Friday, March 1, 2013

Richmond Prison: the "house" that freedom built

Richmond prison. St. Croix, VI
Today I spent time in a prison. An open one, a forgotten one. One of the few prisons specifically built to house enslaved Africans, the prison in Richmond is our Robben Island. Built in 1834 it was constructed to control and punish the most rebellious of the enslaved, like our most infamous/famous freedom fighter General Buddhoe. 
Moses Gotlieb aka "General Buddhoe" lead the 1848 slave rebellion in St. Croix, Danish West Indies. He is on record as being imprisoned three times in the Richmond prison prior to this revolt.

Although I received different dates, it seemed to have functioned as a prison until the late 60's. And then...slowly, like so much of our history we forgot it. Today, most people do not know that there was even a prison there. And of those that do, many do not know that it was a part of the colonial system.

While I was there we happened upon some bones in the courtyard. It was the same courtyard that two hundred years ago enslaved people would have been forced to work as their punishment, doing back-breaking tasks like breaking rocks.  I found in the courtyard bones of an abandoned horse that was left tied to a tree. Someone just left the poor animal there. Perhaps they forgot it. I find it to be an interesting metaphor.


  1. La Vaughn, isn't this the prison that was behind Christiansted Elementary? I remember being in the school playground, watching people coming and going all day, as the gates were always wide open. The worst time was when dogs were being rounded up and brought to the jail (I don't know why) and shot. We could hear everything going on, then would go back to our classrooms. It was horrible.

  2. Wow. This post about the prison got a lot of feedback on Facebook and I heard so many stories related to animal torture of horses and now you comment on dogs. I'm not aware of a school being named Christiansted elementary, but there is a school close by. It's located next to the fire station in Richmond, but from the street you only see a faded red wall. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Is Richmond Penitentiary the same Richmond Prison?