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What is: a parking lot with an area that has been explored in an archaeological dig.  Near the train station and Interstate 95 running behind the trees, Downtown Richmond, VA

What was: The Devils Half Acre, also known as Lumpkin’s jail. It was a home, tavern and jail.  It was the place of some of the South’s most savage treatment of slaves, who would be sold at one of the many auction houses in the area, or who were captured under the Fugitive Slave Act.

Robert Lumpkin opened the jail in 1844 and was known as the “bully trader” with a flair for cruelty.  Part of an 1856 account noted, “After entering his cell, the handcuffs were not removed, but, in addition, fetters were placed upon his feet. In this manacled condition he was kept during the greater part of his confinement. The torture which he suffered, in consequence, was excruciating. The gripe of the irons impeded the circulation of his blood, made hot and rapid by the stifling atmosphere, and caused his feet to swell enormously. The flesh was worn from his wrists, and when the wounds had healed, there remained broad scars as perpetual witnesses against his owner.”

Lumpkin maximized his income by offering slave traders accommodation, a slave trading holding facility, and an auction house.  It remained in operation until the Union occupation of Richmond in 1865.

When the city fell to the Union, Lumpkin got out.  Shackling some 50 enslaved and weeping men, women and children together, the trader tried to board a train heading south, but there was no room. He died not long after the war ended.

After the war, it was renamed and reclaimed as “God’s Half Acre” when Lumpkin’s wife, Mary, once also a slave, made the property available to house a school that became Richmond Theological Seminary — the original campus of Virginia Union University, a historically black college now located near by.

The historic site was buried during the construction of Interstate 95 through Richmond.  It was found in 2008 when archaeologists discovered the original foundations, walkways and more than 6,000 artifacts beneath 16 feet of fill.