Processing the records of a state agency director can often be unsatisfying. While the folders of historically important correspondence, reports, and meeting minutes describe the inner workings of an agency, they usually reveal very little about the individuals running it. However, that is not always the case. While processing what initially appeared to be unremarkable 20th century Western State Hospital (WSH) superintendent’s records, I discovered a treasure trove of personal material related to one of Virginia’s most (in)famous physicians, Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette.
A celebrated physician and psychiatrist during the early decades of the 20th century, Dr. DeJarnette is most famous for his support and involvement in the eugenics movement, which included support for sterilization of the “feeble minded,” alcoholics, drug addicts, and those suffering from other mental illnesses. He penned the pro-eugenics poem “Mendel’s Law” and lobbied prominently in favor of Virginia’s 1924 compulsory sterilization law. Dr. DeJarnette also served as an expert witness in the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell (1927), which upheld the constitutionality of Virginia’s sterilization legislation. Though his deeds were revered during his lifetime, Dr. DeJarnette’s legacy is something most find rather repugnant today. Due to DeJarnette’s eugenics advocacy, the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services in 2001 changed the name of the DeJarnette Center for Human Development (formerly DeJarnette State … read more »
Five years ago, Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured at least 17 others before turning the gun on himself. The 16 April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, I created a web archive collection, Tragedy at Virginia Tech, in order to capture the Commonwealth’s “on-line” response. Included in the collection are the websites of Virginia Tech, the Office of the Governor, and the Virginia Tech Review Panel. I remember creating the collection because of the “historic” nature of the shooting. I confess that I initially viewed that day’s events with the emotional detachment of an archivist/historian. But what made it “historic?” The number of people killed? The 32 people who died that day are not numbers – they had names, families, hopes and dreams – a future. The biographies captured in the Tragedy at Virginia Tech collection quickly shattered my impassiveness. What I saw as “historic” in 2007 is an ever present tragedy for the families who lost their loved ones. It is a wound that time cannot heal.
I was reminded of this when I began processing the e-mail records of Governor Tim Kaine’s administration. The Kaine administration transferred to the Library of Virginia approximately 1.3 million e-mail messages from 215 … read more »
In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912 murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster. The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March. The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912. The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders. On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster. The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen. He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy. Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder. Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.
The execution did not happen in November. In order to … read more »
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Wesley Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 27 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. Edwards was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Wesley Edwards:
“The first day I was in prison I ran into Wesley Edwards on the steps of the Industrial Department and started a conversation with him. As soon as I told him where I was from, he at once extended his hand, with a smile, and said he was glad to see someone from near his old home, though he was sorry to see me in trouble. I in turn extended my sympathy to him. My thoughts of him were many, the chief one being how strange it seemed that this tall, blue-eyed, young fellow could be so jovial and so interested in his work. He was even then in a hurry, had saw-dust in his hair and on
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Allen, brother of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 35 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for the crimes of first, second and third degree murder. Allen was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Sidna Allen:
“I at last had an opportunity to go through the carpenter shop where I saw Sidna Allen…I stopped and watched him for a while at his work, before I went over and talked with him. He was working with as much zeal as any man who owned and operated a manufacturing plant. His hair was a silvery gray, though tinted with the yellow saw-dust, and his face pale, though it had the illuminated appearance of a pure Christian man….After talking with him a little while I found that the expression on his face was only revealing the man as he was; a true Christian man. Sunday morning and any time he had a spare, you could see him sitting around reading the Bible and enjoying the words he was daily
In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, plead guilty to second-degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. He was sentenced to 15 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Edwards was a model prisoner. The 27 April 1922 issue of The Beacon, the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, contained this observation of Sidna Edwards by a fellow prisoner:
“[I] noticed a stalwart looking man standing on the prison hospital steps. He had a young, though sad looking face, his hair was beginning to silver and his general expression showed much pain and worry for a young man of his seeming age. I remarked to another prisoner that the big, young fellow seemed rather under the weather. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is Sidna Edwards. He has rheumatism and has been in the hospital a long time, although not confined to bed. He has the duty of nursing the other patients.’ To describe him takes only a few words, he has one of the most gentle, accommodating, kind and truthful dispositions that I have ever met in any man. He is generally liked and
In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Friel Allen, son of Jasper “Jack” Allen and nephew of Floyd Allen, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of William McDonald Foster, Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Allen was sentenced to 18 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted to the penitentiary on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Allen was a model prisoner. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Friel Allen:
“I had noticed a well-dressed young man passing through the yard of the prison, and on asking who he was I got this reply: ‘that is the Superintendent’s Chauffeur, Friel Allen.’ I immediately remarked that he was only a boy, that if he had been here ten years and looked that now, he must have been only a kid when he was sent here. I ventured up for a talk with him, expecting a sad answer, but not so, he sprang a friendly joke on me right away and began to kid me, showing his youth and good spirits. Our association from then on became more intimate, especially evenings.
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition. Next Wednesday, 14 March marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous “Hillsville Massacre,” where five people were killed in a gunfight in the Carroll County courthouse. For the next week, Out of the Box will spotlight records at the Library of Virginia related to the individuals convicted for their role in the shooting.
On 13 March 1912, in the Carroll County Circuit Court, Floyd Allen was tried for attacking two deputies who had arrested two of his nephews for fighting and disturbing a religious meeting. The jury found Allen guilty of assault on 14 March and sentenced him to one year in the penitentiary. Allen stood up and stated, “Gentlemen, I ain’t going” and shots erupted in the courthouse leaving several county officials and a spectator dead. The Allen family claimed that several court officials opened fire on Floyd Allen, while other witnesses contended that Claude Swanson Allen, the defendant’s son, began the shooting. Nevertheless, Floyd Allen, Claude Swanson Allen, and other members of the Allen family were tried for murder in the Wythe County Circuit Court from April-December 1912. Floyd Allen was convicted of first degree murder on 16 May 1912. Claude S. Allen was also found guilty of first degree murder. Father and son were executed on 28 March 1913.
Sidna Allen, Floyd’s brother, was sentenced … read more »
On Sunday 20 January 1907, Ed Baker, a “one leg Italian” with “a bad face”, escaped from the State Convict Road Force camp near Williamsburg. Baker, one of the camp cooks, made his break at 6:07 a.m. when a guard sent him to get some wood. The alarm was sounded at 6:15 and a manhunt begun. Baker, who had a wooden leg and only an eight-minute head start, was not easy to recapture. The Virginia Gazette reported that Baker was pursued by several guards as well as local citizens and students for nearly nine hours. Baker was finally caught at 3 pm by guard R.F. Morris – 20 miles from the camp! The guard in charge of Baker when he escaped was fired. That evening camp Sgt. W.B. Pattie wrote Penitentiary Superintendent E.F. Morgan that ”a man who can’t hold 4 men with a shot gun & pistol is no good to me.” Baker was also punished. Even though Baker only had one leg, Pattie “put a ball and chain on that and will give him 39 [lashes] in the morning.”
The State Convict Road Force was created by the General Assembly in 1906 as part of the Withers-Lassiter “good roads” law that created the State Highway Commission. The Penitentiary was responsible for … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Mary L. Morst, the subject of this week’s post, was pregnant when she arrived at the Penitentiary.
In October 1912, Mary Morst was sentenced by the Pittsylvania County Circuit Court to 18 years in the Penitentiary for murdering her husband. Morst’s mug shot, taken upon her arrival at the Penitentiary on 14 October 1912, clearly shows she is pregnant. On 13 January 1913, Morst gave birth to twins: Joseph and Martha. What would happen to her children?
The Code of Virginia provided the answer. Section 4124 of the Code stated that “an infant accompanying a convict mother to the penitentiary, or born after her imprisonment therein, shall be returned, on attaining the age of four years, to the county or city from which the mother came, to be disposed of as the County Court of said county…may order.” The Penitentiary’s annual reports from 1875 to 1918 include a list of children in the Penitentiary. The list includes the name of the child, date and place of birth, race, sex and name of mother. An additional list of children in the Penitentiary from 1926 to 1932 can be found in the back of a Death Register (volume 124). It is … read more »