Between the Lines: Dungeon in the Old Exchange #research #fun #facts

Today I want to share how I learned the importance of visiting historic sites when researching the setting of a book. It never hurts that I love Charleston and its history! I’ve already forewarned my hubby that we might have to go back to poke into another aspect of the city’s past, but that’s another story for another day.

The main reason I returned to tour the Old Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina, was to find out how the prisoners were restrained. I had originally written in Emily’s Vow that Emily had been arrested and thrown into the dungeon, into a cell with a heavy door. Most jails are constructed in such a fashion, right? I’d done my online research and had surmised from looking at the Old Exchange and Dungeon virtual tour online that they must have used shackles and chains, or they had cells constructed in the basement. But I needed to know for certain. Turns out it was a good thing we made the trip!

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My assumption that the floor was made of wood was false. So was the guess that there were cells. In fact, the floor was made of stone, and the walls and ceiling were brick built using the groin and arch type of architecture. I learned that they built the ceiling this way to be strong enough to support the open air exchange of the main floor. To create it, they piled sand bags on the floor to support the mason’s efforts until the mortar between the bricks had dried. Then they simply removed the bags and voila!

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In peace, the Harbor Master performed his duties as shown in the picture. But during the British occupation, the Britons converted the basement into a communal jail. They built up walls to section off a portion and posted guards at the doors to keep the political prisoners secure. In Emily’s Vow, I had written a scene where she was thrown in this jail for two days. But after touring the place, I had to change that scene! Turns out only a handful of women ever spent time in the jail, and then only for a few hours to terrorize them into revealing where their menfolk were hiding. I could well imagine how scared those women must have been, too. The prisoners slept on beds of straw on the cold floor among the vermin and filth. There may have been a bucket in the corner to pee in, but that was it. Not a place I’d want to visit let alone reside.

Being able to visit such historic places and ask specific questions helps me to describe for my readers the time and place of days gone by in such a way as to bring the reality to life for modern folks. And it gives me a great excuse reason to travel and experience wonderful houses and buildings, to boot!

So it’s your turn. What was the last historical setting you’ve visited? What did you find surprising or enlightening about the place?

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

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