first they were quartered in the village hall jail. [Later] a lot was secured on Elizabeth St ...The Chinese Jail was erected…When no longer needed, it was converted into a tenement … F. W. Dudley acted as Commissioner of Immigration.”
The Compendium  page featured the image above.
The page quoted references to Chinese Jail in 1901 issues of the weekly newspaper.  The quotes contained useful historical data, yet also were worded with obvious disdain for the detainees, referring to them as Chinamen and celestials, and making them the butt of rather heavy-handed humor about rice & macaroni.
Such expressions were perhaps consistent with the general public’s support for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and its subsequent renewals right into the 1940s.
Looking for more Elizabethtown Post stories led to finding the wonderful research resource named above. Using its on-line archives led to putting together an intriguing timeline.
In 1901 F. W. Dudley becomes regional Immigration Commissioner.
3 years later he becomes Berne A. Pyrke’s law partner.
1 year after that Essex ends use of the village hall jail and rents Pyrke’s building to hold Immigration case detainees.
Are 7 letters found tucked together between pages of the ledger linked to a faulty door locking mechanism that figured in a 1948 jail breakout that took the life of a turnkey?
4 of the letters were from the Cincinnati-based Stewart Iron Works Company whose letterhead proclaimed itself “Jail and Prison Builders.”
3 of the were from the foremen of Essex County Grand Juries reporting on its inspection of the Elizabethtown jail.
The “find” of the 7 letters tucked between Pages 254 & 255 was unexpected. Also unexpected was their very possible link to the subject matter of another -- but until then -- separate Elizabethtown jail history project underway at the time:
That project was the construction of a memorial web page on our NYCHS site for Essex Jailor Earl Torrence killed Nov. 15, 1948 in a breakout by 2 inmates. The planned web page was to tell about the successful efforts by his grand nephew – NY State C.O. Joe Stickney – in getting Earl’s name added a Washington D.C. memorial wall.
The faulty jail “bullpen” door locking  mechanism – it could be jiggled open a piece of bent wire -- was cited in several local newspaper reports in late 1948 after the breakout and repeatedly again during 1949 as the case of the captured killer/escapees proceeded through various court processes. 
The 4 letters from the “jail builders” company were its responses to an inquiry by Sheriff John P.  Crowley in 1943-44 about changing the key and tumbler set-ups of the jail’s then existing locks.
WWII restrictions seems to have postponed changing the jail locks, something Crowley prudently wanted to explore early in his tenure.
He served as sheriff from 1942 through 1957.
The other three letters, all dated in 1949  -- Feb. 15, May 17, and Oct. 6 -- reported to Sheriff Crowley about inspections of the Elizabeth town jail by the "current grand jury."  Each, signed by a different foreman, lauded the jail’s appearance and its operation.
Some point raised during the jail inspections, but left unsaid in the grand jury letters, maybe triggered research into past records related to lock mechanisms.
With the grand jury letters in hand, the researcher retrieved the 1943-44 letters and was proceeding through the 1904-31 ledger looking for any past lock-related outlays when interrupted by more pressing business.
In this scenario, the letters were placed in the book to mark where the research had been interrupted. The pages there had no entries relevant to the search. But the research was never resumed, the letters were forgotten, the volume was put away.
This theory doesn’t claim that the deadly 1948 break would have been averted had the locks been changed in 1944.  The door device fault might have been missed anyway
NYCHS helped fill one gap in C. O. Joe Stickney’s research into the breakout and its aftermath. Joe knew his great aunt had written a letter to the DA that influenced his decision to accept Murder 2 pleas from her husband’s killers instead of seeking mandatory death penalty Murder 1 convictions.
But Joe, who does not use computers, had not come across the letter’s text during research at his local library. Using Northern NY Library Network’s on-line historical news-papers archives, NYCHS found and posted the above image of it in our web presentation. 
Deeply religious and a close friend of the mother of  Wm. Moody, one of the killers, Kathleen wrote she hoped “these men would be punished” but did “not desire of the death of these men. . . .”  She noted killing them would not bring Earl back and added “I feel sorry for their parents.”
The 3rd book in the virtual tour of Essex County jail record-keeping is the 1880-1924 in-take ledger.
The other 2 books were generic off-the-shelf ledgers. This volume clearly had been custom printed. The spine leather label reads: “Record of Commitments to Essex County Jail.” So does the wording across the top of each two facing pages.
Entries begin on Page 2 and end on Page 258. An entry begins on an even-numbered left page line and continues along the same line onto the facing odd-numbered right page, spreadsheet like. There are 27 entry lines down the “spreadsheet” pages.
To scan the first two facing pages required 4 separate scans (two separate scans each page) and then fitting together the “top half” scanned images with the “bottom half” scanned images.
Because of the volume’s fragile nature, the book was not opened flat on the scanner. Rather the scanner was turned over and placed flat, glass side down, on the book which was held only half open. Scanning downward with a turned-over scanner is not a recommend use for a scanner but I preferred risking the scanner (which can be replaced) than the book (which can’t be replaced).
Only the first two pages were scanned. Thereafter all other images of entries were taken using a digital camera in one hand and holding the book only half open with the other.
On even numbered pages the heading of one column was printed as "County" but that was repeatedly corrected with an "r“ insert to read "Country" through 1883.
Thereafter it continued to be understood as "Country" even without the penned "r" correction. Entries were mostly "U.S."
But by March of 1895 (Page 58), the column heading came to be understood as printed -- County -- with "Essex" entries dominating. Did closeness to Canada factor into that “r” insert? A wariness of “foreigners”?
Some column heads are unusual by today's standards, at least their wording is. “Color” instead of race, “Parents” instead of next-of-kin, “Social Relations” instead of marital status.
“Habits of Life” seemed focused on destructive life style issues, principally alcohol abuse. Most were put down as “bad” or “intemperate,” many as “good,” only a few as “fair.”
The book had no addresses for inmates or parents. Such contact data must have been in arrest records. Neither were there inmate ID numbers. With so few inmates at any one time -- rarely more than 2 dozen, often fewer than a dozen -- ID numbers were not viewed as necessary to keep track of them.
Column heads on inmate’s literacy or lack of, are interestingly worded, especially the one “Classically Educated,” which perhaps refers to college graduates.
Interest in inmate literacy reflects the emerging reformatory movement that had its origins in efforts by pre-reformatory era chaplains and other reformers to teach inmates reading and writing as part of Bible study programs. That may be why the next column is “Religous Instruction,” not “Religious Affiliation.” (Ignore ironic misprint.)
The connection between penal correction and inmate education goes back at least to the 18th century. A motto on a wall of San Michele reformatory, founded at Rome in 1704 by Pope Clement:
It is of little use to restrain criminals by punishment, unless you reform them by education.
The 10th inmate on the book’s 1st entries page was Frank Boardman, committed to the jail Jan. 30, 1880, for petit larceny and sentenced to 30 days.
A mere 13 years old but already his ‘Habits of Life’ are listed as “bad.” He is listed as both reading and writing.
The 13-year-old was committed to the jail by Justice Cutting, a distant 19th Century kin of the current county jail administrator Major Cutting who made the jail ledgers available to NYCHS.
Listed for the teenager under “trade or occupation” was “farmer.”
“Value of Article Stolen” entry was $1. How did a 30-day sentence on Jan. 30 for a $1 theft result in an April 15th discharge 75 days later?
Did the 13-year-old’s unruliness as an inmate result in his doing more than double his sentence time? Unlikely. His discharge by “order of court” suggests he was court monitored.  That suggests an alternate theory: He may have been unruly on the farm, perhaps the family’s farm. Could  the both the family and the court considered an indeter-minate winter stay behind bars might make him mend his ways and still get him out in time for spring planting? Consider that in 1888, Fred Stone, 14, a Canadian whose occupation was listed as a “miner” (not minor), served just 10 days for petit larceny.
The above 1911 Pa. boy miners photo was taken by National Child Labor Committee that evolved in 1904 from a NY group begun in 1902.
The 13-year-old farmer and the 14-year-old miner were among 45 juveniles –ages from 10 to 15 inclusive – whose entries were found among the more than 3,500 inmates named in the in-take book.
6 were girls. 1 was a witness in an adultery case. 1 was a “disorderly person.”
1 was a servant girl, Harriet Stone, 13, who was tried for murder but acquitted after 10 minutes of jury deliberation in 1881. It’s a case worthy of deeper research.
3 of the six girls were held as “incorrigibles” or as “vagrants,” era legalese that allowed courts to address reputed waywardness, sometimes sentencing the girls to Houses of Refuge (reformatories). 
Of 39 boys in the book, 1 charged with Murder 1: John Hanson, 15, who pled to Murder 2, and whom Judge Berne A. Pyrke (the former Chinese Jail landlord) sentenced to return to the Protectory and remain there until 21. The Catholic Protectory was an pioneer reformatory whose land many decades later became Parkchester houses. Both teen murder cases involved poisoned persons in their hired care: a baby in the girl’s case, an old man on the boy’s case.
Above, from a legal notice in an Adirondack newspaper, is some text from the 1910 version of a law allowing courts to send females under 16 to a state training school for girls if found, among other described behavior patterns,  “willfully disobedient to parent or guardian,” “in danger of becoming morally depraved” or “is a vagrant.” The latter could be read as being a “runaway.”
I had intended to devote the next four slides to listing 32 of the 39 boys jailed. Due to time constrains I will show only one slide. The compressed version lists data for 10 of the 39 boys. 
The persons to whom entries refer take on a kind of in-your-face communicated reality to the researcher beyond the detached objective intellectual awareness that the data denotes actual people albeit long dead and forgotten.
The researcher begins to “see” them in his or her “mind’s eye.” I don’t mean hallucinations, visions or actual apparitions. I mean an empathetic connection bridging distances of time and geography.
When the researcher encounters an Ernest Stanton, jailed briefly at age 10, being jailed again at age 13, the first for whom “school” is entered as his “occupation,” the boy is no longer just an entry in a book.
The name of the 2nd murderer executed was entered in the in-take ledger after his 1882 arrest for killing his wife, a stout widow whose farm he wanted deeded over to him.
A house painter who styled himself during jailhouse interviews as soldier of fortune, Henry Debosnys, 46, was a native of Portugal. He was defended by A. K. Dudley, the father of ‘Chinese Jail’ Commissioner F. W. Dudley.
The names of the 3rd & 4th murderers executed and two “accomplices/witnesses” were entered in the in-take ledger after their arrests within a few hours of the attempted robbery killing of a mine foreman in Mineville in 1916. That is, variations of their names were entered.
Depending on where and when names of the “foreigners” were used, their name spellings changed. That make tracking them in the Northern NY Historical Newspapers on-line archives quite challenging.
On Nov. 21, 1916, both Steve Mischuk (later Lischuk), 22, a miner, & John Kuschnuk (later Kuschnieruk), a pantryman, were entered in the jail ledger for Murder 1, their Russian background noted. The last data entered for them records their 1917 electrocutions.
Extensive details on the case are available on the web presentation page entitled “Entries of 3 Inmates Convicted of Murder & Executed.” Likewise on that web page are details regarding  the 3 other murderers mentioned.
Although the extensive web presentation – 23 pages, 150+ images – includes vastly more details and source citations that can be provided in these slides and their printed notes, even it can only raise or show avenues for yet deeper and wider study.  But that is precisely the point of this slide show: to promote “panning” or “mining” old jail and prison records for a wealth of material opening up new or connecting to on-going historical inquiries.
Here are just a few that occur to my correction-focused mind: What monitoring was done on jailors’ purchases for inmates? What role did local politics play in administration of the Chinese Exclusion Act? Did local attitudes toward the illegal immigrants go beyond snide newspaper remarks? Did adding “r” to “county” in the ledger column head reflect suspicion of “foreigners?” Were the Frechettes and Le Goia whom Harriet Stone accused in denying murdering the Frechette child “foreigners? Did that figure in her quick acquittal? Did local judges manipulate the system to get the kind of juvenile monitoring results that later child offender laws codified? Why ‘only’ 4 murder executions in more than 150 years? Was this rural county’s seeming reluctance to execute typical or atypical in NY’s North Country?
The Essex County Jail Ledgers Look-back web presentation, including links to sources cited as used, can be accessed from the NYCHS home page – www.correctionhistory.org -- by clicking its icon (shown above).
NYCHS is a nonprofit Regents chartered historical society dedicated to the pursuit, preservation and promotion of the interconnected and overlapping histories of correctional agencies, governmental and non-governmental, in the state, cities and counties of New York.