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A background to James’ arrest may prove interesting to place his crime and eventual


transportation to America into historical context. The County of Middlesex, which encloses the City of London, is one of the smallest in England. It has been estimated that one in three felons in England were convicted in the County of Middlesex.5


Newgate Prison was probably the


most notorious prison in all England. A prison has stood on the Newgate site for almost a thousand years. The first prison was nearly as old as the Tower of London and much older than the Bastille. It is first mentioned in the reign of King John and in the following reign of Henry the III (1218), the King expressly commands the sheriffs of London to repair it and promised to repay them from his own exchequer. This shows that the prison was under the direct control of the King at that time. The prison itself was originally above the gate or in the gatehouse. London was anciently a walled city with four gates. It has been argued that Newgate was one of the original four, and conversely, that it was indeed a “new” gate, being the fifth to provide entry to the city. This is somewhat substantiated by the


fact that in 1086 the old cathedral church of St Paul was destroyed. In building a new cathedral, Mauritius, Bishop of London, wanted a building so large and so grand, plus a cemetery and churchyard, that he blocked the then great thoroughfare from Aldgate in the east to Ludgate in the west. This resulted in traffic having to make long and dangerous detours. The remedy for this was to make a “new” gate that allowed a route from Aldgate through West Cheape to St Paul’s. It was rebuilt and modified several times, once after the great fire of London in 1666. Of interest is that one of the original gaol doors is part of the Madame Tussaud’s “Chamber of Horror” exhibit and may still be seen today at the Wax Museum’s Baker Street site in London. A contemporary drawing (1672) of Newgate Prison is seen above.


The total number of prisoners transported to America between 1615 and 1775 has been


estimated at 30,000. In 1597, an Elizabethan Act that provided for the banishment of rogues and vagabonds, became the foundation for the deportment of English prisoners as slave labor to the American Colonies. The crimes they committed could be serious but more often than not they were trivial by our standards, most involving petty theft. In 1717, an Act for “The further


5Peter W. Coldham, “English Convicts in Colonial America [Middlesex: 1617-1775],” Vol. 1; (New Orleans, 1974), Polyanthos, p. vii; also published under the name “Bonded Prisoners to America,” (Reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, Maryland), p.vii.


© 1993 Spurgeon Family History by Dr. Gary Alan Dickey, 1546 Devonshire Avenue, Westlake Village, CA 91361 • p. 4


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