Intended as a model of Jacksonian penal reform, the Eastern State Penitentiary operated in the Cherry Hill section of Philadelphia between 1829 and 1970. Designed to promote the moral reform of prisoners by imposing a regimen of silent, solitary self-reflection, the penitentiary became the purest example of the "Pennsylvania plan" of "cellular isolation."
The Records of the Eastern State Penitentiary consist of seven bound volumes and a series of miscellaneous records and correspondence that document aspects of life in Jacksonian America's model prison. The collection has been organized into four series: Series I, Bound Volumes; Series II, Miscellaneous Records; Series III, Correspondence of Elizabeth Velora Elwell; and Series IV, Prisoners' Correspondence. The bound volumes contain records of admission for prisoners between 1830 and 1892 (with some gaps), three of which were kept and annotated by the Moral Instructor at the prison, Thomas Larcombe. Larcombe provided interesting comments on the "moral state" of each prisoner, in addition to data on name, age, gender and race, religious affiliation, the charges, sentence, and final disposition. The unbound materials in the collection are diverse, but include an important 70 page manuscript comprising the records of the joint commission charged with investigating management of the prison in 1835, with a partial transcript of testimony, and a series of 29 letters written to or from prisoners at Eastern State, 1845-1871, most unusually the inmate Elizabeth Velora Elwell, writing to her paramour and fellow inmate Albert Green Jackson.