Newgate Prison Document Acquired

April 21, 2016 · Collections, Manuscripts ·

A very recent addition to the CHS collection is a Revolutionary War era document related to Newgate Prison. Documents like these don’t come around very often.

The document becomes intriguing at the end of its opening sentence:

The following account allowed by the Committee of Safety, for the Town of Salisbury to John Viets, Keeper of Newgate Prison in said Town, and others, for Provisions and other necessary Articles of expense to support the Prisoners now in said Prison; sent from the Continental Army at Roxbury by order of his Excellency Genl. Washington.

Prisoners sent by George Washington were no ordinary prisoners. They were either British soldiers, Loyalists, or deserters.

The intrigue deepens upon reading the first accounting entry:

For allowance in Provision to John Short from Dec. 31st 1775, to January 3rd 1776 when he died.

It turns out that John Short was one of three prisoners who died while trying to escape the prison by burning their way out. These three men died, apparently of asphyxiation. An article from the Hartford Courant names the other prisoners who died—Thomas Starr and Joseph Atwood—as well as other prisoners who attempted the escape, namely John Brown, James Brown, Richard Marshfield, Owen Ruick and John Smith. Both Smith and Ruick’s names appear in the document. We still do not know what Ruick, Smith and Short were in prison for, but both Smith and Ruick required a great deal of medical care according to the accounts.

The document contains other intriguing clues that need to be followed to make a more complete picture, and is available online for your reading pleasure through Connecticut Digital Archive at ctdigitalarchive.org.

The CHS is grateful to our members and donors for making this acquisition and digitization possible.

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