Chain Gangs

Chain Gangs (HM1IBB)

Location: St. Augustine, FL 32084 St. Johns County
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Country: United States of America
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N 29° 54.494', W 81° 19.179'

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Inscription

The Convict Lease System

Following the Civil War and the reconstruction period the state of Florida found itself in debt. As a way to offset some of the state's expenditures, newly elected governor George Drew put into practice the convict leasing system in 1877. Prisoners were leased out to individuals and large companies to do various jobs from building railroads to working in turpentine camps. The person leasing the prisoner would pay the state a fee of $26 per prisoner per year. They were also obligated to provide clothing, shelter, food, and medical care for the prisoner. The price per prisoner quickly rose to $150 per year.

Conditions in the camps were very harsh. Prisoners were flogged for not performing enough work or other minor infractions. They slept chained together by the ankles in wooden buildings where fires were a common occurrence, or in jail wagons that were infested with parasitic bugs and vermin.

In 1919 chain gangs were introduced as demands for more and better roads increased due to the booming tourism industry in Florida. The conditions for prisoners working on the chain gangs were no better than those who were leased. Men accused of petty crimes worked side by side with those whose offenses were more serious. Chain gangs were segregated according to race and also by whether or not the inmates had tuberculosis. Not all the prisoners were chained together while working. Those who were considered escape risks wore heavy shackles that cut into their skin and their chains were never removed.

While the practice of prisoner leasing was popular with county officials, the general public was opposed to it. Escaped convicts knew that if they were able to reach rural homes, the residents would often aid them in their escape. This is the origin of the term, "home free." Convict leasing and the injustices that were born out of it stopped at the state level in 1923.

(captions)
(upper left) Road work crews were often moved and quarterd in jail wagons outfitted with bunks.
(lower left) Many convicts were leased by turpentine camps where work conditions were usually harsh.
(upper right) Leased prisoner labor was a lucrative business in the early 1900s. Many farms, agricultural enterprises, and road construction companies were in constant need of workers.
Details
HM NumberHM1IBB
Tags
Placed ByThe Old Jail Museum
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, December 11th, 2014 at 9:01am PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17R E 469142 N 3308659
Decimal Degrees29.90823333, -81.31965000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 29° 54.494', W 81° 19.179'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds29° 54' 29.64" N, 81° 19' 10.74" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)904
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling North
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 166 US-1 BUS, St. Augustine FL 32084, US
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