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Stealing Freedom: The Fairfax Slave Who Liberated Himself and His Son

By Kyle Rogers, Virginia Newspaper Project intern

During my research so far this summer for the Virginia Newspaper department’s continuing project in collaboration with Cornell University, Freedom on the Move, I have already found and collected over one-hundred fugitive slave advertisements from historical Virginia newspapers.  Most notices concerning runaway slaves follow a boilerplate format, but a few particularly unusual and fascinating ads have caught my eye.  The most extraordinary of these were posted in the Alexandria Gazette by one John Wilkinson of Fairfax County, VA, during the winter of 1814:

Alexandria Gazette 1814-10-22

Alexandria Gazette 1814-12-15

I titled this blog post “Stealing Freedom” in reference to the complex legal significance of slaves’ self-liberation in the early-nineteenth century, when these advertisements were printed.  By law in states where slavery was legal, enslaved Africans were the property of their masters, so for a bondperson, running away was tantamount to stealing oneself.  A forty-year-old slave named Humphrey did just that on or about 12 October 1814, when he ran away from his enslaver John Wilkinson, probably to seek refuge with his wife in Alexandria.  Wilkinson paid the Alexandria Gazette to republish his notice several times, but evidently to no avail; Humphrey had successfully escaped, at least as far as the historical record can confirm.

Humphrey’s self-liberation is, in itself, a historically significant act of resistance to the institution of slavery, but his story grew even more astonishing two months later.  On December 15, Wilkinson posted another advertisement to alert the public that his house had been broken into by none other than Humphrey, his former slave.  According to Wilkinson’s notice, Humphrey had only stolen one thing: his eight-year-old son, Thornton.  Humphrey risked his life not once, but twice, to not only liberate himself but also to rescue his young son from bondage and, thereby, reunite his fractured … read more »

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D-Day 75th Anniversary – The Bedford Boys & Operation Overlord in the Bedford Democrat

By Kyle Rogers, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

Thursday, June 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of the beaches of Nazi-occupied France on D-Day.  In honor of the sacrifices made by some 200,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers who were wounded or lost their lives between 6 June and 21 August 1944 during the Normandy Campaign, the Virginia Newspaper Project wished to recount the story of Operation Overlord and its historical importance to the United States from the perspective of the residents of Bedford, a small town in central Virginia.  For those who have not visited “The World’s Best Little Town,” Bedford serves as the seat of Bedford County and the location of the National D-Day Memorial.

Why was a small town in central Virginia chosen as the site of the national memorial for American D-Day veterans?  Contemporary issues of the Bedford Democrat—recorded on microfilm in the Library of Virginia’s holdings—help us to understand why.  Bedford, whose 1944 population was approximately 3,200, contributed thirty-four soldiers to the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment, which took part in the amphibious landing on Omaha Beach during Operation Overlord.  Although the invasion of Normandy began on June 6, it took over a month for the Bedford Democrat to receive and begin publishing news of the Allies’ victory and the status of its hometown heroes, known as “the Bedford Boys.”

Bedford Democrat 13 July

In its 13 July issue, the Bedford Democrat published a letter from Capt. J. K. Walker, Jr., to his parents from France on June 28.  In his testimony, under the headline “Plans For Great Invasion Complete In Every Detail,” Walker related that he was safe in France, and that Operation Overlord, although “almost impossible to describe in its complexity,” had gone off without a hitch.  He … read more »

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Strike! The Covington Pioneer

Settled in the Allegheny Mountains midway between Lexington and White Sulphur Springs, Covington is Virginia’s third smallest city with just under 6,000 residents. Today, the newspaper of record there is the Virginian Review, a direct successor of the Covington Virginian, which ran from 1914 until the name changed in 1988. While the Virginian, in some iteration, has been Covington’s newspaper for over 100 years, in April 1981 a competing newspaper made its debut:

Pioneer (1) Issue 1Published from April 16, 1981 until July 18, 1982 the Covington Pioneer, a self-described “strike paper,” was the result of an unwavering effort by sixteen members of Roanoke Typographical Union No. 60 to negotiate better pay with their former employer, the Covington Virginian.

Pioneer Attention Apr. 16, 1981In its introductory issue, the Pioneer clearly laid out its intent: “With this edition of the PIONEER a new paper is on the scene in Covington. . .the PIONEER is a creature of a labor dispute.” The aim of the Pioneer was to pull revenue away from the Virginian to leverage bargaining power for striking employees. “The PIONEER is a strike paper,” the column continued,” It has no purpose beyond the terms of the Union’s negotiations. As soon as a fair contract is settled the PIONEER will cease to publish and go out of business.”

Several of the Pioneer’s writers offered editorial pieces in its first issue explaining their decision to strike. Emory W. Brackman, former sports editor of the Covington Virginian, wrote, “I had always vowed that I would never be involved in a strike, but the Covington Virginian changed that. I have never seen people treated so unfairly. We have been forced into our current situation by the Virginian because. . .they do not believe in paying honest wages to their employees.”

During its fifteen-month run, the read more »

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1,000,000 Lines Corrected on Virginia Chronicle

1 millionthank youVirginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s digital newspaper database, has surpassed an impressive milestone!

The Virginia Newspaper Project would like to give a big thank you to all of the Registered Users of Virginia Chronicle who have corrected text. Together, 363 text correctors have corrected over 1,000,000 lines of text–and the top five Registered Users have contributed more than 500,000 lines of corrections!

text correctPlease, let’s keep the text correction numbers climbing! The more text corrected on Virginia Chronicle, the more effectively searchable the digitized newspapers. By becoming a registered user and right clicking on a page, you’re ready to go.  Becoming a registered user also offers perks like being able to create PDFs of pages and create categorical lists of articles you’d like to save.

The “help” menu has clear instructions on how to correct text or you can visit an old Fit to Print blog, which also provides text-correction instructions and explains why it’s necessary and important. THANK YOU all and let’s go for two million!

p.s. Virginia Chronicle has added some new titles this week:

Bath News, 1895-1897

Daily Express (Petersburg), 1855-1867

Daily Index (Petersburg), 23 Oct. 1865

Jeffersonian Republican (Lynchburg), 1828-1829 

Petersburg Daily Index, 1866

Petersburg Index, 1866-1868

Salem Sentinel, 1895-1902

Southern Musical Advocate and Singer’s Friend, 1859-1860

Staunton Telegram, 5 May 1883

 

 

 

 

 … read more »

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Mighty Casey Has Been Edited

April is a special time of year: the first full month of Spring; the beginning of baseball season (Hallelujah!) and the month designated as Poetry Month. So in honor of these two important points on the country’s cultural calendar, and combining the two art forms – poetry and baseball – Team Newspaper Project thought it would be of interest for readers to visit one of the great short yet epic poems of the late 19th century: “Casey at the Bat.”

Courier May 5 1894 page 15

Courier, 5 May 1894

Newspapers around the country published the poem by Ernest L. Thayer many times over the years. It is interesting to note that the poem, while steeped in the details and lore of baseball, was written in 1888, a time that might be described as the game’s childhood. While the Harvard educated Thayer might have been satisfied with his paean to the American pastime, it is hard to say if he was happy with the fact that he never wrote anything that made close to the same impact on the American psyche as the story of the great slugger for the Mudville Nine.

Newspapers had a habit of playing fast and loose with a poem’s content, especially if it was considered boilerplate or something that was not specifically local but possibly of interest to readers. Proof of that revealed itself in my first search of “Casey at the Bat:”

R_Dispatch_21 March 1897

Richmond Dispatch, 21 March 1897

The version that appears in the Courier notes that the poem was recited by the actor/ comedian, DeWolf Hopper. Like Thayer, Hopper’s greatest claim to fame may lie in his estimated 10,000 plus recitations of “Casey at the Bat” during his career – though that distinction could be nudged out by his nine-year marriage to Hedda Hopper, legendary Los Angeles read more »

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Titanic Web Exhibit Updated

Titanic, Titanic, Titanic. One would think we’ve heard enough about a ship that sank over 100 years ago.

Well, the fact you’re reading this tells me there is still more compelling reports to convey, more theories to consider, more heart rending stories to spool out, because the sinking of the Titanic, for whatever reason, is one of the most compelling and dissected tragedies of the early 20th century. The fate of the ship now somehow has worked its way into our collective psyche and it won’t let go.

The Library of Virginia’s original Titanic web site went up before the 1997 release of the box office smash movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio; so the site was definitely due for an update. And we’re happy to announce that if you go to https://www.lva.virginia.gov/exhibits/titanic/index.php, you will find the new site with a new name:

Titanic in Black and White.

Titanic

Updated Titanic home page.

The Titanic has a seemingly endless archive of stories and many of the tales certainly qualify as out of the ordinary. Take Arthur John Priest, who served as a fireman and stoker on the Titanic. He survived but that’s nothing new for Priest as he was on the Olympic in 1911 when it collided with HMS Hawke. Priest was on other ships that managed to sink and yet he managed each time to cheat death, like the time he was serving on the Donegal when it too was sunk by a German torpedo in 1917.

Needless to say, many on the Titanic were not so lucky.

But Virginia born Robert Williams Daniel was one of the fortunate ones as he reportedly jumped from the Titanic, swam away from the ship and was pulled from the sub 40 degree Atlantic Ocean onto a lifeboat.RNL

Daniel’s … read more »

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Breaking News! Now available on Virginia Chronicle!

The following titles are now on Virginia Chronicle:

Virginia Beach WeeklyVBWThe Musical Advocate and Singer’s FriendMusical AdvocateAlexandria Daily Gazette, Commercial & PoliticalADGAlexandria Gazette, Commercial and PoliticalAGAlexandria Gazette & Daily AdvertiserAGDAlexandria Gazette, 1835-1857AGHall ChatterHall ChatterAugusta NewsANTowers LeaderTLAnd the Library of Virginia has begun a project to digitize the Bath News (1895-1897), Salem Sentinel (1895-1902), Jeffersonian Republican (Lynchburg, 1828-1830), the Bedford Bulletin (1895-1903) and the Arcadian (1930-2007), a student newspaper published by St. Catherine’s School in Richmond. These will be available exclusively on Virginia Chronicle.

Listed below are titles arriving to both the Chronicling America site and Virginia Chronicle in the coming months. Digitized with generous funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the focus of this National Digital Newspaper Program grant cycle, the fifth for Virginia, is antebellum newspapers. So, the vast majority of this group of newspapers will be pre-Civil War era. A noteworthy exception is the Tribune, an African American newspaper published out of Roanoke from 1951-1957:

Keep a look-out for new newspapers arriving to Chronicling America and Virginia Chronicle soon!… read more »

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LVA Presents at 14th Annual Virginia Forum

Virginia Untold:
African American Narratives at the Library of Virginia

Earlier this month, the 14th annual Virginia Forum convened at Longwood University in Farmville, VA. The three-day event was packed with presentations, learned papers, and lively discussions related to Virginia history.

The theme of this year’s Forum was “Crossroads,” which, as the program notes, is both a figurative and literal term as it relates to Farmville, the town where Longwood University is located.

Three colleagues from the Library of VA, Tracy Harter, Errol Somay, and Greg Crawford, teamed up to create an engaging session titled, VA Untold: African American Narratives at the Library of Virginia.  In the photograph below you will see, from left to right, Greg Crawford, Tracy Harter, Errol Somay, and our moderator, John Deal (Also from the Library of Virginia).

Group Reduced Size

The Journey of the Sixty-Six from Prince Edward County to Liberia,
Tracy Harter, Senior Local Records Archivist

Researchers use a variety of resources to get to the truth of a matter, or to gain a better understanding of a story’s complexities. Manuscript collections, newspapers, maps, census records, military records, and other more familiar sources come to mind for this purpose, but the Circuit Court Records at the Library of Virginia provide invaluable detail that cannot be found in other sources—or detail that can help corroborate (or dispute) other sources. The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program at the Library of Virginia strives to provide researchers access to these records.

To demonstrate the value of Circuit Court Records, Tracy’s talk drew from two Prince Edward County chancery causes[i] and from the Dupuy Family Papers 1810-1866, a collection of private papers housed at the Library of Virginia. The individual sources seemed to tell three different stories; however, when Tracy studied them together, she was able to reveal the … read more »

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Men are Spendthrifts, Says 1928 Congresswoman.

2 Pratt

Recently, while researching a totally unrelated topic in the Richmond Times Dispatch, I stumbled upon an intriguing article from Dec. 2, 1928 titled, “Ninth Woman in Congress Believes Men Spendthrifts,” about New York Congresswoman, Ruth Pratt.

In the article, Pratt called men “the spenders, the happy-go-luckies, the sentimentalists, the ‘bunk artists.’” She went on to say that, “Men do not like strong and brainy women. They prefer them helpless.” While in Washington, she hoped to put her thrifty-mindedness and managerial skill to good use. She also mentioned her relief at not being the sole woman in Congress—as she entered office in 1928, she shared the sorority of seven fellow Congresswomen.

But the first woman to win a seat in the US Congress actually came 12 years before Pratt. Jeannette Rankin of Montana was elected in November 1916, well before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Being the first and only woman in Congress inspired much newspaper commentary–both critical and complimentary–not only across the country, but in Virginia’s press as well.

The Nov. 15, 1916 issue of Presbyterian of the South announced her election with little fanfare—as a matter of fact, the publication didn’t even take the time to learn which party she belonged to, but it did comment that she’d  “feel pretty lonesome in Washington.”

Presb South Nov 15, 1916The Highland Recorder, to its credit, not only knew what party she belonged to, but also printed a large photo of America’s “First Congresswoman” on the front page of its Nov. 24, 1916 issue:Highland Recorder Nov. 24, 1916Commenting on Rankin’s record, the author of this the Richmond Times Dispatch article, published August 11, 1917, obviously had little confidence in her abilities. “Mrs. Jeannette Rankin’s record in Congress thus far,” reported the RTD, “does not very much encourage the idea of filling men’s places … read more »

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A Titanic Love Affair

And we’re not talking about Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio!

In advance of our soon to be released new and improved Titanic web site and in honor of Valentine’s Day, the Virginia Newspaper Project offers a unique story, a heady combination of Tragedy and Romance.

Must reading as you prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

7.Richmond Times Dispatch_Richmond VA_November 29 1914

The male suitor, Robert Williams Daniel, a Virginian, managed to survive the sinking of the Titanic. To read more about this compelling story, click on the image above.

5.Richmond Man Escapes Death_The News Leader April 16 1912

 

 … read more »

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