Descriptive Roll of Inmates at the SC Penitentiary

The South Carolina Penitentiary began to put records into books in the late 1860’s or this is where the record keeping has been preserved. The Central Register, The Descriptive Roll of prisoners, Prisoners Lost By Death, Escapes and Discharges and The Execution files, are all contained in the Central Registers. In the Descriptive Roll of Prisoners, there is listed the prisoners name, occupation, age, race, height, weight, County of residence, County of Sentence, date of sentence, date of the expiration of sentence, crime, and comments as to the outcome of the incarceration, whether sentence was commuted, prisoner escaped, was discharged or whether he or she died and how, and sometimes identifying marks or scars.

In the South Carolina Penitentiary records there is a mixture of emotions. In reading some of the records, you will find children, boys and girls, men and women, that committed crimes from stealing a horse to murder. The crimes are horse stealing, cow stealing, rape, murder, aiding criminals, fraud, bigamy, attempted burglary, assault and battery and larceny.

In some cases, murderers were sentenced to less time than someone who had been convicted of assault or stealing. Rape, in most cases was punishable by execution or hanging, if they survived the lynch mobs. The punishment did not always fit the crime or vise versa. The punishment seemed to have been more severe for blacks than for whites.

In Vol. I of this collection, there were some 1300+ inmates, of those, approximately 1100 were black. Many of the incarcerations were of black males between the ages of 10 to 30. The high crime rate among blacks, was the result of several factors. Newly emancipated slaves were not readily given work, other than the work that they had been previously accustomed to. Slave labor. In order to survive, they stole, they killed for money, or they killed in the process of their crime. During the period of prohibition, violation of the Liquor Law was high on the list. Liquor was another factor. Bootleg alcohol was made so available, that a crime was usually the end result of one’s alcoholic spree. Surprisingly enough, there were a few cases in which someone white murdered a black individual, and was sentenced to either life imprisonment or sentenced to hang until he be dead.

In an 1860 Virginia Paper, "The Spectator, October 16, 1860, this was an account of a white man’s burden:

"The Late Slave Murder Case" Mecklenburg County, Virginia

Charles Hudson was tried and convicted for the murder of his slave women, Jane on the morning of the 4th of July at 8 o’clock. Before sentencing, the Judge gave an impeccable speech; On Monday morning, the last day of the Court, Judge Gholson pronounced sentence upon him, as follows:

".....Charles Hudson, you have been regularly tried for the murder of your own slave. You have been defended with great ability, and a jury of your own country have found you guilty of murder in the second degree, and fixed the term of your confinement in the Penitentiary at eighteen years.

Then there was the amnesty, around Christmas, he who murdered was sometimes among those that were pardoned by the Governor, free to go out and murder again.

In the Execution Files, there are pictures of the convicts, along with fingerprints, rap sheets, next of kin or relatives, marital status, crime, place of burial and date of execution and whether they were pardoned or their sentence was commuted. Of the 136 files available, 2 were women, who were Electrocuted for their crimes.

Prison records show that Samuel Wright was the 227th victim to die in the South Carolina electric chair since it went into service about 1912. Samuel Wright was executed January 13th 1956. The first electrocution was of William Reid, Cue, Aug 6 1912, charged with Assault With Intent to Ravish.

Inmates Lost By Death was by far the most disturbing to me. To think that Pompey Jones, age 16, was sentenced to 2 years for Larceny in July 1867, and died July 17 1868, or Samson Flood, age 19, sentenced to 2 years for horse stealing, December 1867 to July 1869, died January 28 1868, or Jim Mouzon, age 35, sentenced to 1 year from March 10, 1868 to March 9, 1869, but died 3 month after incarceration, June 26 1868, or Ben Salmonds, age 27, was sentenced to 3 years from April 11, 1868 to March 30 1871, but he expired November 12 1868 or Essex Bull age 21, sentenced to 3 years for Murder from May 14 1868 to May 12 1871, but he too, expired, one month later, June 28 1868, and the list goes on.

Reading about Albert Harrison, a 10 year old, was also disturbing. Albert, was listed as a shoemaker from Charleston. He was charged with Larceny and sentenced to 2 years at hard labor from June 1869 to Jun 17 1871. He was fortunate enough to have been pardoned July 15 1870. John Dozier, age 12 of Charleston, sentenced to 18 months for Petit Larceny, William Griffin, age 13 years 9 months, Edmond Timbers, age 15, Henry Swan, age 15, Lazarus Johnson, age 14, Robert Brown, age 13, Nathan Perry, age 11, Albert Harrison, age 10 and this list goes on.

This information is important to the researcher that wants to place an ancestor in a given place at a given time. Many of the inmates are from SC, while other were from elsewhere.

I am presently working on a book with all of this information in it. The South Carolina Penitentiary records contain 10 volumes of Descriptive rolls of inmates, prisoners lost by death, escapes discharges and pardons, and the execution files, which contain information on inmates that were executed from 1912 to 1965, these executions also contain the mugshots of the executed and background information. These records can be viewed at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, in Columbia South Carolina. Many of the volumes have already been indexed by me and a forthcoming book is in the works.


Misc. Inmates

Aaron - Bright

Brockinton - Cuthbert

Daniels - Guyler

Hagood - Lynch

Mack - Purvis

Raiford - Turner

Vanderhurst - Young



Botched Executions

Executions 2008

Executions By State

Lethal Injection

More Descriptive Rolls

Petition's For Pardon's

Prisoner's Lost By Death

The Execution Files

Upcoming Executions






The information contained within, is by no means complete. These are just misc. records of some of the inmates at the South Carolina Penitentiary.

Last Update: 10/2008
Web Author: EE Vaughn
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