Author: Matthew R. Laird

a partner and senior researcher at the James River Institute for Archaeology, Inc.
ENTRY

Lumpkin’s Jail

Lumpkin’s Jail was a slave-trading complex located on Wall Street, in the Shockoe Bottom district of Richmond, which operated from the 1830s until the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865). The slave-trader Bacon Tait owned the property first, followed by Lewis A. Collier, who built the so-called jail, which confined enslaved African Americans prior to their sale. Robert Lumpkin purchased the property in 1844 and used the facility to pursue his own slave-trading business, accommodating his clients in a boardinghouse on the premises. Lumpkin also charged slave dealers and owners a daily fee for holding their slaves. Anthony Burns, a runaway slave returned to Richmond under the Fugitive Slave Law, was housed at Lumpkin’s for four months under appalling conditions. Lumpkin died in 1866, and his widow, a formerly enslaved woman named Mary, leased the property to a Baptist minister who founded the Colver Institute, a religious school for emancipated African Americans, and held classes in the former jail building. The school eventually became Virginia Union University. The jail was demolished by 1876 and large industrial buildings later occupied the site. Its history was largely forgotten until 2005, when archaeologists began the first phase of an investigation that eventually found evidence of the complex, including the original jail building buried nearly fifteen feet beneath the modern ground level. The archaeological remains were subsequently reburied, and the Lumpkin’s Jail site is commemorated as one of seventeen places on the Richmond Slave Trail.

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