Lumpkin's jail

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Lumpkin’s Jail, also known as “the Devil’s half acre” was a slave jail located in Richmond, Virginia, just three blocks from where the capitol building sits today. It was active from the 1830s through the Civil War.[1] Richmond was the nerve center for slave trading and boasted the largest running operation outside New Orleans. Robert Lumpkin was a notorious and prominent slave trader throughout the south, and turned Lumpkin’s Jail into the largest slave holding facility for well over twenty years.[2]

History[edit]

Robert Lumpkin purchased three lots on Wall Street in Shockoe Bottom on November 27, 1844 for roughly six thousand dollars. Although named after Lumpkin, the property had two previous owners and the jail had already been established by the time Lumpkin acquired the property.[3]Even though this was already a slave jail, it was not used to the extreme until it came into Lumpkin’s possession. Being the largest slave trader in the Richmond at the time, he had a flare for cruelty and was known as a “bully trader.” Those that tried to escape and or ran away, were publicly beaten or tortured. Inside the jail, was what was called “the whipping room” which was used to tie up slaves by their wrists and ankles, lift them up, and stretch them out; after being chained up an overseer would then come stand over them and begin the flogging.[4] There were four other lots on Wall Street (now 15th Street) that contained slave jails; the area was collectively referred to as Lumpkin’s Alley.[5]

The two-story brick slave jail, approximately eighty feet by one hundred sixty feet. This two-story house was used as the main house with four separate plots surrounding the alley for more storage space. The main floor of the house, the second floor, was used to entertain guests and housing quarters for Lumpkin and those coming to Richmond to barter for slaves. On the bottom floor was the main jail area. Usually holding slaves that were next or fit to be sold.[6] It temporarily housed men, women, and children until they were auctioned off to plantation owners. The jail was situated along Shockoe Creek and featured “barred windows, high fences, chained gates opening to the rutted streets, and all seen and smelled through a film of cooking smoke and stench of human excrement.”[7] It was said to more closely resemble a chicken coop,holding so many slaves that they were basically on top of one another. Multiple slaves would be crammed into one room or floor, with no toilets or access to the outside with the exception to their small window. Due to these conditions, many slaves died while imprisoned due to disease or starvation, if not from being beaten and tortured to death. This is a main reason the bottom is known for its mass unmarked slave graveyards. Those that died while waiting to be sold, or held, were simply dumped into an area that was available surrounding the jails.[8] When the site was excavated, however, no whipping rings, iron bars or other typical artifacts associated with slavery were ever found; ceramics, glassware, clay tobacco pipes, and toys made up the vast majority of artifacts found.[9] The nearby market that sits on the canal and railroad tracks was used as the slave market. This is where slaves were groomed, fed, and dressed up to be sold at auctions on the river. Once bought, they were pushed onto a boat or train and shipped down river to their next destination. [10]

Robert Lumpkin[edit]

“He was both an evil man and a family man.”[11] Robert Lumpkin, known for his cruelty and mistreatment of slaves would eventually impregnate and marry a former slave, Mary. He fathered five children with Mary, seeing to it that they had the best treatment and education; sending two of his daughters to finishing school. After the civil war ended, he sent his wife and children to Pennsylvania to avoid being sold back into slavery to pay off his debt. When he died, he left all of his property and land to his wife, whom was legally allowed to accept it at the time.[12]

After the Jail[edit]

In April 1865 the Union Army captured Richmond, and all slaves were emancipated. In 1867, Mary Lumpkin sold the land to Nathaniel Colver, a Baptist minister looking for a place to establish an exclusively black seminary. The Colver Institute, later Richmond Theological Seminary, and finally Virginia Union University, made use of the buildings for three years. The land went from being colloquially referred to as “the Devil’s half acre” to “God’s half acre.” It is most likely the buildings on Lumpkin’s lot were destroyed in 1976. Richmond Iron Works was eventually built over the original foundation. Today, the Interstate 95 embankment and a parking lot for university students cover the area.[13] In the mid 2000’s archeologists began excavating the site, digging fourteen feet into the earth before finding remnants of the jailhouse. They dug for more than eighty feet before finding the slave quarters, realizing that these slaves were kept in conditions lower than the low for most slaves. Thanks to the canal and soft water deposits, the ground was so wet and compact that it prevented oxygen from being about to seep through. This allowed archeologists to find numerous artifacts left behind such as, clothes, shoes, toys, and books.[14]

Inmates[edit]

Over the many years the Lumpkin Jail was in operation, it saw thousands of slaves come and go. The most famous inmate ever known to reside in Lumpkin’s Jail was Anthony Burns. Burns had escaped slavery, but was recaptured in Boston and held in Lumpkin’s Jail while he awaited trial. He was later freed by northern abolitionists.[15] Burns was tried under Fugitive Slave Law, and although many wanted to see him released, he was sent back to Lumpkin’s Jail to be held for four more months until sufficient funds were raised by abolishionists to buy his freedom. After freedom, he returned to the North, would become a pastor but die shortly after at the age of 28.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up the Past at a Richmond Jail". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  2. ^ Zucchino, David. "With Unearthing of Famous Jail, Richmond Confronts Its Past". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Laird, Matthew. "Preliminary Archaeological Investigation of the Lumpkin's Jail Site". VCU Library. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  4. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up The Past At Richmond Jail". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Richardson, Seldon; Maurice Duke (2008). Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press. 
  6. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up The Past At Richmond Jail". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Richardson, Seldon; Maurice Duke (2008). Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press. 
  8. ^ "PRELIMINARY HISTORY OF THE LUMPKIN’S JAIL PROPERTY". Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  9. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up the Past at a Richmond Jail". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Zucchino, David. "With unearthing of infamous jail, Richmond confronts its slave past". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  11. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up The Past At A Richmond Jail". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  12. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up The Past At A Richmond Jail". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  13. ^ Laird, Matthew. "Preliminary Archaeological Investigation of the Lumpkin's Jail Site". VCU Library. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  14. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up The Past At A Richmond Jail". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  15. ^ Tucker, Abigail. "Digging Up the Past at a Richmond Jail". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  16. ^ Steven, Charles. "PRELIMINARY HISTORY OF THE LUMPKIN’S JAIL PROPERTY". Anthony Burns: A History. Retrieved 30 March 2014.