Liberty County Chain Gang


Prior to 1817, when a state penitentiary was built at Milledgeville, Georgia, it appears that each county in the state dealt with its prisoners convicted in court as each saw fit.


There must have been some place of confinement in Sun­bury, the first county seat of Liberty County, but there was not a county jail as such. It was not until 1820 that an auth­orization by the state legislature made it possible for Liberty County to build a county jail at Riceboro, by then the coun­ty seat.


Even before 1820 there must have been some place of confinement at Riceboro, because a notice in the Georgia Gazette for April 6, 1806, said that Edward W. North would be "confined in the county seat until he is tried for indebted­ness in Superior Court on April 11, 1806."


The state penitentiary at Milledgeville seems to have served the purpose for which it was built until after the Civil War. During the early post-war years, the number of black convicts sent there became so great that the building would not hold them.


I t was in 1866 that Georgia adopted a policy to allow con­victs, most of them recent slaves, to be leased to contractors building public roads. That law evolved so that convicts were leased to three prominent Georgians involved in wood-cut­ting, farming, brick-making, and railroad building.


Cruel treatment to the convicts by their private masters ignited several reform attempts which bore fruit in 1909 when the infamous convict lease system was abolished. Con­victs were then sent to prison farms, or turned over to the counties to be used in road work.


It was in 1918 that the state legislature authorized com­missioners of each county to establish "work camps." The commissioners were given the authority to establish such rules and regulations as they saw fit to operate the camps.


The 1918 law specified that adult males convicted in Superior Court of misdemeanors could be sentenced to "work on the public roads." It was these people who became inmates of the county work camps. All female prisoners, and males convicted of felonies, were incarcerated in the state penitentiary at Milledgeville.


The Liberty County Board of Commissioners used county funds to hire a warden and guards for the county work camp, located first at Winns Mill Pond and later at Allenhurst. Inmates were chained at the ankles one leg to the other. Cages, sweat boxes, shackles, and spiked anklets were common at the activity, and others like it in other parts of Georgia.


Each January the county commissioners set up a schedule of work priorities. If the work load became too great, the Superior Court was authorized by the state to sentence convicts from other counties in which it held court, to the Liberty County Work Camp.


From "Sweet Land of Liberty, A History of Liberty County, Georgia" by Robert Long Groover; Page(s) 80; Used by the permission of the Liberty County Commissioners Office