Sign Up For News And Updates

Your Name and E-mail
First Name:
Last Name:
E-mail Address:
Sign up for the following:

Your Address and Mobile
Mobile Phone:

W.Va. Penitentiary, 1887

W.Va. Penitentiary, 1887


from The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer Feb. 11, 1886



In Regard to the Punishment of Convicts, Some Severe Cases Testified To -- The Investigation Takes a Little Political Turn -- Prosecution About Ended.

The most damaging testimony against Col. Peck, Superintendent of the Penitentiary, was adduced in the secret session of the Legislative Investigating Committee Wednesday afternoon, when a number of the convicts were examined. The examination was held with closed doors simply for the purpose of allowing the convicts to testify without being embarrassed by the presence of the Superintendent, or encouraged by anyone favorable to the prosecution. Amos Boston, a convict, testified that during the punishment of a refractory prisoner Col Peck stood by and seemed to enjoy it. He did not know of anybody who was severely whipped. He said his own punishment was deserved, but deemed the methods cruel. He would, however, say this much in Col Peck's favor, that the food they were served with was much better than before he assumed the management of the institution; that the prison was neater and cleaner than under Mr. West's management.

W. S. Douglas who was confined on a charge of murder, said that he was treated all right personally, except that he was punished once after making a personal appeal to the Superintendent to be let off for reason that as he led the prayer meetings of the convicts it might destroy his influence for good. He asserted that Col Peck stopped these prayer meetings and would allow no religious worship except when conducted by a regular minister of the gospel.


Decidedly the most damaging case against Col. Peck in regard to the charge of cruel punishment was that of convict John G. Roberts. This man had quite an eventful history to relate and told his story with such minuteness and qualifications as to facts he was not absolutely certain about that he inspired the confidence of the committee, which was strengthened by corroborative testimony.

Roberts was sent to the Penitentiary from Hinton for bigamy. He was born at Gibraltar, Spain, and was educated at Eaton College, England. He was a locomotive engineer, and at the time of his conviction of the crime for which he how suffers imprisonment was employed on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. He testified that he was whipped four times and underwent punishment in the shoo fly once. On June 4, 1886, he received a severe whipping, the marks of which he now carries, and he showed to the committee the scars on his person as the result. He said he begged for mercy, but it was not meted out to him. The blood ran down to his knees and clotted there, and his undergarments were soaked with gore. He was formerly employed in the engine room, but was removed to the whip factory. Before his imprisonment he fell from his engine on the Chesapeake and Ohio road and received severe injuries and also injured his hand to that extent that he could not perform the task set for him, and for which he was punished. For failure to perform his task he was in one day whipped and put in the shoo-fly. He was finally excused from work by the prison physician on account of his lame hand, but many of his privileges were taken away. His cell was cleared of reading matter, his wife's letters and picture, nothing being left but his bed. This was corroborated by T. J. Johnson, a guard.

The police docket of the Penitentiary failed to show the punishment of Roberts.

Mr. Wickham the engineer of the Penitentiary engine rooms also corroborated Roberts' evidence, and adding that it would have been better to have put six other convicts in the whip shop and kept Roberts in the engine room where his intelligence and experience were of value to the State. Whether the defense can offer any paliating evidence to offset Roberts' testimony remains to be seen.


Of the Committee -- A Political Turn -- Punishment of Convicts.

Yesterday's session of the Legislative Committee investigating the management of the penitentiary, was interesting in more respects than one. Mr. Theo. Boyd, of Parkersburg, into whose ears Col. Wilkinson poured the story of alleged irregularities, and who made it public through a Cincinnati paper for which he was correspondent, was on the stand but gave no material evidence, as his knowledge of the charges was of a hearsay character. Mr. Boyd is associated with Col Wilkinson in the prosecution.

The feature of the morning session was the examination of Frank W. Brown, formerly clerk of the Penitentiary, and who had been in the institution for fifteen years. In his cross-examination Captain Dovener attempted to prove by Mr. Brown the alleged animus of the prosecution. It was proved by the witness that he had drawn out of the construction fund some $300 or $400 as extra compensation. It was also shown that when Col. Peck assumed charge that he ceased buying supplies from a director who had enjoyed this patronage for a number of years. and [line lost in microfilm] rates. It was also claimed that through the influence of this director the purchasing agency was taken away from Col Peck and vested in the hands of Assistant Superintendent Wilkinson.


This brought Chairman Brown to his feet, and in the course of his remarks he said that he did not believe that the committee was empowered to investigate the past management of the institution and that it was not proper to make a political drag net out of the present investigation.

Senator Scott said that the resolution passed by the Legislature certainly comprehended a full investigation of the management of the institution, which included not only Superintendent Peck but the Board of Directors. He said he did not desire to whitewash anyone and requested that his protest be entered on the minutes, which was done.

Senator Jones said that his interpretation of the resolution of investigation was that the committee was here to investigate the management of the Penitentiary, and if that did not include the Board of Directors as well as the Superintendent he was at a loss to know what it did mean. The controversy was quite warm at times, but finally by a party vote it was decided not to hear testimony of the nature described above.

Johnson, a guard at the penitentiary, testified that punishment was frequent and severe, and said that the police docket was incorrectly kept. He state that convicts were gagged for three and four hours at a time. On cross-examination he acknowledged that he had been captain of the guard, and had been reduced to a guard.

F. W. Brown being recalled stated that Mr. Howard, President of the Board of Directors, said that if the United States Government hadn't objected to the Kicking Jenny he would be in favor of restoring the whipping post. He also cited one instance of a fight in the whip-shop, where Col. Peck said that there must be some sort of discipline to successfully manage the institution.

Samuel Ferguson, guard, thought the punishment cruel. He acknowledged he had no love for Col. Peck.

Philip Lucas, a convict, testified that he had been punished in the shoo fly, and by the strap. Thought he deserved what he got. He said convict Roberts was whipped by Col. Peck, and he though the punishment was light. He also testified to several humane acts of Col. Peck.


James White, of Wheeling, employed as a guard, said that he had seen two convicts, Henry Johnson and Benjamin Fleming, severely whipped. He testified that Johnson received 50 lashes at 11 o'clock for bad work in the blacksmith ship, and a 1 o'clock in the afternoon of the same hay he was given 25 more. His second offense was bad work, which witness considered inevitable, owing to the nervousness created by the previous whipping. On cross-examination Mr. White said he had nothing particular against Colonel Peck, except that he didn't treat him as a gentleman.

William Fitzsimmons of Wetzel county, guard, created a smile on being asked his age by stating "that some people didn't care about telling." On Senator Scott stating that he never knew of a case of that kind except among young ladies, the witness weakened and acknowledged that he had seem thirty-five blissful Wetzel county summers some and go and he was not yet married. He stated that he thought the punishment at the prison severe. The worst whipping he ever saw was administered to Frank Teel. He was very stubborn and made a most determined resistance, crying out when being led to the whipping place that he would not be whipped as there was no law for it. He struggled at the entrance to the cellar when Col. Peck hit him over the head with a mace and Guard Johnson struck him with his fist. He was finally strapped to the Kicking Jenny and given one hundred lashes. He was whipped by Assistant Superintendent Wilkinson and Guard Johnson. He plead for mercy. On cross-examination Mr. Fitzsimmons said that Teel had a knife. It was taken out of his pocket by Col. Peck. He could not say whether Guard Johnson was cut by Teel or not, although he knew that Johnson had been cut.

The only other witness of importance was Adolph Weidebusch, a butcher, who testified in regard to the supply of beef to the Penitentiary, which was to the effect that another butcher now furnished the beef at 5 1/2 cents whereas he had received 6 cents. He added that some of the beef furnished by Mr. Levi, the present contractor was good and some was bad.

William Stillwell, a former guard, testified to hearing screams of convicts being punished while he was on guard, some two hundred yards away. Stillwell acknowledged that he was discharged by Col. Peck for not imparting to him (Peck) information given by a convict that an attempt to escape would be made at a certain time.

|W.Va. Penitentiary

Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.

Services and Locations