"Our Illustrations of the Black Hole in Washington," Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Dec. 28, 1861, 86

Having commented editorially upon the cruelties practiced in Washington jail on a number of prisoners, whose sole offence is their color, we have only to add, in explanation of our illustrations, that, in obedience to the resolution of the Senate, Marshal Lamon presented, on Thursday his report, which shows that 170 of the prisoners have been committed under a charge of some criminal offence, these being white and black. All but six have been committed under a charge of some criminal offence, these being white and black. All but six have been committed within the present year, and those in the latter part of last year. Besides these, 14 whites have been committed under military authority for insubordination and violation of the rules of war. All the rest of the prisoners, 51 in number, are persons of color, committed as runaway slaves, excepting five for “safe keeping.”

Our readers will perceive from our illustrations that such atrocities place us almost upon a level with the King of Dahomey, whose system has the great advantage of being speedier in putting the victims out of their misery.

With every wish to avoid the sickly sentiment into which too many of our Abolition journals fall, when descanting upon their pet subject, the negro, it is impossible to read such passages as these without the sternest indignation:

“A number of free and slave colored women are here to be found incarcerated for months on trifling charges of theft, on mere suspicion, who have had no trial. Their cases should be investigated. One grinning girl was asked why she was in prison. ‘I dunno; murder or sum’thin. Them two other gals is in, too.’ The doctor said that a negro woman had been murdered somewhere, and three girls had been imprisoned on suspicion, without a shadow of proof.

“A poor skeleton creature was dying from a cancer on the thigh. It had been cauterized repeatedly, and her sufferings were constant and extreme; yet no additional comforts were provided her. She had the same thin mattress on the stone floor, the same thin blanket, and the same poor food as the rest. And this applied to all except two poor fugitives, who entered the prison strong and well, but were now confined together in a small cell without fire—one with typhus and the other totally helpless with pneumonia. In addition to their one blanket and hard mattress, they were each allowed a cot.
“On leaving the colored women, we remarked that we would endeavor to procure them a trial. ‘God Almighty thank you, sir! Thank God! Thank God! Was the reply. ‘Good-bye, sir! God bless you, sir!”

Some of the cases are peculiarly flagitious—among them is Harriet Wilson, a neat and respectable colored woman, aged 45. She was brought to Washington by Ex-Senator Morton, of Florida, now a rebel officer, and has been coolly placed in this Black Hold by his wife, till the rebellion shall be over, when she boldly proclaims she means to reclaim her. Mrs. Morton has escaped to the Confederate States. Comment is superfluous. Caroline West, a colored girl, belonging to John H. Low, a rebel, is also imprisoned. Her master beat her violently, and she ran away. She was arrested at Washington by the authorities, and has been here ever since.

One of our Artist’s sketches represents a great outrage upon humanity, leaving justice entirely out of the question—it is the fellowship of the witness and the criminal. Here in the same cell is confined a young and ingenuous female with a hardened offender! Here in the same cell is the woman who is to take her trial for an offence, which her companion and “fellow-prisoner” is to prove! Here is no difference shown between the innocent and the guilty, but a diabolical effort made to convert the former into a criminal herself. Has Austrian or Neapolitan despotism any thing worse to show?

The Philadelphia Enquirer gives the following description of the lazar-house, in which 20 are confined. It is 20 feet square, and has a hot stove in it. One of the poor witnesses says, “My head is hot—my tongue is parched—my sufferings are almost unspeakable—as early morning creeps on the fire dies out—and the cold air is painful from the reaction.” Some of them have not had a change of clothes for eight months and many more for three. Dr. Duhamel says that it is with the utmost difficulty that he keeps down typhus by constant fumigations whitewashing, and a distribution of chloride of lime. There are also other details which we do not go into. Sufficient to say, that the existence of this pest-house should not be tolerated for another day.

Some of these unhappy slaves are as nearly white as possible, and were, doubtless, the children of some unnatural planter, whose humanity has been crushed, like his loyalty, by that odious system which he proclaims to be “divine.” With such revelations to guide us, who can doubt what direction the conflict ought to take and where it will end? Justice must be done, even though the pet Institution of our half-breed politicians should perish.


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