Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Public Gaol (Jail) and the Wagon of Death

Wagon Of Death/Public Gaol (Jail) Colonial Williamsburg
If found guilty of a heinous crime a person was placed in the Public Gaol (Jail) to await hanging.

Cells were small, unheated, no glass in the windows, which were barred. Prisoners slept on insect ridden straw, shackles were found during excavations, Prisoners were shacked to the floor.
The “Wagon of Death” came to escort them to the gallows. The condemned man could hear the creaking of the carts wheels as it rolled down Nicholson Street. The prisoner then had to sit on there own coffin for the mile long ride to Hangman’s Road. No physical evidence is left of the gallows but the Gaol is still standing and is one of the oldest buildings in Colonial Williamsburg. It housed murders, pirates, Indians, run-away slaves and common debtors until 1780. It continued to house offenders until 1910.
Stories have been told for over a century of hearing the sounds of a horse and wagon going down Nicholson Street in pre-dawn hours. When those hearing the sound would rush to the windows, nothing was there.

The public Goal is located on the eastern end of Nicholson Street. Nicholson Street runs parallel to Duke of Gloucester Street. Look for the Capital. The jail is to the left (north) side of the Capital


The Orginial brick building was 20 by 20 feet with an adjoining walled exercise yard. Presently the gaol has three rooms on the first floor, a larger one for the gaoler and two smaller ones for male and female prisoners. Attic chambers were used to confine petty offenders.
Hanging was often the penalty for arson, piracy, horse stealing, forgery and stealing. The gaol served the colony until 1780 and used as a jail by the city of Williamsburg until 1910.

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