Waterboarding black inmates in NY state prison in 1858

Abraham Hyatt says,

The furor over waterboarding is _so_ 2006, but I just found a digital clip from an Dec. 18, 1858 Harper's Weekly(?) article on the use of water torture in New York state prisons more than 150 years ago.

The story centers on a prisoner killed by torture, and is illustrated with a drawing titled "The Negro Convict, More, Showered To Death." Despite a datedly racist sentence ("Like most negros, he entertained a lively fear of cold."), it's a disturbing read.

But what's most interesting is how it echos so many news stories from last year. Just before the article jumps to a second page -- the New York Public Library only has the first page of the story -- we find that prison officials, unbeknownst to the public, had been using water torture "as a means of coercing criminals into submission" for more than a decade. And that officials apparently started using water after other torture techniques -- i.e. whipping -- led to prisoner deaths and public outcry.

Link to New York Public Library Digital Image ID: 814245.

Full text from article after the jump.

Text:

We need no longer, it seems, travel to China or Japan for illustrations of torture. A visit to our own penitentiaries and prisons will furnish all the horrors that the curious appetite can desire.

A year ago we published an account of the poor-houses of this State. Our account was derived from the Report of a Legislative Committee. It showed, in brief, that, as a general rule, paupers and other inmates of the State benevolent institutions were not adequately protected against the cold; that the sexes herded together promiscuously at night; and that, in many instance, poor wretched idiots, half-starved and ill-clad, had actually frozen to death in their cells in State institutions.

We now present a far more fearful picture of the mismanagement of our public institutions for the confinement and correction of criminals. On 21 inst. a convict named More, imprisoned in the State Prison at Auburn, was showered to death by the prison officials. The circumstances of the case are simply as follows:

The convict, More, was a negro. He is certified to have been a man of naturally pleasant temper, but violent when crossed. On 1st inst. he was said to have been in a bad humor; he was seen, or is said to have been seen, to sharpen a knife, and mutter threats against someone; on the strength of which he was, on 24 inst., seized by several keepers or deputy-keepers of the State Prison, and by them dragged toward the shower-bath for punishment. It seems he stood in dire dread of the the shower-baths. Like most negros, he entertained a lively fear of cold. He knew that the water of the shower bath would be very cold indeed; and after vainly appealing to the feelings of his captors to release him, he broke away from and and fled -- be it remarked -- to the shop where he was in the habit of working. At the door of the shop a convict arrested him; a keeper and his assistants swiftly followed; he was dragged by main force, and after many violent struggles, to the shower-bath; all the
water that was in the tank -- amounting to from three to five barrels, the quantity is uncertain -- was showered upon him in spite of his piteous cries; a few minutes after his release from the bath he fell prostrate, was carried to his cell, and died in five minutes."

It is this homicide that we this week illustrate.

The use of the shower-bath as a means of coercing criminals into submission to the orders of prison authorities began to be general about the year 1845. In that year a convict at the Auburn State Prison was whipped by order of competent authority, and died under the lash. The public indignation which was aroused by the even led to the abolishment of whipping as a punishment in the prisons of State of New York. It was preserved in other States. [Illegible] instance, in Connecticut, in [illegible] State Prison wardens are authorized to this to administer [illegible]...

Reader commment: SmartAZ says,

Waterboarding is a considerably nicefied version of what the German torturers did in WWII. They didn't bother with the board. They just stuck a towel in the victim's -- uh, excuse me, I mean the suspect's -- mouth and poured water on the towel. The swallow reflex took over, and the suspect began to swallow the towel. When the towel was half way in they would drag it out, leaving a very sore throat.

David Raikow points out that the form of abuse described above is technically not waterboarding:

There are lots of really horrendous forms of water torture. Waterboarding is one; this post appears to refer to another.

mrneutrongodeon says,

There's something else that's pretty dubious in one of the comments:

Waterboarding is a considerably nicefied version of what the German torturers did in WWII. They didn't bother with the board. They just stuck a towel in the victim's -- uh, excuse me, I mean the suspect's -- mouth and poured water on the towel. The swallow reflex took over, and the suspect began to swallow the towel. When the towel was half way in they would drag it out, leaving a very sore throat.

I'm pretty sure there's no "swallow reflex" involved in waterboarding either. The gag reflex involves *closing* the throat and *expelling* material, not ingesting it. It also occurs to me that if the "swallow reflex" existed rather than the more common "gag reflex", certain talented adult performers wouldn't be able to make the kind of money that they do.