ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
REPORT OF THE KEEPER OF THE CITY BRIDEWELL
November 31, 1853
The term "bridewell" was applied to a prison which stood in London near Blackfriars Bridge until 1864. It had originally been a palace built by Henry VIII and received its name from St. Bride's (or Bridget's) well which was located nearby.
A separate jail was opened in Chicago in December of 1851. It was one hundred feet long, twenty-four feet wide, and consisted of one story. Its walls were made of three-inch thick oak planks. Capacity was two hundred. Prisoners were employed in crushing rocks and constructing streets.
Common crimes at this time included major and minor theft, gambling, prostitution, public bathing, and reckless driving. But the most frequent offenses were for being drunk and/or disorderly. In 1853 there were approximately 600 drinking establishments in Chicago for a resident population of 60,652. In December of 1853 a group of churches which advocated temperance held a convention in Chicago and passed a resolution calling for prohibition for the entire state. Two hundred and forty delegates from twenty-four counties attended. In 1855, Levi D. Boone was elected mayor on the Know-Nothing ticket. After he and the council voted to raise the liquor license fee to $300, the Irish and German populations rioted and the national guard had to be called out. In June of that year a statewide vote on prohibition was taken and it was defeated. In Chicago the vote was 2,785 for and 3,964 against.
Points to Consider
From this sample, what was the most common offense?
How many women as opposed to men were committed?
How could Henry Bunker have fallen into a State Street Market cellar while in jail?
What was the "bridewell"? What was the origin of the name?