On May 3, 1704, two Chickahominy Indians called Coscohunk and James Mush were accused of burning the house of another Chickahominy, Tom Perry. They were held in the new Williamsburg Gaol overnight and released into the custody of the Chickahominy tribe. In September, about forty Nanzattico Indians, accused of complicity in an assault on a family of English colonists in Richmond County, were sent to the Gaol. They remained there until May 1705, when the Virginia Council ordered those 12 or older to be transported to Antigua and sold into slavery. Their children were kept as house servants to Council members.
The Williamsburg Gaol was erected in 1701. It was a brick prison with the dimensions of thirty by twenty feet with two stories, and was used for both prisoners and the jailer with his family. In addition to the interior rooms, there was also a courtyard, which was enclosed by walls so as to prevent escape during the prisoners’ recreation time. It was known “as a strong, sweet Prison” and would be used into the period of the Civil War and beyond then (Tyler 1907, 221).
Some of the first official prisoners to be held in this prison were two Chickahominy Indians by the name of Coscohunk and James Mush. According to an official report by the House of Burgesses, they were accused of burning down the cabin of Tom Perry, splitting his canoe, and threatening to go to the Seneca tribe to join with them and bring down the English (McIlwaine 1918, 401). This was supposedly out of retaliation for Tom Perry having supposedly burnt down the home of Drammaco, a chief member of the Chickahominy tribe, unveiling a large amount of tension between members of the tribe in regard to selling parts of their reservation. This case was not looked into any further by King William Court at a later date, but was unable to be finished due to the courthouse being burnt down in 1885 (Roundtree 1990, 116).
Another set of reputable prisoners, were the associates of the infamous pirate
Blackbeard. They were all executed in 1718. The Lieutenant of Detroit, Henry Hamilton, also spent time in the Williamsburg Gaol, as General George Rogers Clark captured him in the late 1770s. (Tyler 1907, 221). He was arrested due to the belief that he had purchased pioneer scalps from the Indians, and was kept in manacles and chains for his time in the gaol (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation). These standards were not unusual for offenders who were held, though. Prisoners were generally kept in their rooms without a source of heat, had a general area designated for sanitation in their cells, and the more serious offenders were kept in shackles, irons and chains while they waited for their court proceedings (Beney 1997, 127).
Beney, Peter. The Majesty of Colonial Williamsburg. Greta: Pelican Publishing Company, 1997.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “Public Gaol.” http://www.history.org/almanack/places/hb/hbgaol.cfm (accessed 16 February, 2012).
McIlwaine, H.R. editor. Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia Volume I. Richmond: E. Waddy Compay, 1918.
Roundtree, Helen C. Pocahantas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. Williamsburg, the Old Colonial Capital. Richmond: Whittet and Shepperson Publishers and Printers, 1907.
“The Public Gaol,” Williamsburg, Virginia, www.ancestry.com (accessed May 2, 2012).
“The Public Gaol Plaque,” Williamsburg, Virginia, www.ancestry.com (accessed May 2, 2012).
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