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- “Irrespective of race or color:” African Americans and the Making of a New Virginia Constitution


The State Convention at Richmond, Va., in Session, with Willis A. Hodges in the center front, published in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, February 15, 1868.

On 17 April 1868, exactly seven years after a Virginia convention had voted to secede from the United States, another Virginia convention voted to approve a new constitution. For the first time in Virginia’s history, African American men participated in framing the state’s governing principles and laws.

The Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography has recently completed a project to document the lives of these African American members of the convention, and their biographies are published online with our digital partner, Encyclopedia Virginia. These biographies (and many others) can be accessed through the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page or through Encyclopedia Virginia.

In 1867 Congress had required states of the former Confederacy (except Tennessee) to write

First Vote, from the cover of Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867.

new constitutions before their senators and representatives could take their seats in Congress. On 22 October 1867, African American men voted for the first time in Virginia. In the election conducted by U.S. Army officers, voters answered two questions: whether to hold a convention to write a new constitution, and, if the convention referendum passed, who would represent them. Army officers recorded votes of white and black men separately, and some or all localities required voters to place their ballots in separate ballot boxes. Many white Virginians refused to participate in the election or were ineligible because they were former Confederates who had not taken an … read more »

- Virginia Courthouses: Wellsprings of Democracy

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the CCRP Newsletter.

 


Elwood Street, undated.

A long history of collaboration exists between the Library of Virginia and the state’s city and county circuit court clerks on the preservation of their records. In the early 1970s these preservation efforts became more formalized with the establishment of the Library’s Local Records Branch, and even more so in the early 1990s with the creation of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program.

Over the years, several people have conducted surveys of the circuit court clerks’ offices across the state for various reasons. Some are more well-known than others, such as those performed by state archivist Morgan P. Robinson in the 1910s–1920s and by Local Records Branch director Connis Brown in the early 1970s. Less known are informal surveys conducted by Elwood Vickers Street (1890–1978), a Richmond social worker. Street was a competent writer and a regular contributor to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In 1941 and 1942, he wrote a regular column chronicling his courthouse visits, which was published in the paper on Sundays. Entitled “Wellsprings of Democracy in Virginia,” the series covered the historical significance of the localities he surveyed, with an emphasis on the public buildings and, in particular, the courthouses and the status of their records.

Exactly what prompted Street to write these lengthy essays … read more »

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- A Virginia Soldier in Mexico

Ed. note: Today we have a guest post from Brexton O’Donnell, Tour Counselor, Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission, highlighting some of the content collected during the Profiles of Honor mobile tour.


Photographs taken by, and belonging to, Clarence Pax, taken during his participation in the Poncho Villa Expedition. Courtesy of George Goodson Jr. (Pax)

The United States entered the Great War in 1917, and began deploying large forces to France near the end of that year. Even before then, American volunteers were serving in France with the French and British militaries. But France was not the only place that Americans, and Virginians, in the service were deployed before we entered World War I. In 1916, US Army forces, at the direction of President Woodrow Wilson, entered Mexico in pursuit of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had raided across the border into American territory. In response to the crisis, the Virginia National Guard was federalized, and some units were deployed to the border between Texas and Mexico.

Clarence Pax was one of the Virginia National Guardsmen who was deployed to the Mexican border in 1916. Having graduated from Auburn at age sixteen, he was a rather remarkable young man. He was serving in the National Guard at the time of the Pancho Villa Expedition, and was among those sent to the border. Pax took many photos during his deployment, and 100 years later, his family brought them to the Virginia WWI and WWII … read more »

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- “We Were Residents of Loudoun County”

Editors’ Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 Loudoun County Office of the Circuit Court Clerk Historic Records Newsletter, “Little Gems.” We are grateful to Gary M. Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, for permission to publish this post. Individual names of enslaved people from this indexing project have been added to the Chancery Records Index for Loudoun County.

 


Map of Loudoun County,  ca. 1854, Philadelphia : Thomas Reynolds & Robert Pearsall Smith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the June 2018 newsletter I wrote about a project I was tasked with to compile a spreadsheet that listed the names and cases involving enslaved people in Loudoun County’s early chancery records. It took the whole of 2018 to complete the index, comprised of 3,990 lines in an Excel spreadsheet. Those 3,990 entries represent 3,990 names of enslaved people who were included in chancery cases from the years 1757 through 1866.

In this project, I reviewed 3,028 chancery cases, 550 of which involved a dispute over enslaved individuals. I documented names and case details in relation to each enslaved person. Chancery cases for this time period encompassed disputes over things such as land, crops, houses, estates of deceased individuals, tobacco, and just about anything of monetary value. It was interesting to notice trends in the number of cases in certain years.

From 1831-1835 there were 101 cases out of a total 487 cases filed that involved enslaved people. In those … read more »

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- Erin Go Bragh! Images of St Patrick’s Day in the Visual Studies Collection


The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls...,  Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

This March we are highlighting vintage St. Patrick’s Day postcards from the Visual Studies Collection at the Library of Virginia. What is the backstory behind some of the images and symbols we associate with St. Patrick’s Day? And how did Virginians in the past celebrate this most Irish of holidays?

It may surprise many Americans to learn that St. Patrick’s Day did not become an official public holiday in Ireland until 1903. As the feast day of St. Patrick, known as the “Apostle of Ireland,” the “holy day” traditionally featured religious observances. In the United States, Irish immigrants embraced the holiday as a way to celebrate their shared heritage and honor the saint. It was in New York City, not Dublin, that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in 1762 (see the Tenement Museum’s excellent history of St. Patrick’s Day in New York).

The dual nature of St. Patrick’s Day as a commemoration of the saint and an expression of Irish identity is evident in the iconography associated with the holiday. We see St. Patrick represented by his golden crozier (hooked staff), a bishop’s mitre, and shamrocks, which legend held he used to teach the doctrine of the Trinity. While the early history of these symbols is unclear, they were in use by the 17th century, when they were included on coinageread more »

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- The Remarkable Hodges Family of Princess Anne County and Norfolk


Caricature of Willis A. Hodges published in Richmond Southern Opinion, December 21, 1867.

During the night of 23 April 1829, six African American men made a daring escape from the Norfolk County jail. One of them was William Johnson Hodges, a free man suspected of forging free papers and passes for enslaved Virginians. In this case, he had been convicted of changing the amount owed on a bill for another man and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He fled to Canada and later settled in Brooklyn.

 The Hodges family of Princess Anne County and Norfolk played an important role in Virginia’s postbellum political landscape. Four members of the family are included as part of the Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography project in collaboration with Encyclopedia Virginia to document the lives of African American legislators and members of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868.

William Johnson Hodges was the eldest son of Charles Augustus Hodges and his second wife, Julia Nelson Willis Hodges, free African Americans of mixed-race ancestry. Julia’s father was a white man who reportedly served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The family was one of the more prosperous of the free black families in Princess Anne County. Charles Hodges purchased three farms and his own father’s freedom, and arranged for his children’s education. At some point, almost every member of the family moved to New York to avoid the discrimination and … read more »

- History in Your Hands: The Smartest Way to Explore 400 Years of History


Virginia History Trails promo

Love history? Love to travel? The Virginia History Trails app is for you! Developed by the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, in collaboration with the Library of Virginia and Virginia Humanities, the Virginia History Trails app is one of many endeavors commemorating 400 years of Virginia history and culture centering on themes of democracy, diversity, and opportunity.

The Virginia History Trails app contains more than 400 stories highlighting important people, places, and events that shaped the state and the nation. Included in the stories are more than 200 historic sites, museums, and markers awaiting discovery. Each story contains an image, short description, and links to more information, as well as mapped directions from your location. You can find these stories with the keyword search function or by finding what is nearby with the app’s GPS option. If you are not sure where to start, there are 20 preloaded trails to explore:

  • African American
  • American Revolution
  • Citizenship
  • Civil Rights
  • Civil War
  • Conflicts
  • Culture
  • Education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Exploration
  • Immigration
  • Innovation
  • Military
  • Preservation
  • Presidents
  • Religious Liberty
  • Representative Government
  • Resistance
  • Virginia Indians
  • Women

Through these trails you can learn more about historical figures and events you know (or think you know) and discover other items of interest. Let’s say you know about Maggie Walker, the civil rights activist and pioneer businesswoman. The app shows the location of her home … read more »

- Library of Virginia and Virginia Museum of History & Culture Merge Databases of Records of Enslaved Virginians



Detail. Emancipation / Th. Nast ; King & Baird, printers, 607 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

 The Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) and the Library of Virginia are cooperating to provide greater access to African American history and genealogy in Virginia. In early January of 2019, the VMHC’s Unknown No Longer project (over 500 documents containing nearly 12,000 names) was merged with the Library’s Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative (over 10,000 records with more than 100,000 names), providing researchers with unprecedented access to an expanded collection of resources on the history of enslaved and free African Americans in Virginia. The combined databases are now available through the Virginia Untold web page.

“Providing easier access to these records can help researchers break through the so-called ‘brick wall’ of pre–Civil War African American history,” said Librarian of Virginia Sandra Treadway. “We are excited about this partnership, which can help tell more of these stories.”

VMHC’s president and CEO Jamie O. Bosket touted the partnership by saying, “Joining forces with our friends at the Library of Virginia will make work we’ve done even more accessible and useful. We are proud to contribute to the remembrance of so many people from our past whose names were forgotten for far too long.”

This collaboration makes it possible for researchers to access one site to discover stories like those of Peter Spain and Ann Singleton. Peter Spain was enslaved by Robert Spain of … read more »

- Ich Liebe Dich! Vintage Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day to our Out of the Box readers! Valentine’s Day is perhaps the most critiqued of any holiday for being “made-up,” but as a celebration of romantic love it dates back to the 14th century. Mass-produced valentines became increasingly popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coinciding with another trend—humorous postcards portraying Dutch and German immigrants. HA! Weren’t expecting that, were you?

These postcards played on turn-of-the-century stereotypes about German culture and speech, and although the valentines displayed below seem to have been created in fun, other examples were more negative, reflecting native-born Americans fears about waves of new immigrants as threats to American values and jobs.

 

To see more examples of Vintage Valentines, check out LOOK WHAT WE GOT, the Library of Virginia’s Tumblr page, which is frequently updated with new additions to the visual studies collection, or take a look at our Vintage Valentines Pinterest board. To learn more about immigrant experience in Virginia, check out the Library’s exhibit New Virginians: 1619-2019 & Beyond, through 7 December 2019.… read more »

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- From Lancaster to Lunenburg: Betty Chapman’s Story in Virginia Untold


Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants, oil painting by Agostino Brunias, Dominica, c. 1764–1796. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1788, the Virginia General Assembly reformed the state judicial courts in order alleviate congestion in the General Court, which had caused unreasonable delays in the adjudication of common law cases such as repayment of debts, slander, land disputes, and fraud. They divided the Commonwealth into eighteen district courts, each composed of several counties, plus the district of Kentucky. The Brunswick County District Court heard cases originating in the counties of Brunswick, Greensville, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg until 1809 when the Superior Court of Law replaced the district courts. The Library of Virginia has scanned district court suits involving enslaved and free African Americans heard in the Brunswick County courthouse and made them available through Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative.

Two suits, William McTyiere [McTyre] William v. John Ussory, Jr, 1798 and Betty Chapman, etc. vs. William McTyre, 1800 found in the Brunswick County District Court records tell the story of Betty Chapman. Both suits papers describe her as a “mulatto” living with her family in Lunenburg County. However, her story really begins in the mid-1750s in Lancaster County. Her mother, Winny Chapman, was a free white woman who lived in the home of Robert McTyre. While living there, Winny gave birth to Betty and a sister named Milly, who was also of mixed-race parentage. Betty and Milly grew up in a community where their neighbors regarded … read more »

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