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Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House

Creator: Isaac H. Hunt (author)
Date: 1851
Publisher: Isaac H. Hunt
Source: Patricia Deegan Collection
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3


In 1851, a former patient at the Maine Insane Hospital published a scathing attack on his treatment by the institutionís attendants and doctors. Isaac Hunt describes all sorts of abuses and mistreatment. His account makes people wonder whether or not the asylum offered conditions better than those uncovered in local almshouses and jails by the investigative reports of Dorothea Dix. Out of Huntís complaints came an investigation by the Maine Legislature into conditions at the asylum. The testimony of three witnesses is included here. As Hunt was writing his exposť, a fire, partially described here, destroyed the institution in Augusta, Maine, with the deaths of 27 patients, many confined and unable to escape, as well as one attendant. This is an autobiographical voice apparently impaired by his disability, but it is valuable evidence on what life could be like in one the institutions favored by Dix.

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A true account of the barbarous, inhuman and cruel treatment of Isaac R. Hunt, in the Maine Insane Hospital, in the years 1844, '45, '46, and '47, by Drs. Isaac Ray, James Bates, and their Assistants and Attendant. Also, a correct account of the abusive treatment of a multitude of other patients, some of which are tantamount to murder. Also, containing a short account of the burning of the Hospital, Dec. 4th, 1850.


This little work is most respectfully dedicated to the SOVEREIGN PEOPLE of the United States.



For us and our tragedy,
Here's stooping to your elemeney --
We beg your hearing patiently. --Shakspeare.-sic-


The title of this little book is destined either to appeal the eye or deeply interest the heart, for all who shall read these pages attentively, a good moral will come; yea, I fervently hope that much incalculable good may come of it, or else wherefore breathe we in a Christian land? With any other motive than that of benefiting men, and most of all, for the scourging and scathing of a most iniquitous, villainous system of inhumanity, that would more than match the bloodiest, darkest days of the Inquisition or the tragedies of the Bastille, I pen, publish, and scatter these lines.


Every branch of science, art or mechanism -- every sect, religious and political, social and moral, seem to have their organs, oral or literary, through which each peculiar tenet or institution is advocated, and guarded against the powerful arms of wrong, oppression and fallacy, -- but who ever read or heard a disquisition on, or against Mad Houses, Insane Asylums. Such an apostle -- such a book, I have never seen or heard of. But you, gentle reader, shall not say the same, for the author of this is about to startle the world, and 'the rest of mankind,' with a disclosure that shall make the learned Doctors of mad men, and rotten rogues tremble, and gladden the hearts of many a poor, man forsaken, kindred deserted, suffering, perishing being, shut within the walls of the innumerable Bastiles -sic- of our land, ycleped Insane Asylums.


Start not! think not that a mad man raves. I shall utter nought but truth -- truth so strong, and reason so palpable, that nothing short of sheer innate madness or stupidity of your own, shall close your eye or ear to the cogent force and ends I have in view.


"Truth crushed to earth, shall rise again!
The eternal years of God are hers;
But error wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies amid her worshipers!"


And let me at the start have a fair understanding; think not that this is a catch-penny clap-trap of the day, or an imbecile compilation of guess work, fiction or foolery. Far from it. The deeply seared heart, the tortured mind and body of the author, are too sure and evident proofs of the sincerity of his portraitures, and determination of his purpose to lay open, expose, anatomize, and exhibit, in their hideous deformity and atrocious monstrosities, the doings, the practices of one Asylum, with a corresponding exhibt -sic- of many -- ay, all others around us.


There is hardly any question that will startle, confound, amaze and horrify you, until you read the end of this work. But I hope the hearts of all may be touched -- the compassion of many, the spirit of inquiry be aroused; and those who have not thought of these things may be set to their wits, and those that have thought, think the more, and act in the matter, as becomes men of an enlightend -sic- age, an honorable and intelligent community. There shall not be, in this work, aught that will not pay well for a thorough investigation. There shall not be an allusion, word or line, calculated to offend the most fastidious disciplinarian of moral principle. But I intend to use the scalpel of reason freely -- dismember and dissect clearly and keenly each fibre of this horrid inquisition and inquisitors -- Insane Asylums and learned Doctors. Though my narratives may horrify they shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and in such guise, shall this book be fit for any man, woman or child to read, reflect and ponder over; peruse it carfully-sic-, and when you arrive at any one point wherein madness or folly "sticks out," drop it, but not until then I beseech you.



The author of this little work, was, on the 21st of September, 1844, taken to the Maine Insane Hospital, in the city of Augusta, State of Maine, a wild maniac. The Hospital at that time was under the superintendance of Dr. Isaac Ray, now of the Butler Insane Asylum, of Providence, R.I. In this institution I remained nearly three years, and I shall endeavor to give a vivid description of each and every circumstance connected with my confinement, treatment, torture of body and mind, and the malpractice performed on me. These facts will enable the reader to judge of the extent of my madness. It is of no use for me to deny, (for of that fact there is abundant proof,) that when I was taken to the Hospital I was a perfectly deranged man, laboring under a strong fever of the brain, or great and uncontrollable mental excitement, of which, under humane treatment, I should have recovered, and no doubt returned to my business in full possession of my mental and physical faculties. But the moment I entered the Hospital a fear came over me -- a deep state of mental depression was followed by that of horror and fear, and of course what little consciousness I had at the time was put to flight, for I knew not, but dreaded what was to follow. I entered the Hospital on Saturday evening; the first assay they made was to have me swallow some Pills. I refused, but was forced to submit, and took them. This operation was under the direction and personal assistance of Dr. Ray, and the attendant, Alvin S. Babcock. The next day I felt the necessity of a shower bath, and expressed my feelings to Dr. Ray. But, in language, you will doubtless think very cold and vulgar in so learned a gentleman, he thus addressed me: --"We're very short on't for water, and I can't let you have it; there has'nt been no rain lately, and I can't let you have it." I then said: "Sir, if you will tell me where you get your water, I will go and get some myself, as a gallon will be sufficient." He then said that he could not let me have it; to which I replied: -- "Sir, I think that I need it, and if you cannot let me have it here, will you permit me to go to my own house, or some other place, where I can have such remedies as my case requires." To this he replied: -- "You can't go; you have been brought here by your friends, and you must stay until you get well." I was hereupon plied with medicine, the effect of which was to cause me to travel the gallery for hours and hours, perfectly wild and uncontrolable, as patients often are in almost any Insane Hospital. But I trust to God that in no other case have those walks been caused in mad men, as was mine, by horrid draughts of, to me, a nameless medicine. This state of my mind and physical prostration, through the effect of that medicine, was continued for several days without intermission, until about the close of the next week, or sometime in the week following, when I was given medicine which threw me upon my bed, followed by the most horrid chills, that shook me, body and soul and made my very bones rattle, -- my teeth chattered and my bones rattled like the dry bones of a skeleton; I gave up all hope of life with such composure as I could muster; but my hour had not come, for at this juncture, Babcock, the attendant, came and gave me a bowl of hot ginger tea, saying in a jocular manner: -- "Die! oh, no, not you -- you'll not die yet -- you're worth a dozen dead men." The tea and the application of a pyramid of blankets and comforters, warmed the system -- the chills retreated, and I kept my bed for some days. About the ninth day after I went there, I was again subjected to the horrid wild-fire medicine, which was followed by the same terrible and strange sensations and wanderings over the gallery. I refused peremtorily to suffer this treatment; I refused to take the medicine. The attendant insisted that I should, and harsh words followed. I told him the medicine was destroying me and I would not take it. He then commanded me in a tone of authority, to take the medicine. I did take it. I took it from his hand and dashed it out of the window! In a moment this stalwart, muscular man struck me a violent blow upon my head which either knocked me down, or he instantly seized me and crushed me to the floor. I struggled, when he siezed me by the throat and choked me. I began to have fear that he had my death in view, and would murder me upon the spot. I begged for my life, when he harshly exclaimed. "I will learn you not to throw away your medicine when I give it to you!" I begged for mercy, and promised if my life was spared to take anything he might give me. Upon this he released me, and I continued my usual dull routine of the previous days. The next morning, Babcock entered my room, as usual, with medicine. From the treatment I had already received, of course I dared not refuse to swallow the terrible draught, though it should instantly cause death. I took the pills, and some liquid contained in a mug. These compounds had the effect to destroy my bodily health for the residue of my earthly existence. There is a penalty for such malpractice, and if I had it in my power to bring Dr. Isaac Ray and Dr. Horatio S. Smith before the legal tribunals of my country, I should not possibly find any difficulty in sending them to the State Penitentiary for the full term of twenty years for malpractice, and three years additional for conspiracy.

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