Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of History

Content Description

1 online resource (xii, 274 pages) : illustrations (1 color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

G.J. Barker-Benfield

Committee Members

Jennifer Greiman, Richard F. Hamm


Antebellum U.S., Prison, Prisoners, Reform, Prisons, Prison reformers

Subject Categories



The dissertation focuses on Pennsylvania and New York state prisons, and their inmates, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. After the American War for Independence, politicians and reformers influenced by Christianity, Enlightenment philosophy, British prison reformers, and their personal experiences, replaced public punishments with incarceration at hard labor. Prisoners at the first Pennsylvania and New York state prisons maintained their pre-incarceration customs, formed communities of opposition, resisted confinement, and by the late 1810s and early 1820s, had largely taken control of the prisons. Reformers responded by formulating new architectural designs and stricter disciplinary regimens. At New York's antebellum state prisons, prisoners were to silently labor together during the day, and spend their nights inside solitary cells. Contemporaries called the disciplinary system that developed in New York the "Auburn System." In Pennsylvania, legislators authorized the construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary, where prisoners were to spend their entire sentence at work inside a solitary cell. Contemporaries called Eastern State's regimen, the "Pennsylvania System." Inside antebellum state prisons, prisoners resisted incarceration. They attempted to undermine forced isolation and labor. Guards responded by torturing and whipping prisoners. Antebellum state prisons did not reform prisoners; they destroyed convicts.

Included in

History Commons