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W. Va. Penitentiary, 1887

W. Va. Penitentiary, 1887


from the Wheeling Intelligencer, Feb. 12, 1887



Yesterday With the Evidence of Superintendent Peck, Who Denies All the Charges of Mismanagement of the Institution Made Against Him.

The last day's session of the committee investigating the management of the Penitentiary closed a tedious inquiry which has developed very little for the length of time expended by the committee. The opening testimony was devoted to proving that the drugs purchased by Superintendent Peck were obtained ten per cent cheaper than under former administrations. The gentleman who testified to this fact was Dr. T. R. Rogers, of Moundsville. Dr. R. W. Hall, also of Moundsville, testified in regard to the punishment of convicts. He considered the bull rings the most cruel method. He also said that scars inflicted by the lash would not last eight months. (This was in contradiction of the testimony given by convict J. G. Roberts, who claimed the scars he showed on his back were the result of a whipping he received last June.) The witness further stated that fifty lashes would not incapacitate a man for work. He did not think that the effects of punishment by the shoo fly were injurious.

Ex-clerk F. W. Brown being recalled said that he thought the management of the prison could be improved by allowing the Governor to appoint the Board of Directors, the Board to appoint the Superintendent and the Superintendent the guards.

Dr. G. W. Bruce testified that convict John Fawcett died of typhoid fever, and that his punishment had nothing to do with it.


W. B. Humphrey, the broom contractor, said that he had been operating the factory there for ten years, and during that time he saw no cruel treatment of convicts on the part of Superintendent Peck. He said that Colonel Peck was kind but firm. He related a conversation had with Assistant Superintendent Wilkinson in which the latter said that he intended to go before the Board of Directors and advocate the restoration of the strap as a means of punishment, owing to the lack of discipline among the convicts.

Mr. Humphrey in answer to a question on cross-examination said that he believed there was a conspiracy among certain officers of the Penitentiary to destroy the efficiency of Superintendent Peck. He did not consider the management of Colonel Peck as cruel and inhuman.

Mr. Charles A. Weaver, whip contractor, thought Colonel Peck a kind and humane man. He said that the lack of discipline at the present time was owing to the abolition of the lash. He thought the fear of punishment was conducive to the good conduct and discipline of the prison and was in favor of the restoration of the lash. Mr. J. C. Bardell, partner of Mr. Weaver, concurred in his testimony.


Two colored convicts, Dennis Smallwood and Charles Ross, were introduced to prove that cruel punishment had been inflicted under a former management of the institution. They were both punished by the bull-rings. The former's hand was severely injured and had not been yet healed, although the punishment was inflicted four years ago.

William Smith, a colored convict from Martinsburg, testified that it was no trouble for a prisoner to get along with Superintendent Peck if he obeyed the rules. He said that he had heard guard Johnson cursing Superintendent Peck to the convicts.

George W. Rhome and William Reyman, the latter a United States prisoner, testified that they had no fault to find with the treatment they received at the hands of Superintendent Peck, and that they had not witnessed or heard of any inhuman treatment of their fellow prisoners by the hand of Col. Peck.

James Ferguson, a guard, stated that he thought the strap a more humane method of punishment than the shoo fly. He contradicted the testimony of guard White, who stated that convict Johnson had received fifty lashes in the morning and twenty-five in the afternoon.

F. A. Maxwell, foreman of wagon shop No. 2, testified to Superintendent Peck's humanity and fairness. He stated that on one occasion some offense had been committed which lay between two convicts, but he could not be certain which was the guilty party. He reported the matter to Colonel Peck who let both off, preferring to do so instead of punishing an innocent man.

A. W. Hamaker, foreman of the blacksmith shop testified to the lack of discipline under the present rules laid down by the Board of Directors. He stated that convict Henry Johnson who had testified before the committee that he had been punished in a cruel manner said to him day before yesterday that he had it in for him (Hamaker); that there would be trouble soon and that someone would be killed." Several other witnesses were called and their testimony was all in favor of Col. Peck.


It was nearly 4 o'clock when Superintendent Peck took the stand in his own defense. Although the Colonel was somewhat prolix in giving his testimony it was evident that he made a favorable impression on the committee. In relation to charges of cruel and inhuman treatment to prisoners, he stated that the guards, contractors and foremen of shops were sworn never to report convicts under their charge for any infraction of the rules unless they were absolutely certain of the offense, and that where there was any doubt the convict was to have the benefit of it.

As far as punishment of convicts was concerned he had no ill-will against any of them. The "kicking jenny," Superintendent Peck said, was invented and contructed by Assistant Superintendent Wilkinson.

Last May, Col. Peck stated, Wilkinson and some of the guards entered into a conspiracy to throw discredit on his management of the institution. One guard was discharged for whipping his wife, and Wilkinson and Guard Ferguson used their influence to have him reinstated.

Col. Peck stated that Wilkinson's immoral practices came to his notice in August last, and that in September he demanded his resignation, and that Wilkinson complied with the demand.

The alleged inhuman punishment of convcits Roberts, Johnson and Teel was controverted by Col. Peck. The charges of receiving discounts in purchasing supplies, and appropriating supplies of the prison to his own use the Superintendent explained away.

With Col. Peck's evidence the Committee concluded its labors and adjourned to meet in Charleston, when they will report the result of their labors to the Legislature.

From the testimony adduced it is almost safe to say that not one of the eleven charges has been substantiated, with the exception possibly of excessive punishemtn, and even that is about equally balanced in the scales.

Thinks Peck Wronged.

Pittsburgh Dispatch of Yesterday.

Richard McCormick is a puddler, employed at Lindsay & McCutcheon's mill. He formerly lived in Wheeling, and was a guard in the Moundsville Penitentiary up to the 27th of last November, when he resigned to take this present place. Speaking last night of the State investigation now going on at that institution, in which charges of extreme cruelty are made against Colonel Peck, the Superintendent, he said:

"They are doing Colonel Peck an injustice, and I know it. I never knew him to do an unjust or cruel thing to a prisoner. I have known of prisoners being sick and of Colonel Peck putting himself out of the way to see them and do them some kindness. I have seen prisoners punished, and have been obliged to punish them myself, and have had Colonel Peck come down and order me to be as lenient as possible, and sometimes he has stopped it altogether, and told me that he guessed the scare would do as well. Colonel Peck was accustomed to give the convicts an extra hour out of their cells on Sunday, instead of letting their time be cut an hour. That meant a good deal for the convicts, for their little cells, only 5 by 6 1/2 feet, were terribly close places."

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