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The New Gaol was the first official prison in New York City, opening in 1759. During the Colonial era, the prison was notorious for its appalling conditions and abusive warden, Provost Marshal William Cunningham.


Although the building was meant for convicted criminals as well, the prison housed a large amount of debtors during the Colonial era, earning the nickname "the Debtors' Prison." In 1773 the prison became overcrowded and construction began on a new prison, Bridewell. Later, during the British occupation of New York, the New Gaol housed prisoners of war.