Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Jail Business

As a family historian researching an ancestor from 150 years ago, I feel very fortunate that Thomas Probert left such a great paper trail. As the Mt. Sterling jailer, he had to submit his expenses for reimbursement quarterly to the county. Since these were government records, they were later transferred to the Kentucky Department of Library and Archives. A visit to the Archives uncovered numerous records for invoices that Thomas Probert submitted to the county. Better yet, they were written in his own hand.

The Archives had four boxes of records from Mt. Sterling that included many invoices similar to the one below.

These ledger sheets listed the name of the prisoner, the date, their alleged crime and costs associated with their incarceration. I scanned several of these sheets and created a spreadsheet to see what kinds of crimes the good people of Mt. Sterling were committing and with whom Thomas was spending his days.

This small sample included five prisoners accused of murder, one rape, one case of horse-stealing, and several cases of grand larceny. Included in the records were several invoices for the transportation of prisoners to the penitentiary in Frankfort and other locations. In the case below, Thomas and the prisoner traveled by stage coach from Mt. Sterling to Lexington and then took a train from Lexington to Frankfort. This trip took three days round trip -- a trip that could be completed in hours today.

I was intrigued that one of his longest-held prisoner was a woman named Abigail Stephens who was accused of murder. Because of my love of historical newspapers, I looked her up to get the details of her case. Her story was very much a surprise -- one I will share in the next post.

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