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Portraits of a Prophet: 100 Years of Nat Turner in Print

GoL Sept. 3, 1831“I have a horrible and heart-rending tale to relate,” read a letter from the editor of the Norfolk Herald and printed in the Sept.3, 1831 issue of the Genius of Liberty, “and lest even its worst features might be distorted by rumor and exaggeration, I have thought it proper to give you all and the worst information that has reached us through the best sources of intelligence which the nature of the case will admit.”

The “horrible and heart-rending talethe letter described was a violent slave rebellion which had taken place about sixty miles west of Norfolk in Southampton County, Virginia. “A fanatic preacher by the name of Nat Turner (Gen. Nat Turner),” reported the Richmond Enquirer, “was at the bottom of this infernal brigandage. (Aug. 30, 1831)”

By the time the revolt was over, sixty men, women and children had been killed. But as Scot French’s book, The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory, explains, “First the white people fell. . . Then the black people fell.” The Richmond Constitutional Whig of Sept. 3, 1831 reported that many slaves were slaughtered by retaliating mobs “without trial and under circumstances of great barbarity.” The death toll among the enslaved, many of whom played no part in the revolt, was in the hundreds.

Rather than describe the events of “Nat’s War”, the Newspaper Project hopes to show how newspapers talked about Nat Turner and how they variously portrayed him in the decades following his life and death.  With a myriad of descriptions over the years, from “distinguished immortal spirit” to “wild fanatical,” Turner’s legacy was appropriated by different groups to both frighten and inspire.

On Aug. 12, 1867 the Richmond Dispatch published a long editorial titled “Nat Turner’s Massacre.” The Dispatch, Richmond’s daily newspaper … read more »

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ThroTTle is Here.

Throttle 3

It is said that companies from Apple, Amazon, and Google to Disney and Harley Davidson began in a garage. For the alternative journal, ThroTTle, it wasn’t even a garage but a local  sub sandwich shop in Richmond, Virginia where the idea for the publication was born.

The Library of Virginia and the VNP are very excited to announce that ThroTTle has been added to the burgeoning list of titles that make up Virginia Chronicle, the Library’s online database of newspapers spanning 200 years.

Throttle 2

We at Fit to Print will take every opportunity to encourage the dedicated use of Virginia Chronicle and to try out the many user friendly features that many researchers say allows them to make the best and most efficient use of their time.

But getting back to ThroTTle, you can get a quick feel for the style and contents just by breezing through one of the issues. You would learn that it was printed in a tabloid format, that it was published in Richmond, Virginia from the 1981 to 1999, and, that the magazine offered “an eclectic mix of fiction, news, humor, art and photography.” That is how Dale M. Brumfield – one of the founding members of ThroTTle – described the initial issue in his informative book, Richmond Independent Press. It seems that is a pretty good description of Throttle for issues to come.

But decide for yourself. Check out the wide array of topics and writings that ThroTTle offered in its near two decade run. Virginia Chronicle’s publication calendar reveals the life cycle of an alternative publication that was forever in search of financial solid ground. But today, in 2016, we can offer the reader a digitized version of what we think is a landmark publication in the world of the … read more »

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History Unfolded

The Virginia Newspaper Project is always eager to spread the word about historical crowd-sourcing projects that focus on newspapers as a source for information. Recently, a colleague notified us of one such project, sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, called History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust.

HU August 25, 2016

In its own words, the project seeks to “uncover what ordinary people around the country could have known about the Holocaust from reading their local newspapers in the years 1933–1945.” It asks “citizen historians” to find articles, op-eds, letters, and political cartoons from local newspapers about key topics such as Kristallnacht, Germany’s Annexation of Austria and FDR’s fourth Inaugural Address. As the project progresses it may add more topics, but for now, it is limited to twenty.

Events August 25, 2016

In its nationwide effort, History Unfolded hopes to offer a new understanding of how key events of the Holocaust were portrayed in contemporary small town newspapers. It also wants to show how newspapers discussed the debate over entry into the war and how the American press, as times grew more tumultuous, portrayed immigration and the refugee situation.  With the assistance of citizen historians, the History Unfolded database is quickly becoming a comprehensive resource which will be invaluable for scholars, historians, authors, and students.

Monocle 11 April 1933

Monocle article, April 11, 1933

One quick side note: while searching for content for History Unfolded, we here at the Newspaper Project discovered something interesting. The high school publication the Monocle was as pointed in its criticism of Hitler as any of its contemporary local weeklies. As early as 1933, the Monocle published insightful and scathing articles about Hitler’s treatment of the Jews in Germany. It makes sense that as war progressed, the students of John Marshall High watched world events unfold with … read more »

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The Wawaset Disaster, August 9, 1873: An “Extra” Alexandria Gazette, Over The Transom And Into The Archive

Not the Wawaset, but very close. No archived photo of the Wawaset, to our knowledge, is available.

Each year the Newspaper Project receives papers from private collections which are generously offered as archival candidates.  Many are duplicates of papers already cataloged.  But some aren’t.  Some are added to our select collection of singular editions with headlines announcing moon landings, assassinations, the end of wars, and dramatic presidential elections. Then there is the unexpected item that provokes the response,  “Wait…what is…that?”   Most recently, the following:Virginia Gazette Extra

Curious, the masthead’s absence of a year and its resemblance to the precursor of the “extra” edition — the single page, single-sided broadside of early newspaper history.  Much like below (which I wish was in our collection, but is taken from a volume from the Library main stacks):

Boston Gazette extra


Alexandria GazetteBut do we already have this in our possession? Is this Gazette upstairs in the archive in original or on film?  Or both?  Our hard copy archive of bound editions of the Alexandria Gazette is as extensive and space consuming (and heavy, not to be dropped on a foot) as any on the shelf. But there is a gap of some years after the Civil War and among the years in that gap, yes, 1873.

What about the microfilm?  The film, shot by the Library of Congress, includes a complete run of 1873, and is the source of the digital images on both Chronicling America and Virginia Chronicle. While it does contain the standard edition of the Gazette for the 9th, there is no indication of the earlier extra edition.  In short, while we can’t conclusively speak to its rarity, so far our research points to a genuine find. Google map



In the links I’ll provide to the press coverage of the Wawaset’s demise you’ll see references … read more »

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Old Time Religion: Virginia’s First Freedom and LVA’s Religious Press Collection


The First Freedom Exhibit in the Library of Virginia’s Exhibit Hall

The current exhibit at the Library of Virginia, First Freedom: Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom, explores the meaning and evolution of this significant legislation. Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777, it was not enacted into law until January 16, 1786, when it was passed by the Virginia General Assembly. The statute disestablished the Church of England, allowed citizens the freedom to practice any religion and assured the separation of church and state–innovative precepts later incorporated into the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

By showing episodes from Virginia’s past which involved questions of religious tolerance and practice, the exhibit raises important and often difficult questions, such as what actually constitutes the separation of church and state? How is “establishment of religion” defined? And how have perceptions of “religious freedom” changed since the statute was written?

In recognition of First Freedom, the Virginia Newspaper Project spotlights the Library of Virginia’s large collection of religiously affiliated newspapers which offer insight into religion’s role in local culture, morality and life. The papers also show how the understanding of religious tolerance and separation of church and state have changed over the past 200 years. For example, this article from the Lutheran weekly Our Church Paper of Feb. 16, 1904, fully endorsed church involvement in the development of the public educational system. “What part shall she play in the education of the youth of this country,” it asked, “and how shall she play it?” It warned that without the church’s intervention, public education might become “completely secularized.”

OCP 16 Feb 1904OCP (2) 16 Feb 1904Virginia has a long and rich tradition of religious press with Episcopalian, Baptist, Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic publications, dating back well over one hundred years. Virginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s digital newspaper repository, contains … read more »

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more dreadful than the most gruesome of tales: Newspaper Coverage of The East Orange Bathtub Mystery

Ocey Snead George Grantham Bain collection of glass negatives

Photograph of Ocey Snead, taken December 21, 1907. From the Grantham Bain collection of glass negatives

In 1909, a mystery unfolded that was so shocking, it’s nearly too strange to believe today.

Shows like Dateline and Forensic Files continuously reveal the depths of human depravity and the bizarre story of Oceania (Ocey) Snead and the events leading up to her death could have easily found their way into an episode of true crime TV had the murder happened today. But Ocey Snead’s strange story happened long before television, at a time when murder mysteries were played out, in vivid detail, on the pages of newspapers.

To tell Ocey Snead’s story, we should start seven years before her death. . .

In 1902 Virginia Wardlaw arrived in Christiansburg, Virginia to run Montgomery Female College, a well-respected boarding school for young women and girls. Her aunt, Mrs. O. S. Pollock, had run the school for several years and asked Virginia, who had experience in teaching and academia, to take it over. The college offered students room and board and course study in English language, literature, ancient and modern history, natural science, mental and moral science, math, music and ancient and modern languages. “The remarkable purity and healthfulness of the atmosphere,” explained its 1880 catalog, “render the location peculiarly eligible for a seat of learning.”

Image from the 1880 catalog for the Montgomery Female Institute, from the Digital Collections of Duke University Libraries.

Image from the 1880 catalog for the Montgomery Female Institute, from the Digital Collections of Duke University Libraries.

Virginia Wardlaw’s sister, Mary Snead, later joined her in Christiansburg to help run the school.  All went smoothly until a third sister, Caroline Martin, joined them, taking over the college’s administrative duties. Caroline acted erratically, suddenly changing the school’s curriculum, shifting students to different classes, padlocking doors for no reason and concocting a scheme to turn the institution into … read more »


Soldier Newspapers in the Civil War

The Virginia Newspaper Project, ever in search of timely blog entries, encourages you to read the excellent article by Ralph Canevali of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mr. Canevali writes about several soldier newspapers that cropped up throughout the South during the Civil War: How they were created and how they often just as quickly disappeared. The titles Mr. Canevali writes about can be found at Chronicling America, the online newspaper database maintained by the Library of Congress.


It is a timely article, given that the horrors of the Civil War led eventually to what was called Decoration Day and Memorial Day.

Near the end of the piece, we learn about the Soldier’s Journal, a title published, “Every Wednesday Morning, at Rendezvous of Distribution, Virginia.” The title can also be found at Virginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s online newspaper resource.

Mr. Canevali’s article offers a series of images, including a few by such Civil War-era artists as Edwin Forbes and Arthur Lumley.

 … read more »

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The Planet and Beyond: an update on African American Newspapers at the Library of Virginia

A single extant issue of the Reformer, an African American newspaper published in Richmond from 1895-1931, was recently added to Virginia Chronicle, the Library’s free and searchable digital newspaper database. Described by Lester Cappon as “an organ of Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers,” the issue, dated January 16, 1897, is yet another title from the collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California to be added to Virginia Chronicle.

ReformerUntil now, the Reformer was not in the Library of Virginia’s catalog–because nineteenth century African American newspapers are so rare, the Virginia Newspaper Project is thrilled to have it as part of its digitized newspaper collection.

In addition to the Reformer, Virginia Chronicle also includes 1889-1910 issues of John Mitchell, Jr.’s Richmond Planet, 1886-1890 issues of Afro American Churchman, published in Petersburg, and 1892-1893 issues of the Church Advocate from Baltimore.

Planet Afro American Church AdvocateIn the coming weeks, two editions of the Staunton Tribune will also be added to the digital database. One of the editions was published during the late 1920s/early 1930s. The other, with only one known copy from 1894, was published by Willis Carter, newspaper publisher and civil rights crusader. Thanks to Jennifer Vickers of Staunton, Virginia, the Library now houses this historically treasured newspaper.

Like John Mitchell, Jr., another early civil rights pioneer and newspaper man, Carter does not hold the place in Virginia history he rightly deserves. Fortunately, many years of careful research have led to From Slave to Statesman, The Life of Educator, Editor and Civil Rights Activist Willis M. Carter of Virginia, a new biography by Robert Heinrich and Deborah Harding.

Former Virginia Newspaper Project colleague and longtime research assistant to Harding, Margaret Rhett, has written an Out of the Box blog about Carter’s … read more »

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Our Back Pages: The VNP Adds Three Current Newspapers to Virginia Chronicle

Given copyright restrictions, the majority of the text searchable issues of newspapers found on Virginia Chronicle were published prior to 1923.

However, thanks to two forward thinking publishers, three Virginia newspapers are now available online from the earliest extant issues right up to the beginning of the 21st century.

This is exciting stuff. The titles that have been digitized and added to Virginia Chronicle are:

The Recorder (formerly the Highland Recorder. Monterey),

Highland RecorderThe Rappahannock Record (Kilmarnock), and

Rapp RecordThe Southside Sentinel (Urbanna)


The three titles represent over 300 combined years of newspaper publishing. That means newspaper issues from the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, right up to the early 2000’s can be searched using the time saving features found at Virginia Chronicle.

The three papers mentioned above have publishing offices that span the Commonwealth, from a few miles from the WV border to publishing offices located in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.

These new additions to the Library’s online newspaper database provide readers with free access to the news and stories that helped shape this state over the past 100+ years.… read more »


US News Map: Newspaper Coverage over Space and Time

This will be quick because we want you to drop what you’re doing and try out the latest newspaper resource.

When alert colleagues at the Virginia Newspaper Project find a research tool or web site that we think might be useful and cool, we want to pass it along to our faithful readers.

So check out


Brought to you by a joint effort from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, the US News Map database allows you to search words or terms and then to track how coverage traveled over time and geographically throughout the U.S.  The smart folks at Georgia Tech use Chronicling America as its source database, which currently holds over 10 million pages and nearly 2,000 newspapers, not to mention hundreds of millions of words.

From John Toon’s article about the initiative, he writes, “With U.S. News Map, it is easy to trace the evolution of a term – to see where it originated and how it spread – something that linguists are deeply interested in…Historians will be able to see how news stories moved across the continent, and rose and fell over time.”

To read more, please go to,

And for the total Youtube experience, more »

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