African-Americans, Alabama, Appalachia, Arthur I. Boreman, civil war, history, J.W. McWhorter, Moundsville, North Carolina, Ohio River, Potomac River, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, West Virginia State Penitentiary
HISTORY OF THE WEST VIRGINIA PENITENTIARY.
WRITTEN BY A PRISONER.
In 1863 the state was admitted as one of the constellation of states of the union. Virginia had seceded from the union by a majority vote. The strong and indomitable minority citizens of the Old Dominion residing in the western part of it, many of whom were Scotch and Irish descendants and natives of the adjoining states, who had taken up their homes in the valleys and on the hillsides, were loyal to the Union, loved well the flag, and reverenced with an undying affection the builders of the union of states for the greater blessing of the people, and stood firm and unyielding for an indivisible united country. By their hands and brave hearts they built a state stretching from the Potomac to the Ohio river, carved out of the Old Dominion. The war-born daughter of the historical commonwealth proved, in subsequent years, to be rich in the production of materials in active demand in the marts of commerce, and she now outstrips her mother state in the race for greatness, prosperity, and happiness.
Many regions of the state are mountainous, and the principal industries are lumbering, mining, and oil production. Many of the white people are typical mountaineers and somewhat rough and uncouth in manner, while the negroes, many of them, have drifted from North and South Carolina, Alabama, and other southern states to be employed in the development of these industries.
There are very many respectable farmers, professional and business men, and cultured ladies residing in these almost inaccessible parts; but the rough element in many places predominates, and the order of the day and night is drinking and brawling, ending as a rule in desperate encounters and murder. Most of the white and black inmates of the penitentiary have been and are now composed of the lawless men from these regions, from the time it was only a stockade of ten acres in 1866, when Hon. J.W. McWhorter of the Tenth Judicial District was appointed warden by Governor Boreman. He resigned this position after viewing it. In a letter to Warden Hawk he states it was for the reason that there was not so much as a building erected for the shelter of the inmates, and he thought he could not work the convicts to advantage under the circumstances. The penitentiary has been improved from time to time to the present, by additions, until it is a massive structure of stone and iron, with a high stone surrounding wall. It has 695 inmates at the present writing.
The center, or main building, is built after the old baronial castellated style of architecture, and with its several stories height, it makes an imposing appearance. It is flanked on the north and south by the stone and strongly-barred buildings, wherein the old and first built stone cells and the modern steel ones–900 in all–are placed. Entrance is to be had into the prison proper by means of a round turning iron-barred cage in the main hallway of the central building.
Source: E.E. Byrum, Behind the Prison Bars: A Reminder of Our Duties Toward Those Who Have Been So Unfortunate as to Be Cast Into Prison (Moundsville, WV: Gospel Trumpet Publishing Co., 1901), pp. 73-75.