Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Built in the 1820s as part of a new type of prison system, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was founded on the belief that prisoners could be rehabilitated during incarceration through separate confinement and industrious labor. During the penitentiary’s span of operation, 1829–1971, numerous records were compiled about the inmates and maintained at the prison, including statistics on age, education, marital status, moral habits, nationality, trade or occupation, and type of criminal activity that resulted in the prisoners’ incarceration. The Pennsylvania State Archives now holds many of the penitentiary’s ledgers and inmate registers. One in particular includes illustrations created with pen and ink and watercolor by prisoner Sydney Ware between 1893 and 1895.

Ware had been accused of murdering two men during a barroom brawl at August Brauer’s Saloon in Lykens, Dauphin County, on May 4, 1889. The fight started after a card game between Ware’s friend and another player. Ware testified that he fired two shots from a revolver for self-protection after he had been beaten in the head and attacked by more than one man at a time. On September 29, he was convicted of murder in the first degree. It was his first criminal conviction.

On March 28, 1890, Ware was sentenced to be hanged to death. His punishment was later reduced to life imprisonment, and on January 28, 1891, he was transferred from Dauphin County Prison to Eastern State Penitentiary. The prison’s Descriptive Register indicates that he was born in England and worked as a coal miner before his arrest. He was 24 when he entered the prison and had a light complexion, hazel eyes and black hair; stood 5 feet 5 inches; weighed 130 pounds; and had a size 9½ foot. He was a single man whose parents were both living at the time of his 16th birthday. Ware was able to read and write and had attended 7 years of public school. He was assigned as inmate A5732.

The illustrated pages shown here are from the Eastern State Penitentiary Statistical Book, 1893–1899. The page titled “Imprisonments” lists the number of people newly incarcerated at various prisons mostly around Pennsylvania, including Eastern State Penitentiary, over a 12-month period. Ware illustrated the page with a colored drawing of an unshaven forlorn prisoner looking through the bars of his solitary cell. On the other page, labeled “Domestic Relations,” statistics show figures for the number of prisoners who had parents dead or alive when they were age 16; those who were single, married or widowed; and those who were parents, with the total number of prisoners’ children. Here, Ware drew a mother holding a baby in a domestic scene with a housecat and potted plant (but father absent). Other Ware drawings appear throughout the ledger.

After serving more than 20 years in the prison, Ware was pardoned twice in 1911 by Gov. John Kinley Tener. In 1913, according to census records, Ware married a woman named Ella M. Hershey, and they raised a daughter Evelyn. He worked as a machinist (a trade he apparently learned in prison) at the Midvale Steel Co. and purchased a house on Hicks Street in Philadelphia where he lived with his family. By 1930 he had changed professions to become a commercial artist, working for himself. He died in 1936 at the age of 69.

In March 2018 the ledger was treated at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. The conservation work consisted primarily of cleaning the surfaces of the pages and mending minor tears and losses. It was selected for treatment in part because of Ware’s extraordinary illustrations. The treatment restored the brilliance of the colors used in the artwork. The ledger is stored at the State Archives in Record Group 15.67.



Richard C. Saylor is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives and author of the award-winning book Soldiers to Governors and numerous articles on military, political and sports history.