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Pentitentiary Controversy, 1869

Pentitentiary Controversy, 1869


The Wheeling Intelligencer, Sept. 10, 1869, p. 2 (editorial page):


The Penitentiary investigation which has been going on at intervals since last spring has ended and the report of the Committee is in the hands of the Governor. We publish elsewhere some notes of its leading points, furnished for the purpose. From these it appears:

1st. That the charges against the Superintendent are sustained by the evidence, save as to two or three of the specifications which were withdrawn.

2d. That the Superintendent has $4,555 in his hands unexpended, or if expended, he is without evidence of it.

3d. That the books and accounts are in a "very bad condition."

4th. The building as far as done is good, but as designated is too large.

5th. The letting of the contracts has "not been altogether impartial," and the stone has cost from $6.75 to $16.00 per perch.

6th. Convicts are punished by whipping with cowhides.

7th. The Committee recommend nothing.

Some $266,000 in all, we believe has been appropriated for the Penitentiary, and only $21,000 remains unexpended in the treasury. The cost when finished is estimated at a half million, but it would seem at this rate to be far to too low. It is designated to provide room for some 440 convicts, whereas thus far the average is found to be about 80. A half million Penitentiary for the keeping of 80 convicts makes it cost over $6,000 for house room for each one.

We have no particular comment to make, without having seen the report itself; but the points set forth furnish food for reflection. If it costs like this to build a Penitentiary, what will it be when we come to a capitol?

The Wheeling Intelligencer, Sept. 10, 1869, p. 4:


--The Joint Committee of the Legislature, which have been investigating the affairs of the Penitentiary, concluded their labors a day or two since, and yesterday placed their report in the hands of the Governor. We have been furnished with synopsis of the document, from which the following facts appear:

The Committee find that the accounts between the Board of Directors and the State Treasury are square and there is a balance in the Treasury of all appropriations made, of about $21,000. The expenditures have been all been accounted for except $4,555 of a "contingent fund" placed in the hands of the Superintendent by the Directors. The Superintendent claims that this sum has been expended but failed to produce vouchers showing for what. They find the books and accounts of the institution in a very bad condition. The charges against the Superintendent were investigated. On two he plead "not guilty," but in the opinion of the Committee they were sustained by the evidence. A nolle was entered as to two or three of the specifications, and the residue, several in number, were, by the accused, acknowledged to be true; upon which the Committee expresses no opinion as to criminal intent on the part of the defendant.

The Committee say that the Penitentiary building as far as erected is good and substantial; but far too large, they think for the needs of our State; and they recommend that the North wing be not built. They say the prisoners are well fed and clothed; but they think some punishments are inflicted which ought not to be allowed such as whipping with cowhides, &c. [If such practices exist they are harmful to the convicts themselves, in a reformatory point of view, they are inhuman and disgraceful to the State. EDS.]

The committee say the letting of contracts has not been in all respects altogether impartial. The stone has cost from $6.75 to $16.00 per perch, [Will some of our workers in stone make a note of that and let us know what they think of it EDS.] A great many of the stone were purchased without being measured. Only two or three loads of the ruble stone bought at from $3 to $5 per perch were measured. The rest were guessed at by the convicts.

The committee make no recommendation.


The Wheeling Intelligencer, Sept. 13, 1869, p. 1:

The Penitentiary Investigation Card from the Superintendent.



MOUNDSVILLE, Sept. 10, 1869.

To the Editor of the Intelligencer.

In your paper of this day there appears what purports to be a 'synopsis' of the report of the committee recently engaged in investigating the affairs of the Penitentiary, also an editorial summary of its leading points.

The gentleman who furnished this 'synopsis' (understood to be the Hon. J. M. Phelps, Senator from Mason, and Chairman of the Committee,) has, in so doing, taken a responsibility for which he will have to account hereafter as best he can, as, according to the statement of a member of the Committee (the Senator from Monongalia,) it was expressly agreed or understood before adjournment that there was to be no publication at present of the Committee's report. But that is a matter which does not concern myself. I am concerned, however, with the fact that an [ ] statement of the Committee's conclusion has been published in such general terms, so free from all qualification that it cannot be determined from it whether those conclusions are warranted by the evidence or not. It would have been fairer to have published the whole report, evidence and all. The public then could have formed something like an intelligent opinion on the subjects involved. And, the question here arises, Why, under the circumstances, was this statement furnished at all? An uncharitable person might suppose that so flagrant a disregard of the agreement between the members of the Committee, on the part of the Chairman, could have no other object than to prejudice public opinion against the present authorities of the Penitentiary, and influence beforehand the action of the Board of Public Works, or that of the Legislature. And this view seems all the more probable, when it is recollected that the author of the 'synopsis' was also Chairman of the Committee which last winter investigated the charges against the Superintendent, and the majority of whom recommended dismissal from that position, and in his advocacy of the cause which he had espoused, displayed on the floor of the Senate, a degree of feeling on the subject, amounting almost to personal animosity toward myself.

But dropping this question, let me make a few remarks as to the contents of the 'synopsis:'

'The committee find that the accounts between the Board of Directors and the State Treasury are square. * * * The expenditures have all been accounted for, except $4,555 of a 'contingent fund,' placed in the hands of the Superintendent by the Directors. The Superintendent claims that this sum has been expended but failed to produce vouchers for what.'

When the full report of committee is published there may be a question as to how these conclusions were reached. Certainly, if their figuring is correct, 'the accounts between the Board of Directors and the State Treasury' are not 'square.' If their balance sheet means anything, I have a verbatim copy of it in my possession, if means that the Board are behind some $5,000; and, as there are five gentlemen composing the Board, the natural inference is that they have somehow or other pocketed $1,000 apiece.

As to the alleged deficiency on my own part, I undertake to say that had the committee seen fit to allow as a credit what mutually was show to have been expended; as per receipts on the receipt book of the stone cutters employed at the Penitentiary, and by payments to McGahan and Williamson for labor done, also vouched for by receipts, the sum unaccounted for would have been reduced some $1,400 or $1,500. Why these receipts were not allowed, I am totally unable to understand as there was no charge made, or suspicion expressed that the receipts were not genuine. And further, had they taken cognizance of a statement of expenditures for contingent expenses up to the first day of June, 1869, (the date to which the investigation extended) which I have taken from the Penitentiary books, item by item, amounted to some $18,000, the balance would have been as it properly ought to be, on the other side. Here are the figures: The Board appropriated $17,389.45. The Committee allowed a credit of $12,786.14. The balance stated to be unaccounted for was therefore $4,553.31. The statement referred to showed expenditures amounting to $18.615.40 including the credit allowed by the Committee and expenditure for which, in the nature of things, it was impossible for me to show receipts, such as telegraphing, travelling expenses, 'overtime to convicts' &c. Taking the difference between this sum and the total of appropriations by the Board, there remains a balance of $1,285.90 in my favor. Add to this $1000 due me on salary account, and $150 not included above paid out of contingent fund to M'Gahan and Williamson, and the balance in my favor reaches the sum of $2,491.95. Why did not the author of the 'synopsis' if, as is evident, he wised to fasten upon me the stigma of dishonesty, state the excellent reasons he doubtless had for not allow the credits claimed?

The books and papers, as alleged were found to be in a bad condition. It may be, however, well enough to state that those books and papers were kept by Peter Yarnall, the party who, after his discharge from the position of clerk on account of continued drunkenness and general unfitness for the duties of the office, immediately preferred the chagres against me to the Legislaure.

'The charges against the Superintendent were investigated * * * * Several in number were by the accused acknowledged to be true.'

This statement is a very broad one and needs correcting. It is true to point of fact, that I did acknowledge the correctness of certain of the charges; but I was very far from admitting as may be inferred from the language of the 'synopsis' that I was willing to be held responsible for them My acknowledgments were made with explanations which, if embodied as they should be in the evidence accompanying the committee's report, will, I hope when the whole thing is published, modify somewhat the impression already produced regarding them Many of the acts specified were first brought to my notice when Yarnall, the discharged clerk preferred his charges to the Legislature; and the explanation of some of them was that Yarnall had found a basis for making them in the fact of his own neglect in keeping the books. His explanation could have been substantiated by unimpeachable testimony, had the Committee seen proper to take anything more than my own statement in regard to the matter.

As to the practice of whipping convicts with raw hides, I have no recollection that any evidence was taken by the Committee on that point. The author of the 'synopsis' may have heard from the parties with whom he associated while in Moundsville, that such a practice did obtain, but it was not given in evidence at any public session of the Committee. Furthermore that practice never did obtain.

The Committee say the letting of contracts has not been altogether in all respects impartial. The stone has cost from $6.75 to $16.00 per perch. A great many of the stone were purchased without being measure. Only two or three loads of the ruble stone, bought at from $3 to $5 per perch, were measured, the rest were guessed at by the convicts.

The author of this paragraph must have been strangely forgetful of the evidence which the Committee obtained in regard to its subject matter. In answer to it, I propose to show the stone book the contractors who furnished the stone alleged to have been guessed at, and any unprejudiced person may determine for himself how much truth there is in the allegations. I appeal, also, to the Committee's report of the evidence. The general statement that the stone cost from $6.75 to $16.00 per perch, cannot fail to mislead. The truth is that on some ninety perch contracted for at $12.00, 33 per cent. additional was afterwards allowed, because the stone were extra large and fine. As to the [ ] [ ] for the public to understand fully what foundation there exists for the charges, it would be necessary to publish the entire evidence on the subject. I am much mistaken if that evidence will substantiate the assertion in the synopsis.

And now, in conclusion, the Chairman of the Committee, the reputed author of the 'synopsis,' having taken the initiative by furnishing it for publication in violation of the agreement, or understanding, between the Committee, that no publicity, should be given to their conclusions for the present, and thus sought to influence public sentiment against the Penitentiary authorities, and brand myself in particular, as a swindler, I hope to be excused somewhat if I do not refrain from a few words in relation to him personally.

There is an opinion held in common by quite a number of those who are acquainted with that gentleman's course in the matter of investigation, and that is, that he displayed all through a spirit very much like that of persecution. One would have supposed that a regard for common decency and a lively interest as to what might be said of him in the future, that some concern lest a damaging interpretation might possibly be put upon his conduct afterwards, would have caused him to be exceedingly careful in forming associations with those who were blatant in their expressions of ill feeling toward gentlemen whose management of public funds he was investigating. His personal habits also, while in Moundsville, were such as to excite remark; and it might have been doubted whether at times his condition, in consequence of those habits, was such as to make it altogether certain that he was properly qualified to conduct the investigation; and this doubt could only have been strengthened when, on his directing the committee clerk not to put down certain words of a witness on the stand, I arose and insisted that they should go down, and asked the chairman if the clerk had been sworn, his reply being that he did not know. And again, what is to be thought of a Senator, a 'grave and reverend seignor,' who appointed by the Legislature of which he is a member, to preside at an investigation into the manner in which a large amount of State money has been expended, could, at the same time, place himself in a position with regard to public expenditures so delicate as to require the fullest explanation? I allude to certain certificates on the Auditor given by him to Peter Yarnall, the prosecuting witness, for alleged services to the Committee without the knowledge of the Committee. And still further, is there not sufficient cause for suspicion as to the motives, when a leading member of a Committee, appointed to report facts; to hear testimony act, as it were, as judges, could in the course of the investigation suffer himself to vacate the chair and occupy the position of 'prosecutor for the State?' Did the Legislature intend this investigation to be a prosecution, or is the Chairman alone responsible for the shape which it assumed? Was it not seriously proposed by the Chairman and another member of the Committee from the same county, to allow evidence to be given on but one side of the case to permit no 'rebuttive testimony' (in the language of that member)to be introduced at all; to assume for the Committee the full powers of a Star Chamber? And finally, when it is recollected that one member of the Committee, Hon. B . F. Harrison of Jefferson, had gone home more than a week before the Committee adjourned, and had had no opportunity to become fully informed of the conclusions of the other members, or to form his own and had not signed, what excuse can there be for the action of the Chairman in furnishing for publication what was not, at the time it was furnished, a 'synopsis' of the Committee's report?

Respectfully yours,G. S. MCFADDEN.



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