- Oh, You Classy Skirt: Valentine Cards in a Norfolk County Divorce Case


Cards sent to Iva Robinson Titzel, found in Norfolk County (Va.) Chancery Cause 1911-072, Iva Robinson Titzel vs. John A Titzel Jr., Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Out of the Box! Although today is meant to be a celebration of love and romance, not all valentine cards have a happy back-story. This set of cards served as evidence in the 1911 divorce case between Iva Robinson Titzel and John A. Titzel, Jr., in Norfolk County (now Chesapeake). The couple met and married in Norfolk County in 1909. They moved to Brooklyn shortly thereafter and to Boston in February 1910. Iva returned to Norfolk County with her mother in April 1910, after a stay in the hospital for surgery for blood poisoning in her foot. John returned to Norfolk County at the end of September that year, and they made a brief attempt at reconciliation. By January 1911, however, Iva had decided she “could no longer live with him in safety” and by February had asked for a divorce.

Apart from those few facts, the couple disagreed on everything else that contributed to the disintegration of their brief marriage. John, a Spanish American War veteran and petty officer in the U. S. Navy, maintained that the marriage was a happy one, and that he had to no reason “to anticipate any trouble whatsoever between himself and wife.” He claimed that Iva’s mother persuaded her to leave Boston for Norfolk County, and that she “so poisoned the mind of the … read more »

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- Virginia Untold: The Cullins family of Powhatan County


Original courtesy of Library of Congress.

Two years ago, the Library of Virginia launched Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, a digital collection aimed at helping researchers break through the “roadblock” that has long impeded African American genealogical and historical research. Virginia Untold, along with other digital collections already available at the Library of Virginia such as the Chancery Records Index Virginia Chronicleand the Legislative Petitions Digital Collection, have brought to light the pre-Civil War experiences of African Americans once hidden in bundles of administrative, estate, property, and court records stored in courthouses, state agencies, attics, basements, and libraries. One example is the narrative of an African American family who resided in Powhatan County in the mid-19th century.

In 1833, John Cullins’s last will and testament was recorded in Powhatan County court. One of the terms listed in the will was the emancipation of a family of enslaved people: a mother, Nancy, and her five daughters, Jane, Sally, Ann, Judith, and America. However, their emancipation was not immediate. Cullins’s will stipulated that the family would remain enslaved until the deaths of John’s two daughters, Polly and Henley. Following their deaths a decade later, Nancy and her daughters finally gained their long awaited freed … except for Jane, who died before receiving her emancipation.

Once emancipated, Nancy and her daughters acquired the surname of their … read more »

- Collateral Damage: An Elizabeth City County Debt Case

Debt collateral usually consists of something prized by both parties. As a temporary form of payment, something of value is offered to hold or use as a lien until the debt is paid. In the mid-1800s, lenders considered enslaved persons to be prime collateral because their ownership represented wealth.  In many cases, however, lenders exploited these debt arrangements to the detriment of the borrower. Enslaved persons used as collateral were often abused or simply sought for their monetary value. Such was the case with Thomas Phillips, a slave owner pressured to leave his enslaved people behind as a surety for unsettled obligations to a creditor named N. C. Giddings.

By all indications, Phillips was a financially upright man who seemed to take full responsibility for his debt. Phillips voluntarily submitted a trust deed in Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in 1859 to use two enslaved people as collateral. Although the debt value is not given, one might reasonably assume that the amount was substantial given Phillips’s willingness to place his valuable human property in jeopardy. To make matters worse, heightened tension between the country’s northern and southern sections increased the likelihood that authorities could seize these enslaved people, leaving Phillips with little hope of their return.

Upon executing the deed, Phillips attempted to relocate to Richmond, but N. C. Giddings balked at … read more »

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- Governor Terry McAuliffe: Building a New Virginia Economy (Web Archive)


Governor Terry McAuliffe skydives to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront on 2 June 2017 as part of the Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival.

Looking for the website of Governor Terry R. McAuliffe (2014-2018), which was taken down at the end of his term? The Library of Virginia can help. The Governor Terry McAuliffe Administration Collection (2014-2018) contains archived versions of the websites of the governor, cabinet, gubernatorial initiatives, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, as well as snapshots of their social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). These sites are preserved as part of the Library of Virginia’s web archiving program.


Governor Terry McAuliffe becomes the first governor to fly in an autonomous aircraft, 18 May 2017, NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

The McAuliffe Administration web archive enables researchers to access the governor’s executive orders and directives, press releases, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe’s No Hunger Campaign, and the Governor’s Top 5: This Week in the New Virginia Economy, a weekly compilation of the activities and achievements of the administration. The collection also contains the websites of Lt. Governor Ralph S. Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

Since 2005, the Library’s web archiving program has captured websites of enduring cultural value, especially those created and maintained by Virginia government. The collection includes the websites of the administrations of Governor Mark Warner (2002-2006), Tim Kaine (2006-2010), and Robert McDonnell (2010-2014) as well as Virginia state agency sites. We have also expanded into special topics of Virginia interest, such as the 2006 Senate race between George Allen and Jim Webb and the 2007 Virginia Tech … read more »

- True Son of Freedom: The World War I Experience of James Preston Spencer

True Sons of Freedom, a photographic exhibition at the Library of Virginia, explores the stories of Virginia’s African American World War I soldiers. More than just mementos for families and sweethearts, these portraits challenge the crude and demoralizing cultural products of an era that often reduced African Americans to stereotypes and denied them full participation as citizens of the United States. Reflecting the pride and determination of African American World War I servicemen, the images were submitted with the soldiers’ responses to military service questionnaires created by the Virginia War History Commission, part of an effort to capture the scope of Virginians’ participation in the Great War. The original photographs, reproduced in the gallery at nearly life-size dimensions, place visitors at eye level in front of the soldiers. The monumental scale allows viewers the opportunity to examine rich details not seen in the original photo postcards.

This blog post will examine the life of one of the soldiers featured in the exhibit in greater detail. James Preston Spencer served in the 370th Infantry. He was born on 15 June 1888 in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. His parents, William Spencer and Bettie Reed Henry Spencer, had eleven children in total. Both were born in Charlotte County and presumably into slavery, William in 1856 and Bettie in 1863, at a plantation called … read more »

- Tin Can Tell-All: Revealing Virginia’s Role in the Canning Trade


Goode Canning Company, Bedford County, VA, circa 1900-1915. “Virginia’s Forgotten Canneries” exhibition.

Canned foods have become an everyday part of our lives. Most people have at least a few cans in their kitchen pantry, but far fewer know the critical role Virginia played in the commercial canning industry in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. For the past few months, the Library of Virginia’s Second Floor Reading Rooms have played host to the traveling exhibit Virginia’s Forgotten Canneries. Created by the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum, located in Ferrum, Virginia, this installation looks at the visual and material impact of the Virginia canning trade.

Following the Civil War, American cities grew increasingly urbanized and industrialized, with many families moving away from the self-sufficient agricultural traditions seen in centuries past. Because of this, “convenience cooking” and the demand for canned commodities rose rapidly, and canning developed into a successful national industry. Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia led the canning trade, with nearly half of the nation’s canneries operating within their bounds. In Virginia, canneries began to pop up wherever there was steamboat or railway access to transport their finished products. This created two major canning regions in Virginia—the coastal area around Northern Neck and the Eastern Shore and the mountainous Blue Ridge region, centering on Bedford and Botetourt counties.

Tomatoes became the major canning “vegetable” for Virginia packers, with hundreds of canneries focused on … read more »

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- “Objection, Mr. Chairman!” – The Opening Session of the 1998 House of Delegates


The 1998 House of Delegates, Library of Virginia Special Collections, Prints & Photographs.

With the Virginia House of Delegates almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats when it convenes on Wednesday, 10 January 2018, Out of the Box decided to spotlight Library of Virginia records related to that last time the chamber was tied in 1998. A recent Washington Post article described the 14 January 1998 opening session of the House of Delegates as an “ugly spectacle.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch called it a “parliamentary WrestleMania.” You can now see for yourself. The Library has added video of a portion of this session to our YouTube Channel. The video is part of the recordings of the Virginia House of Delegates sessions, 1982-2011 (accession 50627) housed at the Library.

After the 1997 general election, the Democrats held a 51-48 majority in the House of Delegates with one independent. Republican Governor-elect James Gilmore (1998-2002) appointed two state senators, Joseph B. Benedetti (R) and Charles L. Waddell (D) and one Democratic delegate, David G. Brickley to positions in his administration. The appointments set off a chain-reaction of House and Senate special elections which culminated in the Republicans gaining one additional house seat. With independent delegate Lacey E. Putney agreeing to caucus with Republicans, the chamber would be tied when the session began. However, the State Board of Elections refused to accelerate certification of the Republican delegates elected in three 13 January … read more »

- Wartime Christmas at Camp Lee

Lee001

The holidays are an excellent time to eat, drink, and be merry. The soldiers training at Camp Lee (now Fort Lee) during World War I weren’t able to spend Christmas with their loved ones, but they did at least get an excellent meal and maybe some entertainment on the day. These menus and programs were collected by the Virginia War History Commission, who worked hard to commemorate the war and collect related resources in the following. Our Out of the Box bloggers will be taking a break until the new year, so happy holidays to all of you!

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- “Persecuted By His Race”: The Norfolk County Chancery Causes, 1718-1913


Mikro Kodesh synagogue, Berkley, built 1922. Now home to the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Coutesy of Wikicommons.

The information contained in the Norfolk County Chancery Cause 1893-022, Berkley Hebrew Cemetery Association v. Abraham Liebman, et. al., makes for a highly charged and drama-filled story. More importantly, however, the cause provides insight into a diverse community beginning a more organized transition within a region. Jewish immigrants began settling in the Tidewater area in the late 18th century– according to Irwin M. Berent, author of Norfolk, Virginia: A Jewish History of the 20th century. The home of the first Jewish resident of Tidewater is found in Portsmouth, which was established in 1752, incorporated as a town in 1836 and then as a city in 1858. Jacob Abrahams came first to Maryland as a convict from London. He was part of the Ashkenazic faith (a follower of the German/Eastern European ritual of Judaism). Thousands of Jewish families came to London from Germany, Lithuania, and Poland.

The first permanent Jewish resident of Norfolk, Moses Myers, settled in the Berkley section in 1787 and began an immensely successful import-export business. Soon after, the Jewish community in Berkley became known for two significant developments:  the site of the first cemetery for Norfolk-area Jews and the beginning of the “most close-knit Orthodox Russian-Jewish community in all of Tidewater.” Berkeley (sometimes spelled Berkley) is one of the oldest communities in Virginia. It was the county … read more »

- A Morbid Memento: The Trial of Kit Leftwich


Detail from Aero view of Bristol, Va.-Tenn. 1912. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

In September 1895, Kit Leftwich (also known as Kit Leftridge) was indicted for the rape of Annie Fogarty, the 12-year-old daughter of his supervisor. The jury found the former slave not guilty of the charged rape, decreasing the indictment to attempted rape. Even so, the punishment was set at death by hanging. Kit Leftwich has the distinction of being the first person legally hanged in Bristol, Virginia, since its founding.

Lynching, a common form of ‘people’s justice’ at the time, had led to several public hangings. The case of Kit Leftwich was different because it ensured the public could not execute vigilante justice in place of law and order. When it became clear that the population of Bristol was too biased, a motion was passed for the jury summons to be sent to neighboring Washington County. The assumption was that the people farther from the case would be less aware of it. Even so, one of the jurors selected shared the surname of the presiding judge, so the impartiality may have been less than initially intended. Judge William F. Rhea had retired from the Virginia Senate in 1888, and would later serve in the United States House of Representative from 1899-1903.

With jurors selected and the charges set, the trial began on 10 September 1895. By the end of the next day, the evidence had … read more »

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