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The Colonial Old Newgate Prison


Old Newgate Prison was one of the oldest and most notorious prisons in American history. It was established in 1773 in East Granby, Connecticut and served as a prison for over 140 years, housing thousands of prisoners for various crimes. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the history and significance of Old Newgate Prison, including its early years, growth, life in the prison, notable events and incidents, reforms and changes, decline and abandonment, restoration and preservation, and legacy.

The Early Years of Old Newgate Prison

Old Newgate Prison was founded and established in 1773 as a copper mine in East Granby, Connecticut. However, it was soon converted into a prison to house prisoners for various crimes, including theft, murder, and treason. The first prisoners were brought to the prison in 1790, and operations began shortly thereafter. The prison was small and consisted of only a few cells and facilities, but it soon grew and expanded as the number of prisoners increased.

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The Growth of Old Newgate Prison

As the number of prisoners increased, so did the need for expansion of facilities and operations. The prison grew to include more cells, workshops, and other facilities to accommodate the growing population. The types of crimes committed by prisoners also diversified, including more serious offenses such as piracy and counterfeiting. Despite the growth and expansion, the living conditions in the prison remained harsh and the treatment of prisoners was often cruel and inhumane.

Life in Old Newgate Prison

Life in Old Newgate Prison was harsh and difficult for prisoners. The living conditions were cramped and unsanitary, and the prisoners were often subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. The daily routines involved hard labor and punishments, including whippings and executions. Despite these conditions, some prisoners were able to survive and even thrive in the prison, forming communities and networks to support each other.

Notable Events and Incidents in Old Newgate Prison

Old Newgate Prison was not immune to the violence and unrest that plagued many prisons in the 18th and 19th centuries. There were several prison riots and rebellions, as well as famous prisoners and cases that made headlines and stirred public interest. One of the most notable incidents was the prison riot in 1827, where prisoners staged a rebellion and attempted to escape. There were also several famous prisoners who were housed in Old Newgate Prison, including notorious pirates and political prisoners.

Reforms and Changes in Old Newgate Prison

As the prison system in America evolved, so did the efforts to improve conditions and treatment of prisoners. Reformers and activists pushed for changes in the prison system, including better living conditions and more humane treatment of prisoners. Old Newgate Prison was no exception, and various efforts were made to improve the facilities and conditions in the prison. Despite these efforts, the prison remained a harsh and inhumane place, and the need for change and reform continued to grow.

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Decline and Abandonment of Old Newgate Prison

As the prison system in America continued to evolve and change, Old Newgate Prison eventually declined and was eventually abandoned. The reasons for the closure and abandonment of the prison included the growth of the prison system, the changing attitudes towards punishment and rehabilitation, and the need for more modern and efficient facilities. After its closure, the prison was left to deteriorate and was eventually abandoned.

Restoration and Preservation of Old Newgate Prison

Despite its decline and abandonment, Old Newgate Prison has since been the subject of efforts to preserve and restore the historic site. The prison has been restored and preserved as a museum, showcasing the history and significance of the prison and its impact on American society and the prison system. Today, Old Newgate Prison is open to the public and serves as a unique and fascinating glimpse into the history of American prisons and the evolution of the prison system.

The Legacy of Old Newgate Prison

The legacy of Old Newgate Prison extends far beyond its walls and into the broader American society and prison system. The prison played a significant role in the evolution of the prison system in America and helped to shape attitudes towards punishment and rehabilitation. Its impact can still be felt today, as the history and significance of Old Newgate Prison continue to be studied and remembered.


In conclusion, Old Newgate Prison was a unique and important chapter in American history, serving as a stark reminder of the harsh and inhumane conditions that existed in early American prisons. Despite its decline and abandonment, the prison has been restored and preserved as a museum, showcasing its history and significance for future generations. The legacy of Old Newgate Prison continues to impact the American prison system and society, serving as a powerful reminder of the need for ongoing reforms and changes in the prison system.

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  1. What was Old Newgate Prison?
    • Old Newgate Prison was one of the oldest and most notorious prisons in American history, established in 1773 in East Granby, Connecticut.
  2. How long did Old Newgate Prison operate?
    • Old Newgate Prison operated for over 140 years, from 1773 to its closure in the early 1900s.
  3. What types of crimes were prisoners housed in Old Newgate Prison convicted of?
    • Old Newgate Prison housed prisoners convicted of various crimes, including theft, murder, treason, piracy, and counterfeiting.
  4. How were prisoners treated in Old Newgate Prison?
    • Prisoners in Old Newgate Prison were subjected to harsh and inhumane conditions, including cramped and unsanitary living conditions and cruel punishments.
  5. What is the legacy of Old Newgate Prison?
    • The legacy of Old Newgate Prison includes its impact on the evolution of the American prison system and society, and its significance as a unique and fascinating chapter in American history.

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