Date of Award

Spring 1992

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Robert Mennel


Changing definitions of crime accompanied the economic transformation of seacoast New Hampshire from a predominently agricultural, and rural society in 1812 to one that was mainly industrial, commercial, and urban by 1914. This dissertation analyzes a sample of 820 felony incarcerations (19.5%) of the total 4154 incarcerations recorded at the New Hampshire State Prison for the period 1812-1914. Court bills and indictments of Rockingham and Strafford County, New Hampshire are used to analyze felony convictions. Quantitative analysis involving 17 variables reveals that property crime was the most common conviction. Felony conviction rates per 100,000 population nearly doubled between 1812 and the 1890's, however, they were lower than contemporary crime rates found in most other regions. Court records, state prison records, and newspaper accounts are used to analyze inmate population characteristics. The "typical" convict was a white 26-year old male born in New Hampshire, engaged in an unskilled, manual occupation before conviction. The presence of immigrant groups such as Canadians and Irish increased. Prison records such as inmate ledgers, published prison official's reports, and published accounts of prison life are used to examine the role of the state prison in the century following its establishment in 1812. An analysis of incarceration outcomes reveals that growing numbers of inmates left the prison before the expiration of their sentence. Starting in the 1830's, large numbers of inmates were pardoned, commutation was tried after the Civil War, and parole was implemented in 1901. In theory, early release was tied to evidence of prisoner rehabilitation, in practice, it appears to have been used to control overcrowding. Health conditions were poor at the New Hampshire State Prison. Mortality rates were high; tuberculosis was the main cause of death in prison. This study finds that the original rehabilitative mission of the prison was subordinated to the exploitation of prison inmates through the implementation of the contract labor system.