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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Whiskey Bottle, the Dice, and the Debtor’s Prison

IMG_1494A Colonial den of iniquity is all I can say.  We had been plunked down in a tiny town, numbering around 281 souls, which dated back in continuous courthouse records to 1632, referring to John Smith’s map of the area in the early 17th century and had Daniel Boone’s signature from land surveys in the 18th century.  When Richmond burned during the Civil War, this hamlet was preserved.  Here we were, excavating archaeological test units, to see if anything had been missed from earlier historical surveys.

 I was working outside of the Debtor’s Prison, that wonderful IMG_1507jail dating from about 1814 (some say 1743, but it cannot be verified due to the style and the fact that debtors were generally not separated from other prisoners in the 18th century) where, yes, debtors would be placed.  Generally, their punishment was public whipping, tied to a post out in the yard facing the jail.  That would be some incentive.  I guess bankruptcy was not a IMG_1509viable evasive maneuver back in the day.

 It was around this era that Colonial lawmakers decided to separate hardened criminals in their abject filth of prisons from debtors.  From what I saw, the Debtor’s Prison was not much of an upgrade. 

 One of the main concerns was that debtors liked to escape their responsibilities and the risk of escape was high.  Many were the reports of debtors escaping through miniscule windows, or by prying up wooden floorboards, or log walls.  Hence, the prisons developed into one-room buildings of very thick walls and floors held firmly in place by multiple stake-like nails used every several inches.  Windows were small squares covered by not one, but by two sets of metal bars about half a foot apart, the approximate thickness of the walls.IMG_1483

 It was rumored that, outside the Colonial Courthouse, gambling, prostitution, and a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed whenever court was in session, the only form of entertainment in remote villages.  Thus it was, that in my son’s excavation unit, they found an old whiskey bottle, and nearby, a die from a pair of dice.

 IMG_1379Who was gambling, and why, I wanted to know.  Could debtors gamble?   That was probably what got them into this mess in the firt place.  Or if it were onlookers, bystanders, and relatives, had they learned nothing from the public whippings?

 Justices were allowed a free-of-charge meeting house at the local tavern during the busy days when court was held, no doubt leading to a booming trade from others.  This was before the first courthouse was erected.IMG_1556

 It got curioser and curioser.

 A couple of Colonial pipes turned up, as well, just the bowl part without the long stem.  From a later date in time, a 2-cent and a 3-cent coin from around the time of the Civil War surfaced.  It was fun to see the big “II” and “III” on the backs, one with a very clear date of 1864, which now didn’t seem that old at all when examining life from the early 1600s.

IMG_1476 Native Americans played a prominent role in this region of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  The “King of the Great Nussawattocks” saved the Colonists from death when he warned them in 1621 of an impending Indian raid.

 Later in time, the Declaration of Independence was read from the Courthouse steps, as it was in many colonies of the time.  Much later, Freedmen were measured with a ruler attached to the doorway of the Clerk’s Office, their descriptions written in IMG_1449their personal identity papers, lest any try to catch them in a case of mistaken identity as runaway slaves.

 Even today, the townspeople were making history as a local octogenarian came to work with our archaeologists each day, telling of her own “finds” from days long ago.

 In our next installment, we’ll tell of some finds that Petya and I made, when we happened upon the local diner, not that this particular town boasted any such establishment, however there was one a few towns’ distant…..



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