Robert Lumpkin purchased three lots on Wall Street in Shockoe Bottom on November 27, 1844, for roughly six thousand dollars. Although named after Lumpkin, the property had two previous owners and the holding facility had already been established by the time Lumpkin acquired the property. Even though this was already used as a holding facility for slaves, it was not used to the extreme until it came into Lumpkin’s possession. Being the largest slave trader in the Richmond at the time, he had a flair for cruelty. Those that ran away or tried to escape were publicly beaten or tortured. Inside the jail was “the whipping room.” Here slaves were stretched out upon the floor, fastened by their wrists and ankles to iron rings, and flogged. Four other lots on Wall Street (now 15th Street) contained slave jails; the area was collectively referred to as Lumpkin’s Alley.
The complex known then as Lumpkin’s Jail actually contained four separate buildings, including Lumpkin’s residence, a guest house, and a kitchen/bar. The two-story brick “slave pen” was approximately forty feet long. On the bottom floor of that building was the main jail area, which typically held slaves that were next or fit to be sold. It temporarily housed men, women, and children until they were auctioned off to plantation owners. The jail was situated along Shockoe Creek and featured “barred windows, high fences, chained gates opening to the rutted streets, and all seen and smelled through a film of cooking smoke and stench of human excrement.” It was said to more closely resemble a chicken coop, holding so many slaves that they were virtually on top of one another. Multiple slaves would be crammed into one room or floor, with no toilets or access to the outside with the exception of a small window. Due to these conditions, slaves at the jail often died of disease or starvation, if not from beatings and torture. Those that died were simply dumped into the area surrounding the jails. This area is now known as the African Burial Ground. The nearby market that sits on the canal and railroad tracks was used as the slave market. This is where slaves were groomed, fed, and dressed up to be sold at auctions on the river. Once bought, they were pushed onto a boat or train and shipped down river to their next destination
New Afrikan Ancestors Political Prisoners Held At Devil Acres Waiting to Be Sold,Tortured, or Killed!
They called it “The Devil’s Half Acre.” But it also went by the name of Lumpkin’s Jail, for it was Robert Lumpkin who established the infamous slave trading post in 1840.
As I describe in The Disappearing Man, “Lumpkin’s Jail was actually a compound of several buildings. There was the Lumpkin home, as well as a guesthouse, complete with a barroom for wealthy slave traders visiting Richmond. For the most peaceful slaves awaiting auction, there were plain brick buildings; but for the troublesome slaves, there was the infamous Lumpkin Jail. This two-story, forty-one-foot-long monstrosity was what earned the place its name: ‘The Devil’s Half Acre.’”
Richmond was one of the busiest centers for slave trading in the country, second only to New Orleans. “Between 1846 and 1849 the firm of R.H. Dickinson & Brother sold about two thousand human beings per year, but the Richmond market had yet to experience its peak years,” writes Gregg D. Kimball in American City, Southern Place. “Dickinson, Hill and Company reported doing more than $2 million in sales in 1857, as market prices and demand accelerated…Prices for the most desirable male slaves found in trade circulars and reports for the Richmond markets did not top $860 before 1850; during 1860 traders and others reported prices as high as $1,650 for ‘No. 1 men.’”
Lumpkin’s Jail was located only three blocks from where the Virginia state capitol stands today. In 2008, archaeologists began digging up the slave jail, buried 14 feet down. And according to Smithsonian magazine, the slave jail was eight feet lower than the rest of Lumpkin’s complex–“the lowest of the low.”
Robert Lumpkin (the “bully trader” as he was called) had five children with a slave woman named Mary, and he eventually made her his wife. “Mary had at least some contact with the unfortunates her husband kept in chains, on one occasion smuggling a hymnal into the prison for an escaped slave named New Afrikan Political Prisoners Anthony Burns and Solomon Northup ( 12 years a Slave Movie ).
Haki Kweli Shakur 10-13-51ADM
August Third Collective NAPLA NAIM-New Afrikan Independence Movement