The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict
January 31, 2016 9:10 AM   Subscribe

An expert in prison literature, Smith felt sure that the book was written by someone with firsthand knowledge of 19th-century correctional facilities. And if Haunted Convict was a genuine account, it would be groundbreaking: the earliest-known narrative penned by an African-American prisoner.
posted by a strong female character (7 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My feelings on this are some mix of "very cool find!" and "wtf is wrong with us"?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

More about Austin Reed's life and his book. A scan of the manuscript is available online, hosted by Yale University.
posted by metaquarry at 9:47 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

Man, what an amazingly valuable find. Things like this make me wish for an afterlife, if only so that Reed could know that his memoir is being published.

Anyone else highly curious about that estate sale, though? The manuscript has stayed in or at least around Rochester, it would seem, but who took possession of it and has been keeping it (and keeping it a secret) this whole time? Presumably someone who wasn't aware of it's value, but still, that's phenomenal...
posted by Navelgazer at 1:20 PM on January 31, 2016

I'm curious about his later life. This article says the two letters in his file were written to the superintendent in 1895. Was he back in the prison? Writing to him for some other reason from outside? The fact that the manuscript was still in the same locale makes me think it might have been in the hands of family up until the estate sale, so I wonder if they know anything more.
posted by tavella at 1:27 PM on January 31, 2016

A quick search on shows that he received a restoration (of voting rights and so forth, stripped on his felony conviction) from NY Gov. Samuel J. Tildey in August 1876, so one assumes the subsequent correspondence was not prompted by further imprisonment.
posted by mwhybark at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

How interesting. This might be a good read, I'll keep an eye out for it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:45 PM on January 31, 2016

NYT article also. The amount of physical torture, specifically whippings, doled out in prisons back in the day was stunning. Even more stunning is how long the practice stuck around. The brutality of the southern prisons, like Parchman, is well known but even San Quentin had a whipping post. I've read memoirs where the practice continued into the early 20th century.
posted by LoveHam at 3:43 PM on January 31, 2016

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