18th-Century Loudoun County Jails
and Prison Bounds
by Debbie Robison
December 31, 2007

Over the years, Loudoun County has had many jails located on various parcels in and around Leesburg to secure the County’s criminals and debtors. A gaol (jail) in each county was required by Virginia state statute. Should a county not maintain a sufficient prison, the county justices could have been fined five-hundred pounds tobacco, payable to the king for better support of the colonial government. [1] The following table lists the 18th-century Loudoun County jails.


List of 18th Century Loudoun County Jails



The first sheriff of Loudoun County was Aeneas Campbell, who had a 12’ square log jail constructed on his land, later known as Raspberry Plain, which is located north of Leesburg on a branch of Limestone Run. Colonial law required each county to provide a jail (known as a gaol, and commonly misspelled goal) that was well secured with iron bars, bolts, and locks, and also one pillory, whipping-post, and stocks.[2]  The Loudoun County Court ordered that the jail be constructed according to the following specifications.


…the said Prison is to be 12 feet each way in the clear built with hewed logs of 6 inches thick at least, the sills are to be layd and a floor of hewed logs over the same well fastened by holes and pins or other ways to make it strong & secure, then the logs are to layd upon for the body of the prison until it is 7 feet and a half from the top of the under floor to the up[per which] at each corner on the out side of 2 or 3 inches thick and bore & pin them to the logs to keep them fast and to make 2 dores one to open within side with good hinges and a bolt and the other to open without side wth good hinges and a good stock lock, and 2 peaces cut out of a cupel of the logs for a window so that water or vitual may be given in as small vessel and to build a roof well fastned on [  ] plates to be covered wth clapboards, the doors to be 2 inch plank --- all to be done strong and good to answer to intention…[3]


Prison bounds were established around the jail to permit prisoners not committed for treason or a felony, and who provided security, the liberty to walk within the bounds. The purpose of allowing prisoners the freedom to walk within the open air of the prison bounds was to reduce the occurrence of gaol fever (typhus) and smallpox.[4] A 1748 Virginia General Assembly act required that the justices of every county mark and lay out the bounds and rules of their respective county prisons, not exceeding ten acres of land, adjoining to such prison.[5] The prison bounds in Loudoun County have always measured about ten acres. In 1765, legislation allowed a creditor to sue the sheriff if a debtor escaped from the prison bounds and the security taken by the sheriff was insufficient.[6]


In May of 1758 the prison bounds were recorded at Sheriff Campbell’s house and the jail.[7]


Survey of Loudoun County Prison Bounds in 1758



Before the jail at Campbell’s was complete, plans were already being developed to build a new jail, along with a county courthouse, in Leesburg. The jail was built by Daniel French on land owned by Nicholas Minor, who sold lots 27 and 28 to Loudoun County court justices.[8]


Gentlemen were ordered by the court to view the prison to determine if it was completed in a satisfactory manner. Their report of November 1759 provides insight into how this jail was constructed.


We, by order of Court have viewed the Prison and find it not sufficient, it wants each Hearth to be laid with Brick or stone 2 foot deep, the plank butting the Fireplace to be taken off nine inches more than it now is and the Chimney to be raised three foot higher than it now is and outside locks to both Doors, a Trough and passage to carry of the Excrements of Prisoners, and then we think it sufficient – William West, Fielding Turner, Benjn. Grayson[9]


New prison bounds were recorded on November 15, 1759.[10]


Survey of Loudoun County Prison Bounds in 1759


The survey of the prison bounds did not provide sufficient information for a certain plotting of the area; however, below is an educated guess of the location of the prison bounds.


Approximate Loudoun County Prison Bounds in 1759


In 1765, the prison bounds were revised, since the county court was of the opinion that the previous bounds were inconvenient. [11] The new bounds included the town spring.


Survey of Loudoun County Prison Bounds in 1765


The survey of the prison bounds provided some clues for plotting the area, such as the location of property owners. For example, point B was located in John Hereforde’s lot. He owned lot 32. Point C was located in Mr. Adam’s meadow lot. Robert Adams owned lot 66, and Andrew Adams owned the land just south of lot 66. Point 5 on the survey located Daniel Miller’s Old Smiths Shop. Miller owned lot number 6. Point 6 on the survey located John Patterson’s stable. Patterson owned lot 11. Based on this information, below is an educated guess of the location of the prison bounds in 1765.


Approximate Loudoun County Prison Bounds in 1765


Based on this survey, the prison was located on lot 27 in 1765.



About the end of 1766, the jail burned down. A temporary jail was constructed, possibly by Thomas Pritchard, which measured 12 feet square, and was likely of log construction.[12]



In 1767, Joseph Combs built a new jail that the county court ordered be constructed in the following manner.


Ordered that a prison be built for this County as follows, to be of good large thick stone, twenty four feet by sixteen from out to out, to be set eight feet in the ground and from the surface, four feet of which is to be the foundation, and the walls of which is to be four feet thick, the first storey to be seven feet high in the clear, and the second storey to be eight feet in the clear, the wall to be two feet on the second story and a division in first and second storey to be two feet thick, the whole to be laid in good lime mortar and a fireplace in each side of the division of the said rooms, the roof to be square and of eighteen inch chestnut, walnut or yellow poplar shingles with any other alterations or amendments as the persons hereafter appointed shall think proper…[13]


In 1771, it was ordered that a pillory and stocks be erected at the courthouse.[14]


Repairs and improvements were made in 1780 as directed by the county court.


A stone Wall of 22 Inches in thickness to begin at the So.Wt. corner of the Gaol and to run Joining the Front Wall as high as the Eaves of the House to the next corner, extending thence in the same direction 10 feet high, in the highest part of the ground, 10 feet beyond the No. corner, thence running at right angles such a distance as to make a yard of 36 feet in width from what is at present, the back of the Goal, and Joined in width from what is at present, the back of the Goal, and Joined to the So.Et. corner thereof. The Stone to be laid in good Lime & Sand, within the yard and at the So.Et. corner is to be erected a Goaler’s House, the Walls of Stone, of which the Yard Walls will make a part, to be 24 feet by 12, in the clear and finished in a plain Strong manner, through which is to be the passage into the yard. The doors of the Goal are to be taken down, the places closed up and others opened for the upper Story on the opposite side. The front windows are to be continued in their present places and well repaired, as well as all the other windows of the House. The floors to be well laid with 2 Inch Oak plank and the Chimney and Hearths of the upper Story strongly repaired. The fire places below closed up and made strong. A platform to be erected before the Doors of the upper Story and proper Steps leading thereto. Trap doors are also to be erected in the upper floors through which prisoners are to be let down by a Small Ladder. These doors to be made Strong and well Secured with Iron Barrs. The whole of the doors to be well secured with Sufficient Locks and Bolts, and other necessary repairs to the Goal not herein mentioned to be done, the whole in a workmanlike manner –…[15]



In 1787, Patrick Cavan built on the courthouse lot a temporary log jail measuring 12 feet square. He also built a more substantial jail, whose description is hinted at in an 1805 order by the courts to repair the jail.


…for the Kitchen Chimney a new arch and that the ceiling thereof requires plaistering, the small room requires a new hearth and part of a new floor. The large room requires a very considerable amendment in plaistering and flooring. It would be necessary that the stove room floor should have sheet Iron placed on it in such manner as to prevent fire, and that the other room of the Goal below should have Iron Bars below the hearth and 2 ½ inch plank spiked under it, both windows require strong shutters with Iron bars and locks, and the floor wants mending, the passage below wants repairing in the floor, and shutters are wanting to all the rooms below, upstairs the half of a window frame is wanting, the whole of them require sash and glass, and the chimneys want repair. The Goaler’s Room upstairs needs repair in the ceiling, floor and windows, and the Goal through out requires white washing…[16]


The prison bounds were adjusted in 1797. A survey was prepared; however, the plat is missing from the county court order books. Based on the metes and bounds, following is the approximate location of the prison bounds.


Approximate Loudoun County Prison Bounds in 1797


The jail was likely located near the market house, which may have been constructed at this time in the northwest corner of lot 28. In 1807, funds were paid by the county for hauling dirt to fill up between the goal and Market house. [17] Patrick Cavan, who built the jail, owned a tavern on lot 6 in 1797.


The 1787 jail built by Cavan remained in use until a new jail was constructed in 1814 on Church Street.


[1] Hening, An Act for establishing county courts, and for regulating and settling the proceedings therein., Vol. 5, p. 507.

[2] Phillips, p. 143. Quoting Henings Statutes, Vol II, p. 75.

[3] LN OB A:4, 12 Jul 1757.

[4] Phillips, p. 143.

[5] Hening, An Act for establishing county courts, and for regulating and settling the proceedings therein.,Vol. 5, p. 508.

[6] Hening, An Act for amending and declaring the law concerning the escape of debtors out of the prison rules, and for other purposes therein mentioned, Vol 8, p. 119.

[7] LN OB A:103, 09 May 1758.

[8] LN DB A:503, 09 Jun 1761.

[9] LN OB A:305, 14 Nov 1759.

[10] LN OB A:309, 15 Nov 1759.

[11] LN DB D:574, 13 Aug 1765.

[12] LN OB C:274, 13 May 1767; Old County Claims, 1768.

[13] LN OB C:233, 12 Jan 1767.

[14] LN OB E:194, 15 Aug 1771.

[15] LN OB G:289, 12 Sep 1780.

[16] LN OB Y:20, 11 Apl 1805.

[17] Loudoun County Minute Book (LN MB) 1:4, 18 Aug 1807.