BOOK 973.372 P5I6N c2
-HELPS , NEWOAT/S.'|o«.Ecr,CUT
3 T1S3 ooosan? 3
NORTH-WEST VIEW OF OLD PRISON. 1876.
OLD PRISON RUINS.
NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT;
ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY.
BBINO Jl full description OF THE
FAMOUS AND WONDERFUL SIMSBURY MINES AND CAVERNS,
AND THE PRISON BUILT OVER THEM.
TO WHICH IS ADDED
▲ KELATION OF ALL THE INCIDENTS, IN8UBKECTIONS, AND MA8SACKBS, CON*
NECTED WITH THEIR USE AS A PRISON FOR THE TORIES DURINQ
THE REVOLUTION, AND OTHERWISE ; WITH INTERESTING
SKETCHES OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS,
IN (now) EAST GRANBT.
AN ILLUSTRATED DESCRIPTION OP THE
STATE PRISON AT ^\^ETB[ERSFIE1L.D.
RICHARD H. PHELPS.
HARTFORD, CONN :
AMERICAN PUBLISHING COMPANY.
twTERED according to act of Congress, in the year 1876, by the
AMERICAN PUBLISHING CO.,
la the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C
In this Centennial Year — 1876 — it is useful to review the inci-
dents relating to our early history which ilhistrate tlie manners,
and the civil, religious, and criminal policy of former times. The
records of deeds and events, apparently of slight moment at the
time of their occurrence, increase in importance as ages roll
away, and are the indices by which we estimate the truth of
There is an exciting fascination in the eventful history of
Newgate of Connecticut to all who have been familiar with
it, especially to those who, like the writer, have resided in its
vicinity and witnessed man}' of its scenes ; and to judge by the
numbers who come from afar to explore its caverns and the ruins
which now cover its grounds, it will long continue to be an object
of interest and examination. The aged residents in its vicinity
are nearly all gone ; but this prison-fortress will doubtless long
remain and continue to be a place of classic interest. The trav-
eller will inquire. Who built these towers? Wh}^ these iron
grates, these trenches, and these walls? How came these huge
caverns to be dug out of solid rock? Surely the echo of the
caverns cannot answer, nor the people who lived cotemporane-
ousl}' with their use.
The facts herein presented have been gathered from a variety
of sources. Besides what came within the knowledge of the
writer, he has availed himself of the statistics afforded by ancient
colonial and state records ; of the verbal statements kindly fur-
nished by the few aged persons still living ; and of other facts
preserved from the recorded relations of witnesses long since
The first edition, in pamphlet form, printed thirt3'-two years
ago, and the larger work published in 1860 have been revised,
and additional matter of interest herein incorporated. Also
appended is a historical sketch of East Granby (the present
location of the old prison), and an account of the state prison
BiCHARD II. PhELPB.
East Granby, Conn., 1876.
NOTE TO PREFACE
Since the decease of Richard H. Phelps, the author of this
History, who died at his home in East Granby, Conn., in 1885,
the writer of this note has met with additional matter regarding
the ancient prison, a large portion being in the nature of " facts
that ain't so " mostly manufactured by bright correspondents of
metropolitan journals. Using this authentic history as a base of
supplies (usually without credit), they have foraged about for
ghastly legends invented by a later generation ; their tales of
horror are not incorporated in this volume, enough real tragedies
having been enacted at Newgate to sufficiently thrill the reader of
the following pages. Even in modern prisons insurrections and
murders sometimes occur, and the facts do not show that the science
of penology was any more misapplied at Newgate than at other
jails or prisons of that period. The late author aimed strictly at
accuracy; and it is the wish of his son, the present writer, to im-
press upon the thoughtful reader the sentiments in the Preface.
The author refers to " the aged persons " then living, from whom
many of the facts were originally gathered by him nearly seventy
years ago. Those venerable people failed to foresee the works of
these imaginative generations, then unborn.
RoswELL H. Phelps.
East Granby, Conn., August, 1901.
NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
Origin of its Title— Our Puritan Ancestors— The Mines of Simsbury—
Granby and Copper Hill 13
Discovery of Copper — The First Company Organized — Three Clergy-
men Appointed Smelters— Their Unsuccessful Efforts — The Pro-
prietors are disgusted — An Act passed to regulate the Mines— King
George's right to a Royalty Acknowledged— The Work Abandoned. 14
Coins made from Granby Metal — Mr. Iligleys's Operations — The Sledge-
hammer and the Crown— Colonial Bills of Credit— Provision Pay-
Prompt Payment of the Colonial Bills 19
The Old Mines Re-opened— The Phoenix Mining Co.— The Connecticut
Copper Company — Depreciated Continental Currency — Curious
letter a Century Old— Analysis of the Copper Ore— Silliman's
Survey of the Mines 23
IMPRISONMENT OF THE TORIES.
The Mine transformed into a Dungeon— Prison Discipline— Whipping
the Prisoners — The Tories Incarcerated — Troubles of the Revolu-
tionary War— The Committee of Safety— The Reward of Loyalty-
Opinions of a Century Ago 25
THE FIRST KEEPER OP NEWGATE.
Captain John Viets — His Little Bill for a Year — Conspiracy of the
Prisoners — Locking in the Janitor — Flight and Pursuit — Strength-
ening the Jail 32
Burning the Block-house — Suffocated in Prison — Carelessness of the
A SCENE OP CONFLICT AND BLOOD.
The Multitude of Guards Appointed — The Tories become Desperate —
They Conspire to Escape — They overpower the Guard, and all
Escape — Recapture of the Fugitives — The Gazetteer of 1773— A
Cotemporary Story — The Prison buildings Destroyed 30
A TORY CLERGYMAN IN NEWGATE.
He Preaches a Fiery Sermon — Addresses Gen. Washington — Denoun-
ces the Whigs — Suggests the Assassination of Washington and
the M. C'8 41
THE GOSPEL FURNISHED BY THE STATE.
Primitive Services — Nail-shop Preaching — Brother Jonathan Appealed
To — Gen. Washington sends some "Atrocious Villains" to the
Mines — Tory Misdemeanors 52
OLD KEWGATE PRISON.
The "Stone Jug" — Buildings Above-Ground — Appearance of the
Caverns — Story of a Visitor — Daily Routine — More Escapes and
Insurrections — Interesting Anecdotes 58
CONNECTICUT STATE PRISON.
The Building at Wethersfield — Management and Discipline — Condition
of the Convicts — Notorious Instances — Facts and Statistics 88
HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF EAST GRANBY.
Settlements on Farmington River — Lands purchased from the Indians
Trouble experienced by the Settlers — Captivity of Daniel Hayes —
His Story — The Red-Men — Revolutionary Incidents — The War of
1812— The Way to reach Copper Hill 116
JS^EWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
THIS is the name by which the prison was known in the
time of the American Revolution, and it was so called
after Newgate prison in England. It is well known that our
forefathers, in giving names to their towns and rivers, and
other objects of nature and art, by which they were surround-
ed, drew freely upon those to which they had been accustomed
in their ancestral homes ; thus they endeavored to make their
adopted country, in names at least, assimilate to their native
land. So, in denominating this receptacle for their criminals
after the world-renowned prison of London, they intended
to endow it with all the terror which attached to that fearful
;|^4 NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
abode of the depraved. The mines and prison buildings
occupy an eminence on the western declivity of the Talcott
mountain, which rises to a great elevation, and is here sur-
mounted by lofty, precipitous and craggy rocks. This range
of mountains extends through the whole length of the State,
and terminates at the East Kock near New Haven. Towards
the west and south, can be seen in the distance, bold and
irregular outlines of mountains, interspersed with extensive
valleys, forming a scene of impressive grandeur and sub-
limity, seldom surpassed. Says a writer :
"The appearance of this place forcibly reminds the observer of the walls,
castles, and towers, erected for the security of some haughty lordling of the
feudal ages ; while the gloomy dungeons within its walls, call to remem-
brance a Bastile, or a prison of the Inquisition."
** A hundred legends cling about its walls,
But silence reigns beneath its crumbling stone ;
No busy hand repairs the falling walls,
Deserted now it wastes away alone ;
The summer idler often passes by,
Yet some there are who enter at the gate,
To dream awhile, and, leaving, breathe a sigh.
To see it mouldering in such fallen state."
The mines were formerly included in the limits of the
town of Simsbury, and so remained until 1786, when a part
of the town, including the mines and prison, was set off and
incorporated under the name of Granhy; hence the place
was at that time known by the name of Simsbury Copper
Mines, on Copper HilL
The town of Granby was subdivided in 1858, and the
mines are at present included in the town of East Granby.
If the State of Connecticut continues henceforth to increase
her legislative ratio of representation by subdividing her
towns, it will become difficult to trace the topography of
some places within her borders, nor can it well be foreseen
what town will have the honor of containing Simsbury mines
at the next subdivision.
The period at which copper ore was first discovered at this
NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT. 15
place 18 not definitely known ; but the first record relating
to the mines, was in December 1705, when the town of Sims-
bury appointed a committee to make search, upon a suggestion
" that there was a mine, either of sil ver or copper, in the town."
The report of the committee is not recorded, but from subse-
quent results it was doubtless favorable. The first company for
working the mines, was composed of land proprietors of Sims-
bury, in 1707. The association agreed to pay the town Yen
shillings on each ton of copper produced, of which two-thirds
was appropriated for the support *' of an able schoolmaster
in Simsbury," and the other third to the "collegiate school,"
[Yale college] ; the residue of profits was to be divided among
the partners ^r^? rata^ according to the amount of their respec-
tive subscription shares.
All the land on Copper Hill, and in that region, was cov-
ered with the primeval forest, and occupied only as hunting
ground by roving bands of Indians; and as the land was
unsold, and under the control of the original proprietors of
the town, the association comprised chiefly all the inhabitants.
The company concluded only to dig the ore, and the first
year they made a contract with three clergymen, for smelting
the same, viz: John Woodbridge, of Springfield, Dudley
Woodbridge, of Simsbury, and Timothy Woodbridge, Jr.,
Clergymen at that early period were regarded as the prin-
cipal embodiments of science as well as theology, and as
many of them received their education in England, these
contractors were supposed to possess the best facilities for
obtaining information from foreign sources, in regard to the
difl&cult process of smelting and refining. The theologians,
however, did not understand the business, or at least failed
to prosecute it to advantage ; for in four years from their
commencement, the proprietors appointed a committee to
call them to account, and, if necessary, " to sue them for the
ore that had been brought to them at divers times." The
mines had at that time attained a good degree of celebrity,
as appears by a public act passed by the colony :
16 NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
**Anno Regni Ann^ Reginae
V. Septimo A. D. 1709."
An Act relating to the Copper Mines at Simsbury :
" Whereas there hath lately been discovered a Copper mine at Symsbury,
which hath been so improved as to give good satisfaction to conclude that a
public benefit might arise therefrom; now for the better encouraging,
directing, and enabling the proprietors and undertakers, or others that are or
may be concerned therein, their heirs and assigns, to manage, carry on, and
improve said mines to the best advantage," etc.
The act authorized the appointment of three commissioners,
"William Pitkin, John Haynes, and John Hooker, who were
to Bettle all controversies, and who were authorized to sum-
mon a jury in disputes exceeding forty shillings in amount.
The sessions of this court were held generally at or near the
mines, and great numbers of business and litigated cases,
were adjusted in a summary and economical way, for the
space of more than sixty years. During that whole period,
the company of proprietors worked the mines, either them-
selves, or by leasing to other parties, who agreed to pay
the company a percentage of the ore or metal produced.
In their leases it was expressly stipulated, as follows : —
"They also paying thereof to his Majesty, his heirs and successors, the
fifth part of all gold and silver oar and precious stones, which from time to
time, and at all times hereafter shall happen to be found, gotten, had and
obtained within the aforesaid demised premises, or in any part or parcel
Thus acknowledging themselves most loyal subjects of
taxation and revenue to the crown of England.
It is not ascertained what per cent, of profits was made on
the investment in these mines, over and above the expenses
of working them, but it is natural to suppose that if they
were very profitable to the operators, all the applause usually
attendant upon good luck, would not have remained forever
hidden in oblivion from the world. Still the illusive charms
of mining, had so much of novelty and hope for adventurers in
the New World, that new companies were formed successively
at various periods.
Some of the companies were composed of persons of great
wealth and respectability. One company was formed in
NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT. 17
London, one in Holland, others in Boston, New York, and
elsewhere. In 1714, the records show that the use of the
mines was purchased by Johnathan Belcher of Boston,
(afterwards governor), Timothy Woodbrid<^e Jr., and William
Partrige; and in 1721 they had miners from Germany
employed, and were expending seventy pounds a month in
the work. It appears that this Boston company operated
the mines for a period of at least twenty-three years, and in
a letter from Governor Belcher, dated 1736, he states that
he had disbursed upwards of fifteen thousand pounds, or
about seventy-five thousand dollars.
In 1721 a division of the mining lands took place among
the lessees, and each company worked at separate mines
situated upon, and less than one mile from Copper Hill. At
Higley's mine, about one and a half miles south, are now
the remains of old workings which w^ere operated at a later
period than the others. At the breaking out of the War of
the Kevolution, Edmund Quincy of Boston had miners
working at that place, but the works were soon after
abandoned. After 1778 the old Copper Hill mines were
deserted for fifty-three years, until a new company began
operations in 1831.
The excitement in the colonies upon the business of mining,
about that period, was very great, as it would seem from the
following petition, copied from the records :
** To the Ilonnell, the GovW Councill and Representatives in General Court
assembled in New Haven, Oct. IGth A. D. 1733.
"The Prayer oi Joseph Whiting, of New Haven, Humbly Sheweth; That
your Suppliant has expended a considerable time and money in Searching
after Mines, and has made farther Discoveries perliaps than any other man in
this Colony has before done, and having met with such incourgement as
that I am willing to be at farther Expense in the Same Search— but ready
money being so absolutely necessary therein ; I therefore Humbly pray this
assembly will be pleased to lease me one thousand pounds of the money
Granted last may to be struck, and now to be disposed of by this assembly —
upon double security in Lands and Bonds, for the payment of the interest
every year; the principall to be Returned at the Expiration of ten
years," &c. Joseph Whiting."
18 NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
A great deal of time and money without doubt was
expended as the aforesaid petitioner says " in searching after
mines^'' for the evidence may be seen in the numerous pits
and shafts which have been dug along the whole range of
this mountain to New Haven. At that day, as in all previous
time since the world began, and as is seen especially at the
present day, the chief aim of many appeared to be to make
fortunes by head-work — by speculation, and choosing rather
to spend their time and risk their money in mining, and
other uncertain projects — than to dig upon the surface of
good old mother earth, for a sure and honest living.
Upon the summit of the hill where the greatest excavations
were made, and the largest quantity of ore taken, two per-
pendicular shafts were dug principally through solid rock,
for the purpose of raising the ore. One of them is nearly
eighty feet deep, and the other thirty-live. At the bottom
of these shafts we find the caverns^ so termed, extending in
various directions, several hundred^feet. By estimating the
once solid contents of these subterraneous vaults, an idea can
be formed of the great quantity of ore which has been taken
out. The percolation of water through the crevices of rock,
made it necessary to dig drains or levels to convey it off; but
these either became obstructed, or the mines were sunk below
them, which allowed the accumulation of water, and it became
necessary to discharge it by working the pumps day and
night. This was done by employing the people in the vicini-
ty and from neighboring towns, and from the amount ex-
pended for this service — three hundred and fifty dollars per
month — it is believed that from twenty-five to tnirty men
were kept at work.
The copper ore has somewhat the appearance of yellowish
grey sandstone, intermixed with nodules of bluish sulphuret,
and yellow pyrites, and is very hard and brittle.
The vein is considered as rich, yielding ten to fifteen per
cent, of pure copper, and some masses have been obtained
yielding over forty per cent. The ore is of a character
termed refractory^ and the metal does not readily separate
NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT. 19
from tlie stone when pulverised and washed, in consequence
of the specific gravity of the stony particles.
-The mines would doubtless have been profitable to the
operators at the price at which copper metal was at that time
valued, had not the enterprise been shackled with various
incumbrances. A principal one was, the laws of the mother
country prohibiting the smelting of it here. The rigid laws
of Britain imposed penalties upon any who should attempt to
compete with her furnaces and artisans at home, consequently
the vast expense of shipping it across the Atlantic, crippled
the success of all parties engaged in the business. Notwith-
standing the enormous expense, several cargoes were sent to
Europe. A large quantity was deposited about one mile east
of the mountain, in East Gran by, upon a spot now marked by
an entire dearth of vegetation, owing to the poisonous qual-
ities extracted from the ore. From there it was carried
fourteen miles to Hartford, where it was shipped to New
York, and thence to England. The owners were still further
disheartened by the loss of two vessels with their cargoes of
ore. One was seized and confiscated as a prize by the French
who were then at war with England ; the other was sunk in
the English Channel by shipwreck.
In defiance of British restrictions, considerable ore was
smelted by the companies. Buildings and furnaces for
pounding, smelting, and refining, were erected in Simsbury
upon a stream of water called Hop Brook, a few miles dis-
tant, but safety required caution and secrecy in the works,
which were for many years abandoned. The place where the
smelting was carried on, was named by the German workmen,
"Hanover," from their native place in Germany, which
name it still retains. The mining-works at 'Hanover' were
attached in 1725, and 1700 pounds of what was termed "black
copper" (it not having been refined) was levied upon.
Coin was made from this ore in 1737 and 1739, by a Mr.
Higley, and was in current circulation for many years. In
20 NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
describing these coins, a writer says: They were Btamped
upon plancliets of the purest copper, and, in consequence,
were in demand by goldsmiths for alloy. The trade of a
blacksmith, ever since Yulcan was engaged in forging thun-
derbolts, has given to the world some very remarkable men,
and it affords us great pleasure at this time to be able to
contribute to the fame of one of the craft, who not only
devised, but manufactured currency. "We have seen it
stated that Mr. Higley, the author of these coppers, was an
ingenious blacksmith who resided in the town of Gran by ;
hence the name " Granby Coppers" and that with all the
notions of utility w^hich he naturally derived from the anvil,
he was ambitious of making a little reputation for himself
besides. He has certainly left evidence of having been an
artist as well as financier, for the creations of his genius and
skill were, for the times, well executed, and they also became
a currency. Subsequently, we are informed, his cupidity
led him into the hazardous experiment of illegally imitating
the issues of other coiners, which, being discovered, deprived
him of a portion of the laurels that had previously encircled
his brow.* These coppers bear the synfibols of their origin,
with a due regard to royalty on some of them — the sledge-
hammers being surmounted by crowns, a something very
apparent to the minds of the colonists, but which did not
always command their sincere reverence. These coins grace
but few cabinets, having been generally so impaired by wear,
from being stamped upon unalloyed copper, as to be rarely
found sufficiently perfect. We were, how^ever, lately grati-
fied by finding in Xew York city an electrotype which was
perfect. Single specimens of this coin now command from
fifteen to twenty-five dollars each. There appear to have
♦ The impression that Mr, H. was a counterfeiter does not seem to be
sustained by any recorded evidence. It is more probable, that owing, to the
jealousy of England, which at that period crippled all such enterprises here,
notice was served upon him that his embryo mint was regarded as an in-
fringement upon the royal prerogatives, and he was for that reason obliged
to suspend operations.
NEWGATE OF CONNECTICUT.
been five different issues of them, of several devices; upon
one is the figure of a broad axe, with the motto '■^ I cut my
The engraving represents both sides of a Granby copper,
now in the Connecticut Historical Society, at Hartford, from
which the above cuts have been engraved for this work.
ISo public laws had been made by the colonists to authorize
coinage of money, or to specify its value. Specie was very
scarce in this country, and the coinage at this embryo mint,
was regarded with great favor by the residents in the vicin-
ity. The foreign trade of the country, which was chiefly
confined to England, was principally controlled by her; the
balance of trade was continually against us, which prevented
the importation of specie. The war between England and
France, in 1745, turned the tide somewhat in our favor, and
considerable quantities w^ere circulated in the colonies by
England in payment of war expenses.
Owing to the scarcity of coin the colonists resorted to the
use of Colonial Bills of Credit, the first issue of which was
made by them in 1709, being the same year in which a public
act was passed relating to the Simsbury mines. Previous to
that time "Provision Pay" was the usual medium of ex-
change, consisting of the common eatables and other products
of the country. The appraised value of such commodities at
that time, may be shown b}^ the following extract from the
records of the town of Simsbury, stipulating the pay of their
clergyman in 1688. They agreed to pay him fifty pounds