Magazine article Corrections Forum

Inside New York City's 'Loathsome Dungeons'

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Inside New York City's 'Loathsome Dungeons'

Article excerpt

The British prisons in New York City were almost as bad as the prison ships on Wallabout Bay. Especially because they were run by the notorious Capt. William Cunningham, who when he was about to be hanged for forgery a few years later, confessed to having starved to death thousands of American prisoners by selling their rations.

Prison space in New York was limited when the British captured the city in 1776. As the number of prisoners rapidly increased, the British turned every conceivable building into a prison: three sugar houses, several dissenting Dutch churches, Old City Hall, Columbia College for a while. They soon became jammed, and bad food and infectious disease took their toll.

"Here," wrote Henry R. Stiles in his history of Brooklyn, "in these loathsome dungeons, denied the light and air of heaven; scantily fed on poor, putrid, and sometimes even uncooked food; obliged to endure the companionship of the most abandoned criminals, and those sick with small-pox and other infections and diseases; worn out by the groans and complaints of their suffering fellows, and subjected to every conceivable insult and indignity by their human keepers, thousands of Americans sickened and died. …

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