Lumpkin's Jail

Lumpkin's Jail (HMS1N)

Location: Richmond, VA 23219
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 32.196', W 77° 25.712'

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Richmond Slave Trail

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Lumpkin's Jail was owned by Robert Lumpkin, who maximized profits in his compound by including lodging for s1ave traders, a slave holding facility, an auction house, and a residence for his family. A port city with water, ground and rail connections, Richmond was linked to slave buying markets such as Charleston and New Orleans. Enslaved Africans referred to Lumpkin's Jail as "the Devil's Half Acre," reflecting the despair and anger of people separated forever from their families. However, Mary Lumpkin, a black woman who was Robert's widow, boosted post-Civil-War black education when, in 1867, she rented the complex to a Christian school, which evolved into Virginia Union University.

The Devil's Half-Acre
An account written in 1856 by Charles Emery Stevens describes the treatment of a captured fugitive slave named Anthony Burns. This record, excerpted below, offers a damning portrayal of Lumpkin's Jail, a place that—unfortunately—was all too typical of such businesses in Richmond and elsewhere throughout the South.

"Here he was destined to suffer, for four months, such revolting treatment as the vilest felons never undergo, and such as only revengeful slaveholders can inflict. The place of his confinement was a room only six or eight feet square, in the upper story of the jail, which was accessible only through a trap-door. He was allowed neither bed nor air; a rude bench fastened against the wall and a single, coarse blanket were the only means of repose. After entering his cell, the handcuffs were not removed, but, in addition, fetters were placed upon his feet. In this manacled condition he was kept during the greater part of his confinement. The torture which he suffered, in consequence, was excruciating. The gripe of the irons impeded the circulation of his blood, made hot and rapid by the stifling atmosphere, and caused his feet to swell enormously. The flesh was worn from his wrists, and when the wounds had healed, there remained broad scars as perpetual witnesses against his owner. The fetters also prevented him from removing his clothing by day or night, and no one came to help him; the indecency resulting from such a condition is too revolting for description, or even thought. His room became more foul and noisome than the hovel of a brute; loathsome creeping things multiplied and rioted in the filth."

From Anthony Burns: A History
By Charles Emery Stevens, 1856

About the Trail
Designed as a walking path, the Richmond Slave Trail chronicles the history of the trade in enslaved Africans from their homeland to Virginia until 1778, and away from Virginia, especially Richmond, to other locations in the Americas until 1865. The trail begins at the Manchester Docks, which, alongside Rocketts Landing on the north side of the river, operated as a major port in the massive downriver slave trade, making Richmond the largest source of enslaved blacks on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860. While many of the slaves were shipped on to New Orleans and to other Deep South ports, the trail follows the footsteps of those who remained here and crossed the James River, often chained together in a coffle. Once reaching the northern riverbank, the trail then follows a route through the slave markets and auction houses of Richmond, beside the Reconciliation Statue commemorating the international triangular slave trade and on to the site of the notorious Lumpkin's Slave Jail and leading on to Richmond's African Burial Ground, once called the Burial Ground for Negroes, and the First African Baptist Church, a center of African American life in pre-Civil War Richmond. - Richmond Slave Trail Commission - 2011 -
Title image: "After the Sale: Slaves Going South", 1853, Painted from live by Eyre Crowe, courtesy the Chicago History Museum

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The Lumpkin's Jail Complex
2_Hotel and Tavern
Russell Photograph, taken April 1865 from Church Hill, showing the location of the Lumpkin's Jail Complex (above). Corresponding Sanborn Map (1886) (right). Archeological excavations have revealed the foundations of Lumpkin's kitchen (far right) and other buildings.

Recent Archaeological Findings
Beginning in the Spring of 2006, the James River Institute for Archaeology under contract with the City of Richmond conducted a two-phase archaeological investigation of the Lumpkin's Jail Complex. Prior to breaking ground, the 19th-century site was located in our 21st century city by "georeferencing" the 1835 Bates map of Richmond with present day aerial photos and modern mapping data. Upon view of the resulting images, researchers quickly realized that the entirety of Robert Lumpkin's property - including the jail - lay buried beneath interstate 95, its flanking embankments and the parking lot behind Main Street Train Station.

With the site now located, the first phase of the investigation could begin. Since the death of Robert Lumpkin in 1866, his property and site of Lumpkin's jail had changed ownership several times and supported industries such as an ironworks foundry, a railroad depot and finally, a major interstate. Keeping this in mind, the archaeological team sought to confirm the presence of intact cultural layers, features, and associated artifacts before embarking upon a more intensive investigation. To do this, the team excavated three tests trenches ranging in depth from 7 to 10-feet below grade, paying careful attention to the contents and composition of the excavated soil. A wide range of mid-19th-century artifacts, including ceramics, glasswares, and animal bone, as well as architectural materials such as handmade brick, cut nails, and slate roofing tiles suggested that further testing would potentially reveal even more significant information about the Lumpkin's Jail complex.

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Energized by the initial findings, a rigorous archaeological excavation took place between August and December of 2008. Although the area of investigation was limited by the proximity of the interstate, the old jail building presumably fell on land located beneath the parking lot and was therefore potentially accessible. Over the course of several months, thousands of cubic yards of fill soils were carefully removed within an area measuring roughly 160 by 80 feet. The various soil layers were recorded and significant features and artifacts were documented, photographed and cataloged. During this time the archaeological team encountered the slab footers of the former Seaboard Air Line Railroad warehouse, as well as the intact foundations of the Richmond Ironworks foundry. As the excavation continued, relics from the jail's era began to emerge. Researchers found a section of cobblestone paving with a v-shaped brick drain, the brick foundations of the kitchen building complete with a central hearth, and a massive brick retaining wall that separated the jail from the "public" area of Lumpkin's dwelling house, hotel and kitchen. Then, just days before the conclusion date of the project, the team unearthed two parallel building foundation trenches lined with granite. They were exactly 18 feet apart, the same distance noted in an 11876 record of the jail's form. With this discovery the archaeological team felt confident that Lumpkin's Jail, a place of both unimaginable cruelty and extreme import in Richmond's past, had finally been found.

In the Model
Drawn from a computer-generated 3-D model, the images above depict an accurate reconstruction of the Lumpkin's Jail complex. Based on first-hand accounts, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, etchings and daguerreotypes dating to the 1850's, the form, materials and situation of the four building owned by Robert Lumpkin are shown as they were when the jail was in use between the mid-1840's and 1865. In the rendering you see the dwelling house (1) where Robert and lived with Mary, his wife and former slave, and their five children. The hotel & tavern (2) where Lumpkin entertained potential slave buyers lies to the building's right, The kitchen (3) provided food for the Lumpkin family and his guests, visitors to the tavern and inmates of the jail (4). Here, separated from the rest of the site by an 8-foot elevation change and confined behind a tall fence topped with spikes, the prisoners endured severe corporal punishment, starvation and deplorable living conditions before stepping onto the auction block for purchase.

God's Half-Acre
The atrocities of Lumpkin's Jail came to an end with the fall of Confederate forces heralding the end of the Civil War. And, similar to the newly freed slaves once held behind its bars, the jail building soon breathed in a new and better life. In 1867, only two years after the cries of beaten men, women and children could be heard emanating from "the Devil's Half-Acer", Mary Lumpkin leased the property to Reverend Nathanial Colver, a Baptist minister who hoped to establish a religious school for those previously enslaved. Stepping over the same iron ring in the floor that once tethered slaves while they were whipped, Mr. Colver taught classes to a quickly growing number of students and soon Lumpkin's Jail became The Colver Institute, later known as the Richmond Theological Seminary. Upon moving into more spacious quarters in 1870, this small school once housed in a s1ave prison adopted the title it still holds proudly today, Virginia Union University.

Virtual reconstruction of Lumpkin's Jail based on Archeological evidence and historical records (above). Virginia Union University, shown circa 1909, evolved from The Colver Institute, which used Lumpkin's Complex as their first facilities (below).
HM NumberHMS1N
Year Placed2011
Placed ByRichmond Slave Trail Commission
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Friday, October 24th, 2014 at 4:13pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 285429 N 4157173
Decimal Degrees37.53660000, -77.42853333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 32.196', W 77° 25.712'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 32' 11.76" N, 77° 25' 42.72" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)804
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 310 Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, Richmond VA 23219, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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