- “We Give Thanks for Thanksgiving”

Telegraph to Gov. James Price, August 1939

As a holiday, Thanksgiving has a long history in Virginia. Arguably the first Day of Thanksgiving intended to serve as an annual holiday was celebrated at the Berkeley Hundred plantation on 4 December 1619, although thanksgiving services were a commonality in all areas settled by Europeans. George Washington issued the first proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving under the new national government in 1789, following up with a second Thanksgiving proclamation in 1795. It was under President Abraham Lincoln that the day became a true federal holiday; Lincoln was prompted by a series of editorials and letters written by Sarah Josepha Hale to proclaim the final Thursday in November 1863 as the national Thanksgiving Day.

In the years following 1863, presidents followed Lincoln’s example and proclaimed the final Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. State governors would also issue Thanksgiving proclamations for their individual states. The Library of Virginia has several examples of proclamation issued by Governors McKinney, O’Ferrall, and Tyler between 1893 and 1898. In these proclamations, governors encouraged citizens to gather with their friends and families, do “some good deed,” and to help those less fortunate by “brining comfort and happiness to homes and hearts that have been darkened by adversity.” The governors reference national events such as the Spanish-American War and the Panic of 1896, praising the “wonderful courage and firmness” of … read more »

- The Art of Mapping War

Atlas to Accompany the Official Records Union and Confederate Armies, compiled by Calvin D. Cowels, 1861-1869.

New ideas are sometimes birthed out of tragedies. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill passed by both houses of Congress authorizing an ambitious task, the creation of an official account of the Civil War using records that commanders wrote while in the field. The records considered “official” included correspondence, telegrams, and general orders. From the start, major issues surfaced with the project. The Adjutant General’s Office created the first set of records in the form of forty-seven volumes; however, they lacked clarity and organization, making useful research nearly impossible. The added failure of Congress to provide additional funding to correct and complete the project brought the entire effort to a standstill.

It was not until 1874 that Congress approved funding to begin the project once again, this time moving it from the Adjutant’s Office to the War Department.  It was at the War Department that Lt. Col. Robert N. Scott took the lead on the project, and with dedication, thoroughness, and detail, he began assembling the records. He implemented an organizational structure by compiling the records into series and then arranging them chronologically. The series included battle reports, reports on prisoners of war, reports on political prisoners, and general correspondence between state and federal officials.

In March 1889, serious work began on developing atlases to compliment the completed official record. Over a thousand … read more »

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- Blood Brothers: the Virginia World War II Separation Notices

Yalta Conference in February 1945 with (from left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Also present are Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, RN, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, RAF, (standing behind Churchill); General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt).  The National Archives (United Kingdom) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

In observance of Veteran’s Day, Out of the Box would like to spotlight the Virginia World War II Separation Notices (accession 23573). Part of the records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, the collection contains approximately 250,000 notices for World War II veterans discharged between 1942 and 1950 (with the bulk between 1944 and 1946) who sought employment in Virginia. Most of the notices are for military personnel who were born or raised in Virginia prior to the war and returned to Virginia after their discharge from service. While not a complete military service record, the separation notices provide a glimpse into the combat and wartime experiences, background, and post-war lives of Virginia World War II veterans.

The one page separation notice packs in a wealth of information including date and place of birth, physical description, race, marital status, and civilian occupation for each individual. Also included is rank, military organization, date of induction or enlistment, place of entry into service, military occupation, battles and campaigns, decorations and citations, wounds received in action, service outside the continental United States, prior service, total lengthy of service, and reason for separation. Naval records also list training schools attended and places of service (ships and naval stations). In addition to the separation notice, many of the army records also contain a qualification record documenting the … read more »

- DAR Sponsorship to Preserve Records of Revolutionary War Payments

The Library of Virginia (LVA) recently completed the reformatting of the Auditor of Public Accounts, Receipts and Disbursements Journals, 1778-1797, (Accession APA 45). These twenty-one volumes are now available in our Reading Room as Miscellaneous Reels 6251-6262. Funding for this project was made possible in part through the sponsorship of the Virginia State Society, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).

These volumes are comprised of daily entries of revenues and expenditures, many of which document payments for Revolutionary War service and public service contributions. Entries include payments for military service in the militia and Continental Line and for other military services rendered, relief payments to disabled soldiers and widows, interest paid on military certificates, and reimbursement for impressed property, as well as payments to individuals for civil services and to members of the General Assembly.

Typical examples from this time period include the warrant on 27 April 1782 for Elizabeth Jones, the poor widow of soldier Richard Jones who was killed at Sewell’s Point in 1777; the authorization on 15 December 1778 to pay Thomas Jefferson for provisions furnished to the Albemarle Militia; a warrant from 4 February 1779 to James Nichols for lodging three prisoners belonging to the British warship Swift; a payment authorization from 27 April 1782 for George Rogers Clark, for building boats to be used on the western … read more »

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- The Mystic Chords of Memory: The Payne Family of Frederick County

Victorian wedding.

It’s often repeated that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[1] I’m starting to think I misunderstood that quote. It seems to be less about the literal repetition of an act, as I once believed, and more about repetition of evaluation. In other words, we react as if it were the first time every time.  Winston Churchill warned that this would usher in “the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views.”[2]

While processing different types of records, archivists often come across something that ties the past a bit closer to the present. It might be a graphic description of an adulterous affair in a nineteenth century court document that would make Perez Hilton blush, or a rant on bureaucratic red tape from early twentieth century governor’s correspondence that still rings true today. It is both surprising and oddly reassuring to read a historical document with subject matter that could have been pulled from today’s headlines. The story of the Payne family is just such a tale.

Joseph E. Payne, a prosperous Frederick County farmer, and his wife, Sarah, had eight daughters. The Paynes were one of the oldest families in the area and, according to some newspaper accounts, well respected. Joseph’s death in 1864 and the post-war economy struck a financial blow to the family. While … read more »


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- “See to it that his name be not forgotten”: An unknown soldier in the State Art Collection

Unidentified, by John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), 1920


As a non-librarian at the Library of Virginia, I am constantly grateful for both the depth of our collections and the knowledge of our archival and reference staff. My job is to help look after Virginia’s State Art Collection, which consists of artworks owned by the Commonwealth on display in public buildings in the Capitol Square area.  As part of my job, I do research on state art objects in response to inquiries from the public and in order to flesh out catalog files.

The works in the State Art Collection are mostly what you would expect – portraits of public officials, statues and busts of presidents, and the occasional scenic Virginia landscape.  Paintings of private individuals have also become part of the collection over the years, either through association with a notable Virginian, or as a gift to the state.  In some instances, as with this portrait of a World War I era soldier, the identity of the subject and the way the piece was acquired have been forgotten, and we are left with a mystery.

As with any piece of material culture, the best place to start is the object itself. There are a few clues in the painting: the signature indicates that it was painted in 1920 by local artist John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), and the uniform insignia shows  that our read more »

- (Belated) Archives Month Greetings!

Virginia Archives Month poster 2015

It’s that glorious time of year again when the air is cooler, leaves are donning their autumnal colors, and archives and special collections are on everyone’s mind. That’s right, friends, it’s Archives Month in Virginia. Though we’re a bit late sharing archival greetings from the Out of the Box blog, that in no way indicates a diminished enthusiasm!

This year’s theme is “Archival Treasures: Find Your Hidden Gem.” Nineteen institutions from around Virginia submitted images for handsomely designed 2015 poster. A downloadable poster image, information about Archives Month events, and other relevant information can be found on the Virginia Archives Month web page.

So as you go hunt for you hidden gem, give a thought to the devoted men and women who make archival materials available for public access and the institutions that collect tomorrow’s history today. And before October ends, hug an archivist (but ask permission first)!… read more »

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- If The Dead Could Talk: A Patrick County Estate Dispute

Nineteenth century seance. www.weirdlectures.com

In 1999, the horror film The Sixth Sense introduced the iconic phrase, “I see dead people,” into pop culture. The film followed the progression from a young boy’s ability to see the deceased to also hearing what they had to say. In the first decade of the 20th century, this unusual talent would have helped resolve a dispute over the last will and testament of a wealthy estate owner.

In 1906, the estate of Richard R. Rakes was the center of attention for two sets of heirs. The first were the children of Rakes’ first wife, Sarah D. Turner, who passed away several years before. To their dismay, Rakes did not leave them an inheritance because he believed they were already well cared for before his demise. The second set of heirs, however, received a much better report.

The surviving widow, Mary Rakes, and her children were the sole beneficiaries of the estate, which included several hundred acres of property, horses, county bonds, evidence of debts, and other assets worth thousands of dollars. The desires of Richard Rakes seemed fairly straight-forward, if it were not for the betrayal of C. P. Nolen—the executor of the estate.

Nolen decided to partner with the children from Rakes’ first marriage to fool the widow Mary into thinking that a different plan existed. Their efforts were successful and resulted … read more »

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- Hidden Treasures and Lost History: Murphy’s Hotel in Richmond

Working with state records often means finding the most interesting things in the most unexpected places. For example, I never thought that going through Land Office records would lead me to a piece of Richmond’s lost history.

The records in question were among the papers of the Superintendent of Weights and Measures, whose duties were transferred to the register of the Land office by a legislative act in 1867. The superintendent retained a series of advertising circulars, printed materials sent by various companies promoting their products—including various hotels advertising their amenities and rates. Although most of the hotels that sent their pamphlets to the superintendent were located in Washington, D. C., one local hotel was also represented—Murphy’s Hotel, which stood directly across from the Library of Virginia’s current location, at the corner of 8th & Broad St. The building, which shares the block with St. Peter’s Church and the former Hotel Richmond, was torn down in 2007. The original plan was to replace the hotel with a modern high-rise that would house offices for the Commonwealth of Virginia; however, this has not yet occurred.

Murphy’s Hotel began life as oyster shack owned by John Murphy, who immigrated to Virginia from Ireland at the age of six. Murphy joined the Confederate Army when he was 20, serving at different times in both the artillery and … read more »

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- Love Letters in the Archives

Postcard image, undated.

While working on a project involving the Middlesex County Chancery Causes, I noticed a case that was filled with scandal and intrigue.  Middlesex Chancery Cause, 1907-033, Andrew Courtney vs. Mary Courtney is a divorce suit in which both parties accuse the other of adultery. Andrew claimed his wife ran off to Connecticut with a married man named Beverly Smith, and Mary responded by claiming that Andrew was guilty of adultery himself.

As evidence, Mary produced several letters written to her husband by various women, one of which included a lock of hair.  That letter, dated 30 August 1906 from a Miss Ginny Davis, proclaimed “Here is a peice [sic] of my hair look at it and think of me.”

While it is sad to think that some of the love letters that end up in the archives are the result of divorce suits and romance gone wrong in one way or another, it also proves the quest for love is something that is surely timeless.

The Middlesex Chancery Causes, 1754-1912, are available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site.  The lock of hair reference above has also been scanned.


–Mary Dean Carter, Local Records Archival Assistant… read more »

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