December 11, 1775 | New-Gate Prison

 Newgate, A Prison for the Confinement of Loyalists in Connecticut

"Gentn: The prisoners which will be delivered you with this, having been tried by a Court Martial, and deemed to be such flagrant and atrocious villains that they cannot by any means be set at large or confined in any place near this camp, were sentenced to be sent to Symsbury in Connecticut; you will therefore be pleased to have them secured in your Jail….so that they cannot possibly make their escape….."

General George Washington

The colony of Connecticut punished criminals in a manner typical for the time—by whipping, hanging, cropping of ears, or branding with a hot iron, but in 1773 the colony began to look for a more humane alternative. The Connecticut General Assembly sought a place where offenders could be kept in isolation from society and, hopefully, reformed. They thought they had found the ideal location in an inactive copper mine in Simsbury, Connecticut.

They named the old mine, New-Gate Prison, and carved a 16-foot lodging room at the bottom of a 25-foot shaft, fastening an iron gate over the top. The colonial prison’s first inmate arrived on December 22, 1773 and promptly escaped 19 days later. His compatriots had dropped a rope down another old 67-foot mine shaft and hoisted him to freedom.
The security at New-Gate prison had been tightened by the time newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, was looking for a place to contain loyalists to the British cause. Throughout the eight years of the American Revolution, Loyalists were kept at New-Gate along with murderers, petty thieves, and other recalcitrants. Conditions were deplorable—a later inmate provided this vivid account of the lodging room at the bottom of the mine shaft — “armies  of fleas, lice, and bedbugs covered every inch of the floor which itself was covered in five inches of slippery, stinking filth.”

Some historians believe that the deplorable treatment of American prisoners on British prison ships in New York harbor was retribution for the treatment of the Loyalists at New-Gate. Conditions at the prison did not improve after the war and, finally in 1827, New-Gate was shut down.