Goal, [Jail] in Walnut Street Philadelphia, by William Birch, 1799.
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Birch watercolor of the Philadelphia Walnut Street Jail.

Credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

Believing that time in prison could be used for the moral reformation, rather than just the punishment of the convict, Rush in 1787 founded the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. Three years later, Philadelphia opened its Walnut Street Jail, the nation's first "penitentiary," and birthplace of the modern prison system. To provide inmates the opportunity for penitence and the self-examination that could lead to salvation, the jail was the first to place prisoners in solitary confinement. In the foreground, this William Birch engraving shows a blacksmith shop, purchased by Richard Allen, being hauled to a lot on Sixth near Lombard Street, where it would become a place of worship for Allen's newly formed African Methodist Episcopal congregation.

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