East Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1850. Envelope or Cover. This three-page stampless folded letter measures 15.5” x 9.5” unfolded. It is datelined “East Cambridge July 7th/50”. The front panel bears a circular East Cambridge postmark dated 8 July and a black “5” postal rate handstamp. It was sent by G. Patch to his brother, Andrew Patch, in Canaan, New Hampshire. Transcript included.
East Cambridge Jail received considerable ill-favored press in 1841 after a newly-hired Sunday School teacher, Dorthea Dix, was outraged by the conditions she found there, especially for insane female inmates. Subsequently, Dix became an aggressive, vociferous, and nationally successful advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.
By 1850, the 11-cell “Jail” had expanded to include a “House of Corrections [with] Hospital . . . work-shops and chapel [and] two separate buildings for the insane, one for males and the other for females.” (See the Cambridge Chronicle, 1 March 1849.) It also, had apparently become a much more humane institution, as Patch’s letter describing Independence Day festivities attests:
“We had a great time here, we let all the prisoners out in the yard and let them . . . have balls to play with. Some of them could play on a violin so I let them have mine and Mayhew let them have his flutes they had music and dancing for a little while some of them would turn heels over head some walk on their hands and most all kinds of tricks that you could think of. M. Sherman [the warden] bought half a box of lemons and made them some lemonade and give them roast pig stuffed for dinner.”
Patch also discusses the upcoming hangings of Daniel Pearson, who had cut the throats of his wife and four-year old twin daughters, and Harvard Professor John Webster, who had brutally slain, dismembered, attempted to dissolve in acid, and finally partially cremated a wealthy Boston businessman, George Parkman.
“I expect that we shall have a great time here the 26th this month Pearsons will be hung between the hours of 8 and 11 in the forenoon, Professor Webster will know this week whether he will be hung or not he has made a confession and owns that he killed Parkman how he done it and what he done it with there is not the least doubt but that he will be hung.“
Patch goes on to discuss other family matters and local news to include noting that “the small Pox is pretty thick in the city.”. Very good. Item #009572
The Webster trial rocked Boston at the time and was significant because it was one of the first, if not the first time dental forensic evidence was successfully used to convict a murderer.