FOUR WALLS, City Hall Park

Bridewell Prison was in what is now City Hall Park [at Broadway and Murray Streets]. It was designed by Theophilus Hardenbrook in 1775.  The jail, poorhouse and another building known as the “New Bridewell” were used by the British to house American prisoners of war. Construction was interrupted by [the signing of  the] Declaration of Independence. The Bridewell, named for a London jail, was the most deadly of the prisons. It had no windows, only bars. The winter winds took the lives of hundreds of ill-fed patriots. Many thousands died in prison ships in the Harbor.

The sadistic William Cunningham was the provost marshal of the British jails. It is thought that Cunningham hung Nathan Hale, though the location of Hale’s execution is disputed. Cunningham is reported to have made a deathbed confession to starving 2,000 prisoners in the city as he sold their allotted rations for personal profit. He confessed to executing outright 275 American prisoners and “other obnoxious persons.” Women who visited the jails to speak to their husbands through the windows were beaten with canes and ramrods.

The Bridewell was used as a jail until its demolition in 1838. Granite blocks were incorporated into the new Manhattan Detention Complex (the Tombs). Its cornerstone can be found at the New -York Historical Society.

From the Aaron Burr Association listing


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