Lumpkin's Jail

Historical Significance

Lumpkin's Jail was located on a half an acre of land in what is now Richmond's historic Shockoe Bottom. The jail was known as "The Devil's Half Acre" because it was a holding pen, punishment and "breaking" center for more than 300,000 enslaved persons from the 1830's until 1865, when Union troops took the city. Owned by slave dealer Robert Lumpkin, the jail was the largest antebellum slave trading site outside of New Orleans.

Lumpkin died shortly after the Civil War, when his African-American widow and former slave, Mary Lumpkin, inherited his estate. Mrs. Lumpkin leased the property to Reverend Colver in 1867, who used the land and buildings for a school to educate freed slaves. This new use of the jail earned the site a revised nickname, "God's Half Acre." The school later expanded and moved to a new location in 1870, eventually becoming Virginia Union University in 1899.

In 2006, archaeologists were hired to excavate the buried site. During the course of digging, the James River Institute for Archaeology staff uncovered a large section of cobble-paved central courtyard, the brick foundations of the kitchen building, a massive brick retaining wall that divided the site into upper and lower terraces, as well as the foundations of the former jail building itself. The excavation also yielded thousands of artifacts, including ceramics, bottles, glassware, animal bones, and many other everyday items discarded at the site throughout the nineteenth century. After the excavations were completed, the site was backfilled with dirt. The artifacts have been curated by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The Richmond Slave Trail Commission, established by Richmond City Council in 1998 to help preserve the history of slavery in Richmond, included Lumpkins Jail on a walking trail chronicling the history of the trade in enslaved Africans from their homelands to Virginia and further south. In 2011, 17 Richmond Slave Trail Markers located throughout the East End of Richmond were dedicated to describe the role Richmond played in the history of slavery. 

Physical Description

The site consisted of three, 30-foot wide lots which bordered a narrow alley extending from 15th Street to Broad Street. The site originally contained a two-story brick building, 41 feet long and 21 feet wide with barred windows.  In the 1890s, the Richmond Ironworks was built over the site, followed by the Seaboard Railroad Depot in the early 1900s. The former site of Lumpkin's Jail is now a parking lot bordered by Main Street Train Station on East Main Street.

Geographical and Contact Information

East Franklin Street east of North 15th Street
Richmond, Virginia