In 1652, the Boston jail was the only prison in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and it was ordered that a new one be built in Ipswich.
Thieophilus Wilson was assigned as keeper, his compensation being £3 a year, plus 5 shillings for each prisoner. Prisoners were required to pay for “board and attendance,” and if they were not capable of doing so, they were given bread and water. The selectmen provided the house of correction with flax and hemp to provide the prisoners with gainful work.
The old jail building was twenty feet long and sixteen feet wide, with “3 floors of Joyce thick set and well boarded, with partitions above and below. There is no mention of a chimney for a fireplace in the description of the building. In 1659, the keeper was instructed to “gett locks to secure the prison & what is wanting else to make ye doors.”
Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that “On the morning of the 30th of March, 1662, the worthy constable and jailer and the community generally were astonished to find that a prisoner had escaped, by jail breaking, the first offence of this nature committed in the country.” Soon a second prisoner escaped, and when he was recaptured he said he was very cold in the unheated jail, so he removed some floor boards to effect his departure. There was suspicion however, that someone had tinkered with the latch.
Mr. Wilson the jailer was questioned about the first escape in court and deposed that he “put him in prison and lockt the dore fast, and put the hasp on to the staple in the outsyde of the dore, which none within can unhasp, and left no tooles or meanes of light in the prison.”
The Ipswich selectmen hastily issued a decree: “Forasmuch as several escapes have been made out of prison by the prisoners with the aid and assistance of some ill affected persons, it is ordered that noe person shall presume hereafter to come within the prison yard nor within 20 foote of the prison on the west side thereof, where there is no fence, upon any pretence whatsoever, without particular leave from the keeper while any prisoners are in the prison, upon paine & penalty to be proceeded against as contentious of authority, and abettors of malefactors. ”
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Volume 1
- Joseph Felt’s History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton