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Kent County Delaware ~ Jail

The early deeds concerning the property of this town make repeated mention of the jail lot, and on the map made in 1740 by Thomas Noxon, it is laid down as being forty and a half feet on the public square running east and north to North Street. It is on this land on the public square that the first jail was erected. Proof of this is found in the deed from the Dover commissioners, August 12, 1729, to Charles Hillyard. His lot begins ''at the northwesterly corner of the prison in the Court-House Square," thence west by north thirty feet to a corner of Thomas Tarrant's lot. Hillyard's lot was the one on which the printing-office of J. Kirk & Son now stands. At that time lot 33, ninety-seven feet deep on the square, and a part of lot No. 27 belonged to the county.

This lot was sold by the commissioners to Nicholas Ridgely, November 15, 1754, but no mention at this time is made of the jail being located upon it.

Lot 33 in the map of 1740 is marked offices, and as the old rough-cast brick building, about twenty by thirty-six feet, used for offices, stood upon the lot now occupied by the office building, and contained cells which were used for prisoners as late as 1827-28, when the jail was partially destroyed by fire, the inference is that this venerable edifice was in the first instance both the public offices and the public prison. Sometime between 1759 and 1763, when James Hamilton was Governor, Samuel Dickinson, John David, John Vining, Robert Willcocks and Benjamin Chew were, by act of General Assembly, appointed trustees to sell the "Goal and lot in Dover and to purchase another lot for the building of a new Goal." It does not appear that they sold the goal and lot, but on the 13th of March, 1775, lot 27, occupied by the present jail, was purchased of James Wells by Jacob Stout for the use of Kent County. A brick jail, about forty by fifty feet, was erected upon this lot, partly on the site of the rear of the present stone part of the jail building. In the absence of Levy Court records it is impossible to determine the year in which it was built. Thomas Fisher was sheriff from November, 1824, to November, 1828, and on Saturday night, October 27, 1827, the jail was set on fire by William Greenly1, an inmate of the prison, confined for horse-stealing. The prisoners were removed to the old prison in the rough-cast building, and there kept until the jail was rebuilt, the old walls being in good condition. It was completed and used until the present one was erected in 1872.

Agitation began for a new jail about 1870, and in the March session of the Levy Court of 1871 John Von Gaskin, Charles Hillyard and William D. Fowler were chosen a committee to mature plans. At the April session it was resolved that a sheriff's house should be built in connection with the prison, and Edmund Bailey, J. Frank Denny and James G. Waples were authorized to contract with a competent architect for plans and specifications for a sheriff's house and prison, the cost not to exceed $30,000. Plans were drawn by Mr. Sloan, an architect, and accepted on April 27th. The committee were authorized to advertise for proposals to be handed in by May 22nd. The time was extended to May 27th, when five proposals were received, ranging from $34,500 to $49,467. None were accepted, but on June 6th a contract was made with Alonzo H. Reynolds and Charles Hillyard for the construction of the buildings for $34,125. The work was declared completed May 28, 1872, by the Building Committee, John S. Harrington, J. Frank Denny and William H. Hobson. Extra work by contractors amounted to $1116.90, and other expenses were $5000, making a sum total of $40,241.90.  

Judge George P. Fisher, who, as a little boy, lived in the jail with his father, then sheriff, says it stood in 1826 about where the double gates are that open into the jail near the office building.


Peter Bowcomb2 1680
Peter Bowcomb3 Mar. 10, 1683
Richard Mitchell Mar., 1684
George Martin July 28, 1685
John Hill, July 6, 1688
Arthur Menton, 1691
Wm. Wilton, Apr. 20, 1704
Charles Hillyard 1723
Wm. Rodney, Oct 3, 1724
John Hall, 1731
Daniel Rodney, 1735
Jonathan Raymond, 1730
John Clayton, 1763
Caesar Rodney, Feb. 26, 1756
Thomas Parke, Oct. 6, 1768
Wm. Rhodes, Oct. 4, 1760
Daniel Robinson, Oct. 4, 1763
Thomas Collins, Jan. 26, 1761
James Wells, Oct. 6, 1767
James Caldwell Oct. 6, 1770
John Cook, Oct. 5, 1772
Philip Barratt, June 10, 1778
Esekiel Anderson, 1780
Andrew Barratt, 1780
Ezekiel Anderson, 1792
Risdon Bishop 1796
Brinckle Rae 1800
David Lockwood Oct. 6, 1804
Wm. Clark Oct. 8, 1807
Cornelius Battell, Oct. 4, 1810
John Reed, Jr., Oct. 11, 1813
Enoch Joyce, Oct. 6, 1816
Reuben Anderson Oct. 7, 1819
Rich'd M. Harrington, Feb. 2, 1820
Rich'd M. Harrington, Oct. 6, 1820
Thomas Fisher, Sept. 6, 1821 
Wm. Saulsbury, Oct. 6, 1821
Thomas Fisher, Oct 9, 1824
Nehemiah Clark, Oct. 6, 1827
Nehemiah Clark, Nov. 10, 1828
Nehemiah Clark, Oct 23, 1829
Wm. Burton, Oct. 9, 1830
Wm. Burton, Nov. 3, 1832
Robert W. Reynolds, Nov. 14, 1834
Thomas L. Temple, Nov. 11, 1836
David H. Stayton, Nov. 16, 1838
Caleb Wolcott, Nov. 14, 1840
Alexander Johnson, Nov. 10, 1842
Caleb Smithers, Nov. 15, 1844
Ignatius Taylor, Nov. 17, 1846
Alex. Taylor, June 11. 1847
James Green, Nov. 16, 1848
John Kersey, Nov. 14, 1860
Henry Pratt, Nov. 16, 1862
John Reynolds, Nov., 1864
John Green, Nov. 8, 1866
Wm. A. Atkinson, Nov. 6. 1858
Purnell Emerson, Nov. 10, 1860
John C. Pennewill, Nov. 7, 1862
Wm. Whitaker, Nov. 11, 1864
Purnell Emerson, Nov. 14, 1866
Wm. Wilds, Nov. 7, 1868
Samuel Hargadine, Nov. 11, 1870
Chas. Williamson, Nov. 12, 1872
Peter L. Cooper, Nov. 12, 1874
Benj. F. Blackiston, Nov. 13. 1876
Francis M. Dunn, Nov. 13, 1878
Thomas T. Lacy, Nov. 13, 1880
John S. Herrington, Nov. 21. 1882
James C. Robinson, Nov. 20, 1884
Joseph McDaniel, Nov. 12, 1886

2. Francis Whitwell, one of the magistrates of Kent County, in a letter to Governor Andross, November 20, 1680, writes for the appointment of sheriff as follows:

That as your Exellency hath not commissioned any person in this county to be sherefe, but hath Deputed att the present to serve in that offices until your Exellency pleased to depute whom your Exellency think fitt the person, which now serve named Pettr Bacom is a person that hath formerly been in a good fashion, but is fallen to decay and growth absent and too weak to labor, if your Exellency will be pleased to allow it he would kindly except of it from your Exellency, and he is thought by the court to be the fittest person that your Exellency could make choice of withal. I conclude in obedience to your Excellency's pleasure while I am "Ffrancis Whitwall."

3. By Assembly at Philadelphia.

Kent County

1. Greenly was tried for arson, convicted and sentenced to be executed. A few days before the time appointed a pardon was procured. He was not told of it, but it was thought best he should be out of the country, and the cell-door was left unlocked. He took advantage of it and fled. He never came to this section again, and never knew he was pardoned.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, L. J. Richards & Company, Philadelphia, 1888.

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