Category Archives: Charleston Jail

Jail In B&W

In archiving some images from a few months ago I came across these. The old Charleston Jail. A horrid place now being renovated.

Jail In B&W
Jail In B&W

In its time it was home, and execution place to pirates, enslaved people, and prisoners of war. Even women highwaymen.

Jail In B&W
Jail In B&W
Jail In B&W
Jail In B&W

The building will be renovated for offices… really !!! Who wants to work here ???

Jail In B&W
Jail In B&W

 

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending

The old Charleston Jail is in it’s final days. This is the last in a series of articles taken during a session to document what was about to be lost.

This will be a recap of the building, and it’s dark past.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending

The jail was built in 1803 and finally closed, for ‘inhumanity’, in 1939. During that time sections were added, removed due to an earthquake, and new designs created by Charleston architect Robert Mills (Washington Monument).

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending

The jail was part of a public section of land set aside in 1680. The notorious runaway slave workhouse also here was demolished. The workhouse was known as the Sugar House.

Perhaps the most vivid and harrowing stories of the Sugar House were told in an unsigned document entitled “Recollections of a Runaway Slave” that appeared in an anti-slavery newspaper called The Emancipator on September 30, 1838. It reads as follows;

“I have heard a great deal said about hell, and wicked places, but I don’t think there is any worse hell than that Sugar House. It’s as bad a place as can be. In getting to it you have to go through a gate, in a very high brick wall. On the top of the wall, both sides of the gate, there are sharp pointed iron bars sticking up, and all along the rest of the wall are broken glass bottles. These are to keep us from climbing over. After you get into the yard, you go through a gate into the entry, then through a door of wood and an iron door, chained and locked together, so as both to open at the same time. The lower story is built of stone of great thickness,–and above, brick. The building is sealed inside with plank. Away down in the ground, under the house is a dungeon, very cold and so dark you can’t tell the difference between day and night. There are six or seven long rooms, and six little cells above and six below. The room to do the whipping in is by itself. When you get in there, every way you look you can see paddles, and whips, and cowskins, and bluejays, and cat-o’-nine tails. The bluejay has two lashes, very heavy and full of knots. It is the worst thing to whip with of anything they have. It makes a hole where it strikes, and when they have done it will be all bloody.

In the middle of the floor are two big sills, with rings in them, fastened to staples. There are ropes tied to the rings to bind your feet. Over the sills is a windlass, with a rope coming down to fasten your hands to. This rope leads off to the corner of the room, and there are pegs there to tie it to, after they have got you stretched. Slaves are carried there to be whipped by the people in the country four or five miles round, and by all the people in the city, and the guard men carry there all the runaways they take up.”

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending

The first floor in the jail housed special prisoners, and rooms for the condemned.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending

People of means and wealth were not mixed with the general population. The duration’s were short and money bought privileges.

The exact opposite prisoners were kept on this floor also. Condemned  inmates were kept in locked rooms, in that same room were locked the pastor and executioner until the prisoner was hanged.

General population prisoners were kept in large cells on the higher floors. The current building is three stories high, it was four stories and a tower. The top floor and tower were removed after the erathquake of 1886.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (8), An Ending

Large cells could hold perhaps a dozen prisoners. Men, women, and children were locked together. A single small fireplace might provide heat if needed. Oddly the warden and his family had quarters here also.

Now, in 2019, the Old Charleston Jail will be gutted, all history removed, and become a commercial office building. I can’t wait for the stories from people who work late at night in this building.

It was an honor to be included in the group documenting the last days of the Old Charleston Jail.

Note; To read all the articles in this series select the category “Charleston Jail’ from the side menu drop down box.

Old Charleston Jail, End In Sight

While I’m not sure the exact day they will nail the doors shut (or send in a wrecking crew) it is certainly just days away.

Old Charleston Jail, End In Sight
Old Charleston Jail, End In Sight

My last article for the final documentation needs to be finished, it’s just hard to write and be out shooting too.

It was an honor to be included in the project, but now the pressure is on to finish the images.

Above is from the ‘famous’ third floor.

Behind The Doors, Old Charleston Jail

The Old Jail housed a great variety of inmates. John and Lavinia Fisher, and other members of their gang, convicted of highway robbery in the Charleston Neck region were imprisoned here in 1819 to 1820. They were said to be the first known serial killers (this was wrong, they were highway men).

Some of the last 19th-century high-sea pirates were jailed here in 1822 while they awaited hanging.

The Jail was active after the discovery of Denmark Vesey’s planned slave revolt. Although the main trials were held in the Workhouse, some slaves were briefly held in both the Jail and the Poor House, and four white men convicted of supporting the 1822 plot were imprisoned here. (Wikipedia)

Behind The Doors, Old Charleston Jail
Behind The Doors, Old Charleston Jail

Note; The old Charleston Jail is being renovated to be used for commercial purposes. A few historians and photographers were invited to document the historical site before it is gone. This is a part of the project.

 

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)

The jail, built in 1802 was part of Charleston set aside for public use in 1680. The use was this jail, a poor house, hospital, and work house for run away slaves. The jail was used for many different things including an asylum.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)

These are photographs from the third floor where previously I was told an asylum was added to the prison. It might have been the fourth floor, the top of this building, which was removed after the great Charleston earthquake.

A  terrible place for anyone in general, if they were actually ill locking them in a brutal prison was a really bad idea.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)

Like many buildings of it’s time an air shaft, in the center, provided circulation (I was raised in NYC in a small 1800’s apartment. My bedroom window was exactly this view…without bars).

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)

Large open rooms covered much of this floor.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)

Above is what you see as you climb the stairs to the top floor. There is a lot of old furniture and woodwork in the basement. Perhaps the antique wheelchair came from there. I do know it’s the perfect prop for the asylum.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (7)

Above is one of the series of doors leading to the various rooms. The first door was wood, when opened you find the second of steel bars. A guard could look on both sides of the door through steel bars using the slightly curved center seen here. There were to be no surprises opening doors in the jail.

Note; The old Charleston Jail is being renovated to be used for commercial purposes. A small group was invited to visit and photograph the historical site before it is gone. This is part of that project.

 

 

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)

The old jail was built in 1802 and finally closed in 1939. During that time thousands of prisoners were locked here. The was also a work house for people considered to be runaway slaves on the property. Hard to imagine but the work house was much more brutal than the jail itself.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)

Though the last prisoners here were in 1939 there are still reminders people lived here. In the cells and barred rooms the walls have signs of the past.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)

Lines and symbols, perhaps marking time are here.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)

We also found names and dates etched into the old cement and plaster.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (6)

Even near the high air vents were scratched symbol, and names.

All of this will be gone in a few short months which was why we were here, to document history before another piece is gone.

Note; The old Charleston Jail is being renovated to be used for commercial purposes. A small group was invited to visit and photograph the historical site before it is gone. This is part of that project.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)

Charlestons old jail housed some of the areas most notorious criminals, and many non criminals. Built in 1802 it was not a place meant to rehabilitate, it was to punish or just lock away people as deemed necessary.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)

I’ve been told the truth is people were not kept here for long periods. A solution was determined, permanent or otherwise, as quick as possible.

The first floor was for people of means, death row, or other temporary needs. These images are of the second floor.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)

This was a difficult place, for criminals, debtors, or poor individuals waiting for trail.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)

Above is from inside one of the ‘cells’. Basically a cage that can house 11 – 15 people. Age and sex did not matter. Large rooms looked to hold about 4 cages. A single fire place in the corner could provide some heat.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)

There were windows for air. Also if a prisoner did have any money items could be purchased, and retrieved by rope, from outside the jail.

John and Lavinia Fisher, as well as members of their gang, were imprisoned here. They were famous highwaymen of the era (Lavinia was at one point wrongly accused of being the first female serial killer).  Also Pirates still roamed the seas, once Black Beard the pirate closed the harbor and demanded ransom… or something. That story grows in details almost weekly. However, pirates were caught and executed in this jail.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (5)

Note; The old Charleston Jail is being renovated to be used for commercial purposes. A small group was invited to visit and photograph the historical site before it is gone. This is part of that project.

 

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (4)

This project, and the group invited, was asked to photograph the old jail as it is now. Renovations will begin soon and the structure will be completely changed for commercial purposes.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (4)

I began inside by capturing the first things a person would see upon entering the jail. You are immediately enclosed in heavy walls and steel bars.

No place like this exists without tales of strange happenings. We were lucky to have people who are there all the time to explain experiences without the drama of a ‘ghost tour’.

The entrance here is a busy location for temperature changes. Usually sudden cold. No spirits descend on people. Workers have seen a person go by and realize they were the only one in the jail.

Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (4)
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (4)

The jail has had work and repairs over the years, even an industrial technical school trained here during off hours. The building itself has sensors, alarms, and electronic locks at night. This brings the question of how are there so many foot prints, different sizes, through the fresh plaster and saw dust in the morning. It’s common so the prints are just swept away.

Entering Jail
Old Charleston Jail, A Finale (4)

This part of the jail has a strange history for condemned prisoners.

The prisoner was kept here in a large empty cell for a period of time. After a while his executioner joined him here, locked in for a while. Finally the minister attending to the prisoner joined them. All were locked together for (I forget how long) a time. I recall the time being weeks, not hours. How creepy is that.

Note; The old Charleston Jail is being renovated to be used for commercial purposes. A small group was invited to visit and photograph the historical site before it is gone. This is part of that project.