During the early 1900s in Florida, prisoners were often leased to corporations for road work, timber harvesting and turpentining. Historians say the men were often chained together (photo below) and transported to work sites using convict cage wagons like this one on display at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement in Volusia County.

Convicts leased to harvest timber. 191-?. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Convicts leased to harvest timber. 191-?. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The local sheriff would be in league with owners of his county’s largest lumber or turpentine companies who would pay the defendants’ court fines, get them released from jail, and force them to pay off the fines by working in squalid, barbarous conditions in rural, isolated camps. The system was known as penal servitude and peonage, and reports gradually filtering out of the Florida camps to a New York World newspaper reporter of prisoners dying after repeated and daily whippings at the camps forced the legislature to investigate.

from FloridaHistoryNetwork.com

According to documentation, the cage was used to transport convicts from camp to work on the road between DeLand and Daytona.

Transportation vehicle for convicts. 1912. Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Transportation vehicle for convicts. 1912. Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The leasing program was abolished in Florida in 1923 following the death of Martin Talbert, an inmate killed in a turpentine camp as a result of harsh physical punishment.

The legislative committee’s investigation began with the case of Martin Talbert of Munich, N.D., who was convicted in Leon County in December 1921 for “stealing a ride” on a freight train and sent to work for the Putnam Lumber Company in Dixie County after the fine wired by his family failed to reach the sheriff’s office within the required 48 hours of his conviction. Talbert died of fever at the camp the following January, two days after being punished with at least 50 blows of a leather strap. Fourteen months later, the North Dakota legislature passed a resolution demanding investigation by Florida’s legislature into the death, along with allegations the Leon County sheriff and lumber camp operators were involved in a conspiracy to convict men for minor offenses.

from FloridaHistoryNetwork.com