J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Going to Prison in Connecticut

Anthony Vaver’s Early American Crime offers a traveler’s guide to the Old New-Gate Prison and Coppermine in East Granby, Connecticut.

The site of the prison originally supported one of the first commercial mining operations in the British colonies, before the Connecticut General Assembly decided to convert the mine into Connecticut’s first colonial prison in 1773. Today, a long set of stairs takes you down into the mine shafts, where you are free to wander around without a guide and to discover the eerie cavern once reserved for solitary confinement tucked away in the back of the tunnels.

Outside the mine is a spectacular vista of the Farmington Valley, which must have given some convicts incentive to break out. Despite claims when it first opened that the prison was one of the most secure in the American colonies, its first prisoner escaped only 18 days after his initial incarceration up a 67-foot air shaft, which can still be seen today.
Two years after the prison opened, Connecticut started using it to confine political prisoners. The “Simsbury Mines,” as many people still called the site, became quite notorious among Loyalists. But officials were convinced of its effectiveness. In his 1818 history of Connecticut, the Rev. Benjamin Trumbull (1735-1820) stated that the “prison called Newgate...has been of much greater advantage to the state than all the copper dug out of it.”

I’ve visited the Old New-Gate Prison twice, once while it was open—which was much more interesting. The view and geography are as compelling as the history. The hours on the site’s site are “Fri, Sat & Sun between 10am and 4pm” for walk-in visitors, closed 3 July but open on Independence Day and through October. Vaver recommends visiting on the last Sunday of the month, when a guide offers tours of the Viets Tavern across the road as part of the $5 admission fee.

1 comment:

DAG said...

Thank you for the information on this historical site. I have mad note of it for a visit.