Built by 1822 with the Courthouse and Clerk's Office, the Prince William County Jail, or gaol, was larger than most jails built in Virginia at that time. Debtors, runaway slaves, thieves and murderers awaited trial here in timber-lined rooms. Initially, nearby taverns provided the inmates' meals. Later records refer to a Jail kitchen.
The Jailer or Sheriff supplied and maintained the Jail using local tax monies and fees that prisoners paid. Occasionally the Jailer personally funded the Jail's upkeep and was reimbursed. County record books list several orders for items such as jail locks, buckets, blankets, beds, and stoves. The Civil War left the Jail in bad repair. The County borrowed money from citizens to repair the Jail. Records of numerous escapes are evidence that the building was never fully secure.
(caption under center, top picture) The 10-acre Prison Bounds were recorded on November 30, 1822.
Prince William County Deed Book #8, 1820-1823
? a room about ten feet square on the second floor, with an iron grating over an ordinary sized window ? and a solid wooden door. It is furnished with an iron bedstead, on which was a mattress for comfort, and over the head of which a shaw was thrown for a pillow, two chairs, one however with only three legs ? A fireplace leading to an open chimney was near the head of the bed. The walls of the room were bare and needed whitewashing.
Quotation: The Alexandria Gazette of August 29, 1872, described a Brentsville jail cell.
The County Sheriff
The Sheriff held a lucrative position in the County. He kept a portion of the taxes he collected and received fees for services he provided such as issuing warrants, administering punishment and summoning witnesses. He maintained the Jail, oversaw elections, and kept order in the Courthouse.
The Sheriff was appointed by the Governor and served a two-year term. He was also a County Magistrate. The position often rotated among the Magistrates. By the end of the 19th century, changes made throughout Virginia limited Sheriffs' authority and the fees they received. Sheriffs retained their court and officer functions. In 1870, the Sheriff's position became an elected office, which it remains today.
(caption under middle, lower picture) Above: These items are like those that the Jailer had in his possession on June 6, 1849: tin cups, plates, knives, chamber pots, and blankets.
Reel 28, Prince William County Court Ordr Book 1846-1850
(caption under right, lower picture) Sheriff John Hooe, Jr. failed "?to preserve order?" in the County Court on November 2, 1830. Clerk of the Court Philip D. Dawe wrote this summons, commanding the County Coroner to deliver it to Hooe. Hooe was to appear before the Justices on the first Monday in December, 1830.
Clerks' Loose Papers