Implements of torture, and their dangerous effects illustrated.
By James Akin no. 18 Prune Street Philadelphia. Taken from Mcelwee’s detailed statements.
“The iron gag of its natural size locked upon Mathias Maccumsey, a convict from Lancaster County sentenced to the cells for manslaughter, who dies with it in his mouth, in the Eastern State Penitentiary, of Pennsylvania, June 1833.
In open defiance of all the known maxims of law, and contrary to the Legislative enactments, a convict was compelled to endure the appalling tortures of this infernal contrivance, formerly speaking to a fellow prisoner. In a land too, where Tyranny, and Oppression, is held in utter abhorrence, and Liberty, Equality, and a just enjoyment of rights, are the constant boasting of the people!!! The Spanish Inquisitions cannot exhibit a more fearful and barbarous mode, beyond all human endurance. It ought to be forever abolished!!!”
Illustrated handbill containing an image of the “iron gag,” an iron palet placed over the tongue and chained around the jaw. Also contains a paragraph of text calling for the abolition of the device after condemning its use on the convict “for merely speaking to a fellow prisoner” as antithetical to the “liberty, equality, and a just enjoyment of the rights” espoused by the people.” Maccumsey was a 44 year old man serving his second of twelve years for murder when punished with the iron gag after continually talking to inmates, an infraction at the prison founded upon Quaker principles of solitude and silence as measures for reform.
Thomas McElwee was a member of the legislative investigative committee monitoring Eastern State Penitentiary who wrote the critical “A Concise History of the Eastern Penitentiary of Pennsylvania :….” (Philadelphia, 1835).
The numeral “8” on the lock of the gag refers to the item number assigned this device in a description of various forms of punitive discipline used in the penitentiary, published in Thomas B. McElwee’s ‘Concise History…’
(image from: The Library Company of Philadelphia)