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The Musical Million: The Ruebush-Kieffer Company, Singing Schools, and the Birth of Southern Gospel

By Gregg D. Kimball, Library of Virginia

Musical Million mastheadThe close of the American Civil War brought two young men back to a devastated Shenandoah Valley and an uncertain future. Aldine Silliman Kieffer had joined the Tenth Virginia Volunteer Infantry and campaigned with the Army of Northern Virginia until his capture and imprisonment in 1864. Waiting to greet him on his release from Fort Delaware was his brother-in-law and friend, Ephraim Ruebush, who had served in the Union Army. The war divided many Valley families, but Kieffer and Ruebush put the past aside and renewed their friendship.

Before the war, both had worked for Kieffer’s grandfather, the pioneering Mennonite music publisher and singing master Joseph Funk. Now Funk was dead and the business lay in ruins. These two men would revive Funk’s legacy and build a company that was the foremost publisher of sacred shape-note books in the nineteenth century South: the Ruebush-Kieffer Company of Singer’s Glen and later Dayton, Virginia, in Rockingham County. To honor that legacy, the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Chronicle website has launched a fully searchable run of the company’s music journal —The Musical Million: A Journal of Music, Poetry, and Chaste Home Literature. We give special thanks to Eastern Mennonite University and Simone Horst for facilitating the digitization of their copies of the journal. The Musical Million spread the Gospel of congregational shape-note singing far and wide and laid the groundwork for the proliferation of singing schools across the South.

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Shape-note hymnody came about because of a practical problem—Protestant denominations became convinced that the people of the church should praise the Lord through song, but how to accomplish this end was uncertain. Churchmen had long puzzled over how to lead congregational singing among the untutored and often illiterate. The first solution … read more »

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From Virginia Chronicle, One Century Ago: Three Dailies & Four Weeklies Report the End of the Great War

“It was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over. . .And then suddenly the first stroke of the chime. I looked again at the broad street beneath me. It was deserted. From the portals of one of the large hotels absorbed by Government Departments darted the slight figure of a girl clerk, distractedly gesticulating while another stroke of Big Ben resounded. Then from all sides men and women came scurrying into the street. Streams of people poured out of all the buildings. The bells of London began to clash. Northumberland Avenue was now crowded with people in hundreds, nay, thousands, rushing hither and thither in a frantic manner, shouting and screaming with joy. I could see that Trafalgar Square was already swarming. Around me in our very headquarters, in the Hotel Metropole, disorder had broken out. Doors banged. Feet clattered down corridors. Everyone rose from the desk and cast aside pen and paper. All bounds were broken. The tumult grew. It grew like a gale, but from all sides simultaneously. The street was now a seething mass of humanity. Flags appeared as if by magic. Streams of men and women flowed from the Embankment. They mingled with torrents pouring down the Strand on their way to acclaim the King. Almost before the last stroke of the clock had died away, the strict, war-straitened, regulated streets of London had become a triumphant pandemonium. At any rate it was clear that no more work would be done that day.”

–Winston Churchill (From The World Crisis 1911-1918, Vol. 2)

RTD Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)Alexandria Gazette Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)World News Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)PlanetClinch Valley News Nov. 15, 1918 (full front page)Presbyterian of the South Nov. 13, 1918 (full front page)Big Stone Gap Post Nov. 13, 1918 (full front page)read more »

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Carpetbagger or Reformer?

daniels_standing_soldier

Portrait of Edward Daniels, courtesy of Board of Regents, Gunston Hall.

By Kevin Shupe, Senior Reference Archivist at the Library of Virginia.

In 1871 Massachusetts-born Edward Daniels became the editor of the state’s flagship Republican newspaper, the Daily State Journal. He had moved to Virginia just three years previously, purchasing Gunston Hall – the formerly grand estate near Mount Vernon that had once belonged to George Mason. Daniels undoubtedly brought a Northerner’s viewpoint to the newspaper. Not only had he spent 40 years residing in New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and most recently Chicago, he had also taken a leading role in agitating against slavery before the Civil War, was one of the founders of the Republican Party, and he had commanded a Wisconsin cavalry unit early in the war. Within a few months of taking over the newspaper, Daniels tried to win elected office. In 1871, he ran for a seat in the Virginia state legislature. A year later, he was the Republican candidate for a seat in U. S. House of Representatives. While he made a respectable showing, he lost both elections.

By all appearances, Daniels fit the stereotype of the dreaded carpetbagger — a Northerner who moved to the South after the Civil War, seeking to impose Northern political beliefs and looking to benefit from the chaotic post-war economy. This stereotype, conjured in the struggles of Reconstruction, remains a vivid censure, but it is one that in ways obscures the motives that brought Daniels briefly into the spotlight of Virginia politics. Daniels came of age in an era of rapid cultural changes, a seemingly progressive trajectory that envisioned a modern America grounded on economic and social equality. To that end he became a leading voice in a chorus of reformers who sought answers to the nation’s economic … read more »

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Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

By Kim Bowman, LVA Summer Intern

On February 19, 1887, the Afro-American Churchman published an obituary for Reverend Samuel V. Berry.  From this entry, we learn how Rev. Berry received his calling, where his talents lay in his job, and how much his work was valued by his community.  This entry also tells us about the frequency with which he relocated for work and his major accomplishments with each move.  Just over a decade later, the Clinch Valley News published an obituary for Mrs. Eliza Young.  In it, the author briefly documented her life as an enslaved African American, as a mother, and as a nurse.

Obituaries are a fixture of many newspapers featured in Virginia Chronicle’s database.  When we take time to look closely at their contents, we not only get a sense of the individuals they describe, but also the time period within which they lived and died.  An attentive reader might ask why we learn so much about Rev. Berry’s work when the only mention of Mrs. Young’s years of service as a nurse is limited to one sentence.  These kinds of observations can help identify the expectations placed on people from different backgrounds living in past societies.  For example, in the 1800s, many communities tended to value women who focused on family and the home.  This may be why Mrs. Young’s career outside the home received little attention compared to Rev. Berry’s work.

A paired-text activity like this one can be a powerful critical thinking activity for students in a classroom or an important research experience for someone unearthing their family history.  So, next time you are reading the obituary section, ask yourself “What’s the focus here and why?”, “What might be left unsaid?”, “What opportunities might one person have … read more »

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Back to School

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As the start of the K-12 school year looms, and college students gear up for their fall semester, the Library of Virginia peers back at how the back-to-school frenzy used to look in America’s historical newspapers.  Make sure to check next week on Chronicling America’s #ChronAmParty twitter page to see how newspapers from around the country announced back to school time.

RTD 1920-09-10 Back-to-School ClothesFirst thing’s first, kids: you have to have the right outfit.  As Burk & Co. said, going back to school isn’t easy after summer vacation, but “It’s easier on the boys if they go back wearing stylish new clothes.”  Buy Burk & Co. for “quality that saves money.”  Oh, and don’t forget to buy some new dresses “That’ll truly please [even] the most critical young school miss of six to fourteen years.”[1]

RTD, 1919-09-28 Energy-Giving Meals

And don’t forget the importance of a nutritious breakfast!  Mrs. M. A. Wilson of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reminded parents, “Chilly mornings and evenings mean that from now on the body will require additional heat and energy foods,” and she provides her own recipes for preparing calorie-packed breakfast cereals.  Kettle not included.[2]

Cohen Co. Back-to-School NeedsStudents needed just as many supplies for the classroom during the 1910s as they do now in the 2010s, but how did their parents get them in the era before Amazon…or any online shopping?  They shopped at the Cohen Company, of course!  Don’t forget your writing ink and gum for art class![3]

 

Times-Dispatch 1904-02-17 Proper EyewearI can testify from personal experience about the importance of being able to see well in the classroom.  Students with poor vision need prescription glasses, so that they can see the board and complete their homework assignments without struggling to read the questions.  Luckily, famous optician Charles Lincoln Smith is here to help.  The Times-Dispatch reported … read more »

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WWI Centennial Anniversary – “Queens of the Spy World”

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

1917 War Poster – Beware of Female Spies

In recognition of the centennial anniversary of the Allies’ victory in World War I, the Newspaper Project remembers the “Queens of the Spy World Whose Intrigues Sway the Fate of Nations.”  As this melodramatic article published in 1918 by The Sun (New York, NY) demonstrates, women spies not only were instrumental in the gathering of military secrets but also made for sensational headlines on the homefront.  In “Queens of the Spy World,” The Sun compared the often tragic and short-lived espionage careers of Germany’s female agents during The Great War.

Germany’s extensive Wilhelmstrasse spy service included such femmes fatales as Felice Schmidt, Mlle. Sumey Depsy, Mata Hari, and Mme. Despina Storch.  The article describes how these women spies infiltrated the governments of the Allies by posing as teachers, courtiers, dancers, courtesans, and even the occasional fruit vendor.  Schmidt, for example, had herself exiled from Germany as a “suspicious character” in 1915, so that she could establish herself in London in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seduce Britain’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener.[1]  In The New York Evening World’s “Stories of Spies” section, Felice Schmidt – The German Spy Sent to Tempt Kitchener, reporter Albert Terhune elaborated on Schmidt’s story.  After realizing that it was impossible to pry military secrets out of Kitchener, Schmidt instead insinuated herself in Marseilles as an apple seller, so that she could study the French artillery.  After being caught by the French police while making a sketch of their guns, she was tried as a spy and put to death.[2]

One of the Allies’ most famous female spies was British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the German military for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.  Her death by firing … read more »

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Virginia’s Lost Papers

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As part of an ongoing effort to give voice to nineteenth-century African Americans through digital projects like Virginia Untold and Virginia Chronicle, the Virginia Newspaper Project has identified nearly 500 advertisements posted by free African Americans during the antebellum era and the Civil War (c. 1800-1865) concerning their freedom papers. The example, below, was published in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on July 12, 1859:

Two "Lost-Free-Papers" notices from the Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 12, 1859

These notices were grouped with other advertisements for lost or stolen goods, and they could even be found on the same page as rewards posted for the capture of runaway slaves.

Freedom papers, or “free papers,” were protective documents that certified a free African American’s non-slave status.  Frederick Douglass, as usual, best explains the legal and personal significance of free papers to their bearers:

It was the custom in the State of Maryland to require of the free colored people to have what were called free papers. This instrument they were required to renew very often, and by charging a fee for this writing, considerable sums from time to time were collected by the State. In these papers the name, age, color, height and form of the free man were described, together with any scars or other marks upon his person which could assist in his identification. This device of slaveholding ingenuity, like other devices of wickedness, in some measure defeated itself—since more than one man could be found to answer the same general description. Hence many slaves could escape by impersonating the owner of one set of papers… The operation was a hazardous one for the lender as well as for the borrower.  Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. pp. 245–246.

A free African American’s papers constituted a legal affidavit which identified him read more »

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The Idle Hour: The Eccentric Life of Capt. John Cussons

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

Portrait of young Cussons, courtesy of LVA special collections

Portrait of young Cussons, courtesy of LVA special collections

Captain John Cussons, Jr., is one of Glen Allen’s most fascinating historical figures.  A nineteenth-century English immigrant with an entrepreneurial spirit and an insatiable wanderlust, Cussons left Lincolnshire for the United States in 1855, at the age of seventeen.  During his explorations of the Old West, Cussons encountered a Sioux village, where he simply walked into a young Native American woman’s tipi and remained for four years.

He then wandered southeast to Selma, AL, where he became part owner of the Morning Reporter newspaper  before enlisting in the Confederate Army at the outset of the Civil War.  As a scout, Cussons participated in several early Confederate victories and received rapid promotions before, true to character, he casually wandered behind enemy lines on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and was captured by Union soldiers.   Whether Cussons escaped from the Johnson’s Island military prison on Lake Eerie or was simply paroled out in a prisoner exchange is unclear, but Steve Cooke of the Richmond Navigator notes, “The catalog of items in the American Civil War Museum in Richmond lists a ‘Saw made by Captain Cussons when at Johnson’s Island to make his escape.’”

Cussons (left) with Gen. Law (center) of his former 4th Alabama Infantry regiment.

Cussons (left) with Gen. Law (center) of his former 4th Alabama Infantry regiment.

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/gen-law-capt-john-cussons-4th-ala-infantry-need-help-identifying-others-in-photo.124548/

Rather than returning to England after the Civil War, Cussons ventured to Glen Allen, where he married the widow of Benjamin Allen, after whose prominent family the town was named.  Using funds from his successful printing company—Cussons, May, & Co.—the entrepreneurial ex-Confederate constructed the now-defunct Forest Lodge resort on Mountain Road, adjacent to the town’s railroad tracks:

Forest Lodge, 1880s

Forest Lodge, c. 1880s

https://donnawatkins.smugmug.com/Travel/Virginia/Forest-Lodge/i-kckpfFn
Mountain Rd., Glen Allen Historical Marker

Mountain Rd., Glen Allen Historical Marker

http://www.markerhistory.com/glen-allen-marker-e-10/

In its day, Forest … read more »

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Virginia Chronicle and Chronicling America

 

 

 

 

 

If you read this blog, you might know that the Virginia Newspaper Project (VNP) contributes digitized newspapers to two websites, Chronicling America and Virginia Chronicle. These sites are both wonderful repositories of historic newspapers from Virginia, but they aren’t the same, and don’t have exactly the same content.

Chronicling America hosts newspapers digitized through the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. Newspaper Projects across the country apply for two-year grants that allow  each project to digitize about 100,000 pages per grant cycle. Until 2016, the newspapers digitized through NDNP grants were published between 1836-1922, but that window has been expanded to newspapers published between 1690 and 1963. Currently, Chronicling America has over 13 million pages from newspapers across the country!

The Virginia Newspaper Project has completed four grant cycles, and has been funded for its fifth. As a result, Chronicling America has 489,994 pages of Virginia newspapers.

Virginia Chronicle, which hosts the pages digitized through the NDNP, also contains additional digitization projects undertaken by the VNP. The Virginia Chronicle database currently has 977,408 pages of digitized newspapers–more pages will be added soon, which will put it at or near the one million page mark!

The nearly 500,000 pages on Virginia Chronicle not found on Chronicling America were funded by various sources, including publishers, donors, the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Library of Virginia itself.

Some of the newspapers on Virginia Chronicle do not fall under the scope of the NDNP, like those that are more current and non-traditional newspapers, like those published by high schools or the Civilian Conservation Corps. Virginia Chronicle has 598 issues of The Monocle, John Marshall High School’s newspaper, spanning from 1929-1973. These offer a fun, fascinating … read more »

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Our Own Community Press

Masthead Oct 1981 CROP

In August of 1976, gay and lesbian members of Norfolk’s Unitarian Universalist church formed a branch of the Unitarian Universalist Gay Caucus (UUGC), and quickly decided that they needed a newsletter: Our Own Community Press was born.

First cover positive

 

The first issue of Our Own Community Press asserted that “Not Just Another Gay Group is Born,” followed by an explanation of the guiding philosophy of the Tidewater  UUGC:

We devote ourselves to the improvement of gay life through increased positive visibility. …We are not outwardly visible unless we allow ourselves to be… The gays who are confused, lack self-confidence, or question their unique lifestyle are gays who must be reached. They must be helped to realize whatever decisions they make for themselves cannot be labelled “good” or “bad” by virtue of a simple sexual preference. Gay is good when we first accept it for ourselves, and better when we educate the public with regard to our pride, productivity, and heritage.

 

April 1984 Subscription AD

 

Originally a newsletter, Its first issue was a single, one sided 8.5″ x 11″ sheet. Our Own Community Press changed to newspaper format in January of 1978. The paper was typed, edited, and assembled over a one week period every month by volunteers and staff. It was available for free, though readers could subscribe for a suggested donation. The paper also sold ad space to defray costs, and encouraged readers to “spend your gay money at gay businesses.”

 

 

 

In their coverage, the UUGC stayed true to their promise to provide visibility and hope to gay men and women in the region. In a time where positive gay representation in media was sorely lacking, Our Own Community Press took care to inform readers of new books, movies, or … read more »

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