Category Archives: Biographies

Charles Wilson

On New Year’s Day in 1844, Charles Wilson was born to Protestant parents in New York City. His father sold fruit on the street, and his mother worked odd jobs as a seamstress. Charles grew up poor, in a tenement building on the Lower East Side.

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Peter H. Cisco

Peter H. Cisco was born into slavery in 1855, on Shirley Plantation, in Charles City County, Virginia. Peter’s mother was a domestic servant for the plantation owners, and his father worked the tobacco fields. Peter lived the first seven years of his life in slavery, but early one morning in April 1862, everything changed. The Civil War had been raging on for a year, and Peter’s parents, living so tantalizingly close to the border with the free North, decided to plan an escape, in an effort to guarantee a better future for Peter.


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William McCarthy

William McCarthy was born on February 3, 1843 in New York City. Hazel-eyed, with flaming red hair and a ruddy complexion, William, a Catholic, fit the stereotypical mold of the tough Irishman exactly. William’s parents died when he was just 5 years old, leaving him orphaned and alone in the streets of New York City. He spent the rest of his young life in the orphanage on 73rd Street and Riverside Drive, with hundreds of other parentless children. There, cared for by the women who ran the orphanage, William learned lifelong skills. He was taught reading and writing, and he also learned mechanical skills which enabled him to become a laborer as a young adult. Most importantly, growing up in an orphanage taught William how to survive in tough situations and how to assert himself in a group setting. To get the best chore assignments, to gain favor with the orphanage directors, to be first on line for meals, William had to be tough, relentless, and cunning.

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Edward Johnson

Born on April 15, 1856, Edward Johnson had a gift – he could paint. Edward was born in Danville, Missouri, but he moved many times over the years with his parents. Edward’s parents were both Protestant religious artists, his father a traveling gospel singer and his mother a mildly successful poet among Southern congregations. Edward’s parents fostered his love of art and encouraged his painting from a young age, and they taught Edward that the true beauty and value of any art is in how that art serves God and His Kingdom. Edward spent many years of his young life on the road with his parents, improving his painting skills. The family even lived in the West for a while, in Kansas, Oregon, and California. But in the winter of 1876, everything changed. Edward’s entire family contracted influenza. Edward was better soon, but his parents suffered immensely in the winter months, both eventually succumbing to the illness in March of 1877.

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William Clarke

William Clarke was born on May 23, 1858. He grew up in Raymond, New Hampshire, a small town just outside Manchester. William’s parents and aunt were servants for a wealthy family that was part of the New England aristocracy. William’s mother Ruth, was the personal maid for Mrs. Anne Richardson, his father Jack was the head butler, under the supervision of Anne’s husband Thomas, and his aunt Mary was the head cook. William was lucky to grow up in the Richardson’s home – Anne and Thomas loved the Clarkes, and they treated them well. Anne and Thomas were older when William was born, and their children were already grown, so they loved having a child around again, and they included William and his parents as part of their family.

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Biographies: Judge Henry Gildersleeve and Recorder Frederick Smyth

“Tradition, education, physical surroundings, race, class and professional solidarity, and economic, political, and social influences of all sorts and degrees make up a complex environment in which men endeavor to reach certain results by means of legal machinery. No discussion simply in terms of men or of legal and political machinery, or both, ignoring this complex environment, will serve”. [1]

-Dean Pound, nineteenth century legal scholar

In order to understand how the members of the New York City judiciary contributed to the definition of the criminal class, it is important to know how they came to occupy their lofty position in the criminal justice system. Each of these men brought with him a wealth of past experience and a host of prejudices, both conscious and subconscious. In an effort to take these factors into account and deepen the analysis of each judge’s particular biases, brief biographies of Judge Gildersleeve and Recorder Smyth are presented below. The biographies foreground the subsequent discussion of the judges’ role in shaping the city’s perception of the criminal type.

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Amos Squire, Chief Physician


In 1914, Dr. Amos O. Squire accepted a full time position as chief physician at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. Thanks to public fascination with the prison system, Squire became a minor celebrity in Ossining and began to record his experiences in writing following his retirement. Through numerous newspaper interviews and the final manuscript of his autobiography published in 1935, Sing Sing Doctor, Dr. Squire offered little known insight into prison healthcare in the early 1900’s.

Early jacket for Squire’s autobiography, Sing Sing Doctor (1).

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