Prof. Caleb Smith, English and American Studies, Yale University, presented his research on the process of uncovering the identity and story of Rob Reed, the author of an 1858 memoir that has intrigued scholars ever since its discovery. The autobiography provides a rare look into the life in 19th century American prisons for an African American man. Smith discovered in 2013 that Austin Reed — whose identity became an ongoing mystery after the 2009 discovery of an 1858 memoir by the pseudonym Rob Reed — was born a free man in Rochester, New York, but later became an indentured servant and an inmate of the nation’s first juvenile reformatory. He was also a prisoner at New York’s Auburn State Prison. Smith said there was initially no record of Rob Reed, which made research into the identity of the author difficult.
“In 2009, I started working with curators and researchers to find out about anything we could about the document and its author,” he said.