Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown, who moved from Cincinnati to Kentucky in 1850, was arrested, tried in Union Count, and convicted in 1854 on local suspicions that he was helping slaves escape, while his wife was forced to flee to Indiana.

Brown was transferred to the Kentucky state penitentiary on May 8, 1855, where he donned prison garb and had his head shaved. He alleged sexual abuse of women in the prison by prison officials1 On p. 16 of his account:

When Mr. Brown had been in the prison a short time, he was ordered to carry some reels of hempen yarn from the Rope Walk, up stairs; he was required to carry four in each hand at a time. … One morning, in attempting to ascend the stairs, he let a reel fall. Complaint was made that “Old Brown had worn himself out stealing negroes, and would not work;” whereupon he was stripped, and flogged with the ‘cat’ till his blood ran upon the floor …

Brown was also ordered by Zebulon Ward to help build the new buildings being constructed on the grounds, and to endure constant “jibes, not curses, not only from the officers, but the poor convicts themselves, because he was called an ‘Abolitionist,’” along with several others in the prison accused of aiding slaves to escape, including Fairbanks. According to the account of his years in prison, on p. 17:

On his arrival at the State Prison, the head keeper was extremely glad to get another ‘Abolitionist,’ as he called him, in his power, expressing with an oath, a wish to be permitted to hang all such.

At one time Mr. Brown was sent to a keeper’s house, of an errand, and, it must be remembered, that on the streets of Frankfort, the same as within the walls, he wore the prison garb.

“I am sorry,” said Mrs. Ward, with womanly humanity, “to see so old a man as you, in the State Prison.”

“I am there unjustly, madam,” he replied.

“But did not a jury of your countrymen find you guilty?” she inquired.

“No madam,” he replied, “they sold me. They valued my poor old head at five hundred pieces of silver, and my Divine Master, they sold for thirty pieces. They called him a blasphemer, and a wine bibber, and they have slandered me, also.”

See also Tim Talbott’s post on Thomas Brown’s memoir.

  1. See Brown’s three years in the Kentucky prisons : from May 30, 1854, to May 18, 1857 (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Company, 1858), link.