The biggest religious influences on New York’s Newgate Penitentiary were Thomas Eddy, the Quaker founder and first agent of the prison from 1796-1804, and John Stanford, a Particular Baptist and the official chaplain of the prison from 1813 until Newgate’s closing in 1828. Particular Baptists, a neo-Calvinist Baptist movement, and Quakers were two different sects to emerge in the wake of the Reformation. The differences between these groups, both in terms of their theology and in terms of their relationships with the state, help explain the transformation of Newgate during the thirty two years it was open. Since these denominations had such a big impact on Newgate, it is important to examine their fundamental beliefs more closely. Quakers and Particular Baptists have important histories in common, including emigration to North America in the 17th century, but they also have important theological differences, especially the contrast between the Quaker focus on “Inner Light” and the Particular Baptist embrace of the Calvinist teaching of “election”.
Jonathan Clarke, a Particular Baptist minister from England, immigrated to Massachusetts to join the Puritans, a radical protestant denomination, in 1637.[i] Clarke was one of many Baptists who took up the cause of religious freedom and came to the Americas.[ii] In a more extreme example, a group Quakers came en masse from England in 1677 with William Penn, and founded Pennsylvania.[iii] Both groups had faced significant persecution from the English government.[iv] By the time Newgate was founded in 1796, both religious groups had been in North America for more than 100 years.
Quaker’s “Inner Light” and Philanthropic Action
Since the founding of the Society of Friends, a fundamental tenet of Quaker belief has been a concept known as “Inner Light.” This idea of Inner Light began with George Fox, who started gaining followers in the 1640s.[v] Fox believed that every person contained the light of God, and the ability to hear Him. Fox justified doctrinally through John 1:9, which discusses about a true light that “lighteth every man.” In Quaker thought, authority figures were not particularly valued, because every person theoretically had the ability to hear God’s will independently. This belief in the value of all individual lives influenced Quakers towards philanthropic action.[vi]
An early example of Inner Light focused action was the Friends opposition to slavery.[vii] Quakers believed that the master-slave relationship disrupted the Inner Light of both parties, in part because the pacifist Friends were unhappy with the violence inherent in owning another human.[viii] In the mid-to-late eighteenth century, Quakers began to proselytize on the evils of slavery.[ix] In 1780 Quaker-founded Pennsylvania became the second colony to ban slavery, after Vermont in 1777.[x]
Quakers, Discipline, and Eddy
A more pragmatic application of Quaker beliefs came from their system of inter-community discipline. In Pennsylvania, where Quakers had governance until 1754, when a Friend transgressed against the group, the Society held meetings where an “overseer” was charged with impressing upon the sinner the error of their ways, so as to recover their Inner Light.[xi] Thomas Eddy tried to replicate this discipline structure within Newgate, where he insisted during his tenure that inspectors be “good, Christian men.”[xii] The system Eddy created was based on ideas in Quaker children’s education, an “enclosed garden”, focused on cooperative work and education, with the inspectors doubling as spiritual instructors.[xiii]
Eddy also believed that prison inspectors should be unpaid, in order to prevent corruption, and listed “benevolence, love of justice, and humanity” as motivators for the job.[xiv] Under Eddy’s structure, inspectors were responsible for the moral welfare of inmates, and Eddy thought that the success of the prison would “depend on the board of inspectors.”[xv] A major responsibility of the inspectors was to prevent the use of corporal punishment on prisoners, which Eddy believed was counter-productive to reform.[xvi] One of the reasons for Eddy’s departure from the prison in 1804 was the gradual firing of the Quaker inspectors, who were replaced with paid bureaucrats, who Eddy did not trust to look after the inmates’ Inner Light.[xvii] In 1819, more than a decade after he had been forced out of Newgate, Eddy wrote to discourage humiliating physical punishment at the city jail, saying, “Though a criminal, he is yet a man”, a belief that reflects the ideal of Inner Light.[xviii]
Particular Baptists and Election
John Stanford’s faith as a Particular Baptist was founded on a belief in “election.”[xix] Election began as a concept with the radical preacher John Calvin, with predestinarian Christian denominations who believe in election thinking that God is an omniscient being who can see all time, and so already knows who is saved and who isn’t. The “elect” are marked out for grace ahead of time, and everyone else is damned. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, election had a revival, known as “Neo-Calvinism”, and Particular Baptists and other such sects gained prominence.[xx] This belief in election is visible in the great lengths Stanford went to save convict George Vanderpool, and others who converted, from the death penalty, while writing off inmates who asked “impertinent” questions about the nature of election as troublemakers.[xxi]
Stanford, Particular Baptists, and Newgate
John Stanford, unlike Thomas Eddy, did not see any place for himself in prison policy.[xxii] Particular Baptists, unlike the pacifist Quakers, believed that the state was authorized by God to use force “for the punishment of evildoers.”[xxiii] Corporal punishment was institutionalized at Newgate in 1819, under Stanford’s tenure, but Stanford never wrote about that debate, privately or publicly.[xxiv] Stanford appeared to give his tacit consent to the practice as the moral leader of the prison. The theological and cultural differences between Thomas Eddy’s Quakerism and John Stanford’s membership in the Particular Baptist church explain many of the cultural differences between Newgate prison’s early years and its later ones.
[ii] Ibid, 71-2
[iii] Jennifer Graber, “‘When Friends Had the Management, It Was Entirely Different’: Quakers and Calvinists in the Making of New York Prison Discipline”, Quaker History, vol. 97, no. 2 (Fall, 2008):19, accessed via PDF October 26th, 2016
[iv] Jennifer Graber, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons & Religion in Antebellum America, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011): 56, ProQuest Ebrary, http://site.ebrary.com.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/lib/fordham/reader.action?docID=10456381#, accessed October 19th, 2016
[v] Graber, The Furnace of Affliction, 22
[vi] Ibid., 22
[vii] Ibid., 23
[viii] Ibid., 23-4
[ix] Ibid., 22-4
[x] PBS. “Slavery and the Making of America Timeline.” PBS. Accessed November 21, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/timeline/1776.html.
[xi] Graber, The Furnace of Affliction, 23
[xii] Graber, “When the Friends had the Management”, 22
[xiii] Graber, The Furnace of Affliction, 28
[xiv] Graber, “When the Friends had the Management”, 22
[xv] Graber, The Furnace of Affliction, 34
[xvi] Ibid., 35
[xvii] Graber, “When the Friends had the Management”, 28
[xviii] Ibid., 30
[xix] Graber, The Furnace of Affliction, 55
[xxi] Charles G. Sommers, Memoir of the Reverend John Stanford, D.D. (New York, Stanford and Swords: 1844), 234-237, 159, https://archive.org/details/revjohnstanfordd00somm, accessed October 19th, 2016
[xxii] Graber, The Furnace of Affliction, 71
[xxiii] Ibid., 57
[xxiv] Ibid., 63, 71
Figure 1- Guilliam de Ville via Wikimedia Commons. Portrait of a Clergyman. c. 1659. Redwood Library, Newport RI. Accessed November 28th, 2016. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJohn_Clarke_picture.jpg
Figure 2- Unknown via Wikimedia Commons. William Penn. 18th century. Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire de Neuchatel. Accessed November 28th, 2016. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Penn.png
Figure 3- Lely, Peter via Wikimedia Commons. Portrait of George Fox. 17th century. Swarthmore College. Accessed November 28th, 2016.
Figure 4- Unknown via Wikimedia Commons. Portrait of a Man. 1550’s. Hedwig Freifrau von Polnitz. Accessed November 28th, 2016.