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Database: The New Gaol

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The "New Gaol" opened in 1759 was the first building in New York to be a dedicated prison - before this criminals were held in the basement of city hall - or in the case of debtors, in the attic, because that's where I keep all my debtors.

The building was meant for convicted criminals too, but overwhelming poverty in the neighbourhood around it meant it quickly earned the nickname "the Debtors Prison". By 1773 it was overcrowded, not just with Debtors but also with prisoners from the French and Indian War. Construction started on a new prison - the Bridewell.

Both the New Gaol and Bridewell prison were used to house POWs during the British occupation of New York. It's an understatement to call the conditions there appalling. Hundreds of prisoners were kept with very little food, heat, or adequate clothing (those that did have clothing sold it to get more food.) Diseases like smallpox ran rampant among prisoners.

The man in charge of the prisoners was the Provost Marshal Walliam Cunningham. He was notorious for his cruel treatment of prisoners, and his presence earned the New Gaol yet another nickname - the Provost. His mum must have been so proud.

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