The Albany Jail
By definition, the term "early Albany jail" refers to the places where prisoners were kept before the building of the "new Jail" sometime after the War for Independence.
In the beginning, our exposition on the subject is compiled from references to the jail that currently appear on this website.
First, we have found no law, ordinance, or any set of rules governing criminal
justice in the early Albany record. From the beginning of community life
on the site of Albany, most offenders were not punished by imprisonment.
We know from court and city records and from the "laws
and ordinances" published in 1773 that they were fined and sometimes
chastized by the public whipper.
Until the end of the eighteenth century, the so-called jail (or gaol) seems
to have been in the city hall. The
first city hall was a conventional building located on Court
Street. It served as the municipal government, the court, clerk's office,
and as the jail from before the establishment of city government in 1686
until the new city hall was erected during the 1740s.
The jail was operated by the
sheriff (who served both city and county). A jailer
answered to the sheriff and presumably was paid from the fees collected by
Working around the absence of actual sheriffs'
or jail records, during the second half of the eighteenth century civil
and criminal prisoners were held in the jail. During the Seven
Years War, some military prisoners were held there. During the War for
Independence, some military and Tory prisoners were held at the then old
fort. Sick and disabled prisoners were held at the hospital.
In 1776, skipper and alderman Gysbert
G. Marselis was charged with repairing the jail and supervising the
During the war years, a large number of diversely deviant individuals were confined in the Albany jails in all locations. Among them was Ann Lee - founder of the Shakers who tried to dissuade other prisoners from taking up arms.
By the end of the war for Independence, it was clear that the now booming city of Albany and its growing hinterland were in need of more substantial
and separate accommodations for law breakers.
In 1785, carpenter and nearby Albany resident Hendrick Van Wie was identified as the jailor.
the 1790s, a new jail or "prison" had been build on upper State Street and
Maiden Lane near the new Public Square. In 1800,
the census returns for the second
ward showed that James Lightbody was the jailor and eighteen men, a woman,
and four slaves were incarcerated. Although its construction was authorized
by the State legislature, it is unclear whether, at that time, the jail
was under municipal or State jurisdiction.
After 1800, New Englander Nathan Hawley relocated from Rensselaersville to serve as jailor. His family was said to have lived in rooms in the rear of the new jail. His wife ran an inn there at 71 Maiden Lane. Hawley died in 1810.
In 1834, a more permanent municipal jail was built along what became Eagle
Street at the Howard Street.
The Albany penitentiary was built largely by prisoner labor and opened
as a prison in 1846.
Today, the Albany
County Correctional Facility (built in 1931) is under the jurisdiction
of the sheriff's office and sits on land near the Albany Airport and the
site of the original Shaker settlement.