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- The End

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A new beginning is inevitably preceded by an ending. This post will bring an end to the nine-year run of the Out of the Box blog in its present form. Beginning September 25, the Library of Virginia will launch The UncommonWealth: Voices from the Library of Virginia. This new blog will consolidate Out of the Box and Fit to Print and incorporate other sections of the agency to provide a one-stop resource for interesting and informative posts on the Library’s programs, collections, events, and people.What began as a provocative idea (yes, it was a long time ago) from former archival assistant Dale Dulaney has become one of the most popular outreach tools for the Library. Since Out of the Box launched in May 2010, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world have logged several million webpage views. Numerous Out of the Box posts are top Google search results translating into access points for researching the Library’s extensive collections. Many scholars, family historians, students, and others have made archival discoveries or family connections thanks to a keyword search that returned an Out of the Box blog post.The UncommonWealth will build on that solid foundation by bringing in more voices and resources with potential impact for the citizens of the Commonwealth and beyond. Post categories like archives, newspapers, and public libraries will guide users … read more »

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- Who Do You Love?: Race and Marriage in Virginia Before the Loving Decision


Sample marriage license. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

Virginia’s marriage license requirements recently made the national news, and the state’s complicated history with racial classification is part of that conversation. Various records held by the Library of Virginia document this state-sanctioned bias. The following is a look at one such record that contextualizes the discussion of race and marriage going on today.

On 20 March 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, recognizing only two races, White and “Colored.” The act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and made marriage between white persons and non-white persons a felony. The law was one of the most famous bans on miscegenation in the United States, and was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 1967, in Loving vs. Virginia. The Racial Integrity Act generally adhered to the “one-drop rule,” a historical colloquial term that holds that a person with any trace of African ancestry is considered Black. However, the act was also subject to the so-called Pocahontas exception. Since many influential families claimed descent from Pocahontas, the legislature declared that a person could be considered white with as much as one-sixteenth Indian ancestry. This law, along with the Sterilization Act also of 1924, imposed the practice of scientific eugenics in the Commonwealth.

The racial criteria behind the act were developed by Dr. Walter Plecker, … read more »

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- “Unwarranted, Unnecessary, Undemocratic:” The Virginia General Assembly Responds to the Proposed Nineteenth Amendment in 1919


Pickets at the White House, 1917. Harris & Ewing, photographer. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In June 1919 Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteeing women’s right to vote (with only one vote in favor from Virginia’s congressional delegation, Republican C. Bascom Slemp). Virginia suffrage advocates expressed their hopes that ratification would happen quickly. Equal Suffrage League of Virginia president Lila Meade Valentine rejoiced that Congress had at last taken action to “enable this nation to stand before the democracies of the world unashamed,” although she regretted that Virginia “did not long ago take the initiative” by passing an amendment to the state constitution. “I trust,” she concluded, that the General Assembly “may atone for the past neglect by being among the first to ratify the national amendment.”

Nine states ratified the amendment (often referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment) before the end of June. Although the General Assembly of Virginia was not scheduled to hold its regular session until January 1920, the governor called a special session for August 1919 to prepare a plan to take advantage of a federal grant for road construction. Suffragists in Virginia disagreed about whether to push the issue of ratification during the special session or to wait until the regular session five months later. Equal Suffrage League officers favored laying the groundwork for ratification in the regular session, but members of the Virginia branch of the … read more »

- Virginia Untold: Lancaster County Fiduciary Records 1657-1872


Parr, Nathaniel, engraver, [Slave factories, or compounds, maintained by traders from four European nations on the Gulf of Guinea in what is now Nigeria], published 1746. Illus. in: A New and general collection of voyages / Thomas Astley. London, 1746, vol. 3, p. 64. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of the Lancaster County Fiduciary Records, 1657-1872, to Virginia Untold. This collection contains the earliest records added to Virginia Untold, and the largest number of names added from a single locality so far—over 20,000. Fiduciary records primarily consist of estate administrator settlements, estate inventories, dower allotments, estate divisions, estate sales, and guardian accounts that record a detailed list of all personal property owned by individuals, including enslaved people.

These records demonstrate the rapid growth of slavery in Virginia from the “20. and odd Negroes” who arrived in Jamestown in 1619. Two estate inventories recorded in 1670 named a combined total of 60 enslaved people. As the records progress into the 18th and 19th centuries, the number of enslaved people owned by individuals exploded. In some cases, a single person could own hundreds of enslaved people, and their residences were not confined to Lancaster County. For example, the estate inventory of Rawleigh W. Downman recorded in 1781, lists nearly 150 enslaved people who lived on estates he owned in Lancaster, Richmond, Stafford, and Fauquier counties.

Many of these fiduciary records document additional information about enslaved people, beyond a name and assigned monetary value. The authors often included comments about individual enslaved people which, though limited to a couple of words or short phrases, shed … read more »

- Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Records are coming to Making History: Transcribe


Undated photograph of Equal Suffrage League members, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is excited to make the records of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia available in Making History: Transcribe. As part of our 2020 commemoration of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote, the Library is asking volunteers to help transcribe these records that document women’s campaign for the vote in Virginia.

In the autumn of 1936, Ida Mae Thompson sent out a plea to former members of the Equal Suffrage League: “We have the opportunity through the Historical Records Survey, a WPA project, of collecting and classifying for permanent preservation all available materials on woman suffrage in our State.” Thompson specifically asked for “minutes, samples of pamphlets or fliers or other printed matter including newspaper clippings, or information that workers may remember, etc.” She stressed that “ANY data” documenting the woman suffrage movement in Virginia was desirable so that its history could eventually be written.

Almost thirty years earlier, in November 1909, a small group of prominent Richmond women had founded the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. They spent the next decade advocating first for an amendment to the state constitution and later for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would guarantee women’s right to vote. The league’s members were all white women (and some men) and they did not advocate for African American … read more »

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- Grants Awarded to Circuit Courts for Records Preservation


Circuit Court Records Preservation program logo

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 26 July 2019 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. Five voting members comprise the board: three circuit court clerks, appointed by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the state archivist and a senior local records archivist. Board members meet once a year to evaluate applications. Clerks of the circuit courts are eligible to apply for funds to conserve, secure, and increase access to circuit court records. In all, 90 localities submitted 94 applications requesting a total of $1,441,194.21.

After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved 91 grant projects totaling over $1,200,000. Eighty-nine of the approved applications covered professional conservation treatment for items including deed books, will books, land tax books, marriage licenses, minute books, and plat books, housed in circuit court clerks’ offices, which suffered damage from use, age, pests, water, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining two grants funded records reformatting and a security system.

The following are a few of the items that received grant funding:

The Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division administers the CCRP. A $1.50 recordation fee on land instruments recorded in the circuit court clerks’ offices funds the program. The CCRP … read more »

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- Money Money Money: Running Up Student Debts in Brunswick County

The start of August brings with it the excitement and anticipation of numerous young men and women as they prepare for their first year in college, moving away from home to a new part of the commonwealth, or to a new state altogether. It also brings many parents the not-so-pleasant anticipation of a variety of associated expenses, and the fear of unwanted debt. An 1832 Brunswick County chancery cause is a sobering reminder of how important it is for students to understand and follow a good budget, and to live within their means.

In 1826 Edwin Drummond was a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He appears to have been what we would now call an out-of-state student, hailing from Morgan County, Georgia.  However, it seems he had family and friends in Brunswick County, Virginia, and owned a tract of land there. Documents in the chancery cause do not reveal whether he was a “first year” or an upper-classman, yet they do reveal that he was boarding locally and not living “on grounds.” Like your average college student today, Edwin wanted to dress stylishly. He frequented local tailors, boot and shoemakers, and general merchandise stores.

 

Unfortunately, Edwin ran up debts with two Charlottesville tailors. He owed Henry Price $26.37 for his services between January 1826 and January 1827. A detailed account … read more »

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- Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of the General Assembly of Virginia


Seal of the Governor's Council, Seventeenth century. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

The first meeting of the General Assembly of Virginia took place at the church building in Jamestown on 30 July 1619. The session lasted for four hot days, not including a Sunday. The founding of the first and oldest representative legislative body in the western hemisphere was an event of epic importance in Virginia and the United States.

It may surprise people that the records of the first General Assembly are not preserved in the Virginia state archives, which are in the Library of Virginia in Richmond. There are two important reasons why that is not the case.

The first reason is that the General Assembly was not technically a governmental institution. It was a new instrument that the Virginia Company of London created to manage its small settlement in the New World. Consequently, the records belonged to the company, a chartered speculative investment enterprise that operated under a royal charter and had settled the colony.

The other reason is that any copies of the 1619 documents that may have remained in the General Assembly’s possession would have been destroyed along with most of the legislative and executive records of the colony in one of the British raids on Richmond during the American Revolution. In fact, histories of Virginia written before that time suggest that no copy was in the colony even then. The one … read more »

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- Out of Character: A Middlesex County Divorce Suit


Detail. Strohmeyer & Wyman. The Pastoral Visit. , ca. 1897. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/95515258/.

Inviting a man of the cloth to live in your home seems like it should be a good idea. You might expect a resident clergyman to bless a home with prayers and bring a heightened sense of peace to all who dwell there. Unfortunately, a man in Middlesex County discovered just the opposite when he and his family welcomed a pastor into their home. Instead of dispensing godly wisdom, the pastor set his eyes on the lady of the house, and she was happy to oblige.

In 1893, Thomas and Fannie Harris opened their home to their pastor, William E. Thompson. Pastor Thompson lived peaceably as a guest for nearly 10 months until Thomas began to notice his wife acting out of character. Fannie was extremely generous to the pastor, providing him with meals, gifts, and other favors above and beyond expected courtesy. According to Thomas, Fannie also appeared to have a strong desire to please the pastor rather than her husband. The impropriety of the relationship grew to the point that Harris forcibly evicted the pastor from the home. However, this was only the beginning.

In the spring of 1894, the pastor purchased land near the Harris estate. While the purchase did not immediately alarm Harris, he again noticed a drastic change in his wife’s behavior. Fannie made significant efforts to carry fruit and refreshments to … read more »

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- The Kindness of Strangers: A Story from the Montgomery County Chancery Causes


Postcard of Northfork, WV, coal camp just north of Switchback, WV. Courtesy of Pintrest.com.

The bedrock of the Library of Virginia’s chancery causes collection is the personal story. While most causes share similar documents, topics, and resolutions, each story told is unique. While processing 3,510 Montgomery County chancery causes during a two-year National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant-funded project, former Library of Virginia Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney and her staff of two, Regan Shelton and Scott Gardner, managed to record numerous noteworthy causes, known in local records jargon as suits of interest. One such suit of interest is  Agnes Schaub by, etc. v. Floyd Schaub, 1912-042.

On 15 December 1908, Agnes L. Harrison and Floyd Schaub married in Bristol, Tennessee. As Agnes later recounted, she “was a mere child when she ran away and married… just about 30 days before her sixteenth birthday.” As their marriage license indicates, Agnes was born in Carroll County, Virginia, while Floyd was born in neighboring Pulaski County. For a short time, they live together with “his people” in Carroll County and in Bluefield, West Virginia. Eventually, the couple settled “half-time in Pocahontas, Virginia and half-time in Switchback, West Virginia.”

Agnes acknowledged that Floyd began to mistreat her almost as soon as they were married, and that “on the slightest provocation or without provocation, he would curse and abuse her and threaten to beat her.” She described Floyd … read more »

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