Posted by: Katie | 21 November 2010

Charleston’s House of Correction

Most aficionados of Charleston history are familiar with the formidable-looking old County Jail at the southeast corner of Franklin and Magazine streets (often erroneously called the “City Jail”) and the sordid tales of its sometimes-gruesome past. But how many history fans have ever heard of Charleston’s “House of Correction,” which was once located on the same block as the County Jail? I would wager that few have, so we at the Charleston Archive are trying to shed some light on this long-forgotten institution and the interesting tales of its brief existence.

Between 1856 and 1885, the City of Charleston operated a “House of Correction” for the short-term incarceration of petty offenders. It’s inmates included males and females ranging from ages 5 to 75, and embraced both white and “colored” citizens. They served short sentences, usually five to ten days, but occasionally as long as thirty or even forty days. From May 1856 to February 1865, the House of Correction was located in the old Poor House building on the west side of Mazyck (now Logan) Street, between Queen and Magazine Streets. The institution was closed for the first three years of the city’s post-war occupation by Federal forces, but reopened in March 1868. From that time until mid-1872, the House of Correction was located in the west wing of the city’s old Workhouse, which was originally designed to house unruly or misbehaving slaves. In 1872 the House of Correction moved northward to the campus of a new city institution called the Ashley River Asylum, located on a fifteen-acre site at the west end of Mount (now Sumter) Street. Here the inmates worked on the “City Farm,” raising vegetables for the inmates of other city institutions, and tended the grounds of the city’s Public Cemetery (potter’s field).

The surviving records of Charleston’s House of Correction consist of one leather-bound volume containing 4,004 entries of persons admitted between March 1868 and June 1885. For each inmate, the record includes his/her date of admittance, name, age, place of nativity, last residence, duration in Charleston, occupation, and date of discharge. As one might imagine, this material could be a valuable resource for genealogists and historians of all stripes. In order to facilitate the use of these records, therefore, we at the Charleston Archive were determined to prepare a transcription for public use and dissemination.

In the spring of 2010, College of Charleston senior Gillian Coté volunteered to perform the bulk of the labor. In the span of about eighteen weeks, working four to six hours a week, Gillian transcribed the 4,004 entries into an Excel spreadsheet. Over the next several months, I proofread this material, carefully checking every letter and number against the original manuscript records. After transferring Gillian’s work into a Word document and formatting it for publication, I wrote an introduction that surveys the history of the House of Correction, describes the surviving records, and explains our transcription methodology.

I am pleased to announce that our transcription, Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885, has now been (self) published. Bound copies will soon be available in the South Carolina History Room at the Charleston County Public Library (as soon as they return from the bindery). In addition, I have made a searchable PDF version of our transcription, which is available for download. So if you’d like to peruse this newly-available historic material, or if you’d like to print a copy for your own library, here are the links to the PDF document, which is broken into three parts:

Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885: Front Matter

Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885, sorted by DATE

Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885, sorted by SURNAME

If you have any questions or comments about these materials, don’t hesitate to contact us here at the Charleston Archive.

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