- Hampton Coroner Records Reveal Social History


Elizabeth City County (now Hampton) Courthouse.

Dr. Paul Parker, medical examiner of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, wrapped up a 19 April 1935 coroner’s inquest by ruling that “Dorothy McGaha Reeves came to her death on April 15th, 1935, of general peritonitis and perforated uterus as a direct result of a criminal abortion performed by Dr. N[elson]. F[rederick]. McNorton, of York County (Yorktown), Virginia, on the 9thday of April, 1935. Death occurred at the Dixie Hospital, Hampton, Virginia, on April 15th, 1935, about 12:20, A. M.”

Dr. McNorton was arrested on 15 April but charges were not disclosed. Authorities were led to him based on a deathbed statement given by Reeves, as well as Dr. Parker’s inquest findings. The Danville Bee reported that Reeves purportedly went to Dr. McNorton’s office for the illegal operation on the evening of 9 April in the company of Nellie Frye. Five days later, without ever having returned to work, Reeves was taken to the hospital where she died the following morning. In addition to Dr. McNorton’s arrest, later revealed to be on charges of second-degree murder and performing an illegal operation, Frye was also arrested. She was held as a material witness and also on the charge of being an accessory to the illegal operation.

Dr. McNorton belonged to a noted and influential African American family in Yorktown. His father, … read more »

- Big Find Friday: Reference staff to the rescue

Here on Out of the Box we like to take the occasional Friday to let patrons of the Library of Virginia tell our readers of their research success stories.  We call it Big Find Friday, and today we bring you the latest installment.

James and Andra Krehbiel made the long journey all the way from Arizona to Richmond to research the descendants of Jacob Wees (1733-1826) of Muddy Creek, Pennsylvania, and Elkins, (West) Virginia.  Their visit yielded valuable information on some ten generations of the family (variations of the surname include Weese, Wease, and Wiess). 

“While we had names and dates for most, we were in need of a great deal of assistance to locate ‘the story’ of each,” the Krehbiels wrote in their “My Big Find” submission.  “This could never have been done without the amount of help your staff provided and which we never expected.”

The couple specifically thanked Bill Luebke, Dave Grabarek, Ginny Dunn, and Lisa Werhmann for their help, adding that “As both of us have doctorates and have done our share of research, we can attest that the staff of the Library of Virginia is outstanding.”

If you want to “get to know” your ancestors a little better, we would love for you to take advantage of our unique and impressive resources – including our dedicated reference staff.  For those … read more »

Leave a comment

Share |

- “Nothing but…”


Handwritten copy (page 1 of 2) of a Civil War era poem, found in the papers of the Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia. CW 150 Legacy Project.

The Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia, had seven children, among them three sons who all served in the Confederate army. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has scanned a significant number of the family’s letters and miscellany; one item is a handwritten poem which I initially theorized was the work of a Runkle daughter. No obvious identification could be made, as the poem itself was unsigned, the scanning of the object was not accompanied by further detail as to its writer, and attempts at locating more personal information about the family were unsuccessful.

This is a pity, for the poem is an enormously rich document, written by a hand quite obviously skilled in the art form. A Google search of a refrain that appears throughout the poem (“Oh, he’s nothing but a soldier”) offers some hints, revealing that the poem was in fact a widely-distributed work.  A reference to it appears in The Southern War Poetry of the Civil War, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis by Esther Parker Ellinger, published by Hershey Press in 1918.  According to its listing in the book’s index, the poem is an air set to the tune of “Annie Laurie,” and is credited to “A Young Rebelle, Esq.”  Perhaps a Runkle woman was the mysterious “Young Rebelle,” but more than likely a family member copied it down … read more »

Leave a comment

Tags: ,

Share |

- Stafford County Chancery Goes Digital


Stafford anniversary logo

2014 has been a special year filled with special events for Stafford County. Celebrating its 350th anniversary, the county held numerous community-based historical celebrations to mark the occasion.  On January 4, some 4,300 people kicked off the commemoration with an inaugural event—complete with an interactive history tent and a “live history timeline” enacted by elementary students. Founders Day festivities, held May 3-4, gathered together 59 groups with 655 participants to showcase different aspects of the county’s history—with a parade, history square, and county-wide school fine arts program. Close to 13,000 people turned out for this unique sesquarcentennial jubilee. The Local Records Services branch of the Library of Virginia was selected to participate and staff a table displaying mounted reproductions of county documents found in its archival collections.

Individuals researching Stafford County history know that it is a locality that has experienced a massive loss of its loose records and volumes. Helping provide a context for earlier surviving documents (see the Lost Localities Digital Collection) as well as adding to the county’s ongoing story, the digital images for the Stafford County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1866-1912, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site. Because these documents rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information … read more »

- The Asylum Poisonings: Death, Politics, and “Low Cussedness” in Staunton


Western State Hospital, ca. 1838.  https://wayback.archive-it.org/335/20090115144155/http://www.wsh.dmhmrsas.virginia.gov/history.htm

In 1883, the year when Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solved the case of the Speckled Band, an equally baffling real-life killing drew another noted team of detectives to the Western Lunatic Asylum (later renamed the Western State Hospital) in Staunton, Virginia.

On the morning of 24 February 1883, just after receiving their regular liquid medications, seven male patients lost consciousness.  Four died almost immediately, two died in the next three days, and one recovered.  An eighth patient vomited and experienced other ill effects, but recovered in a few days.  A coroner’s inquest concluded that the victims’ cups of medicine must have been poisoned while sitting in an unlocked hall cabinet the previous evening.  Other patients, taking the same medicine which had not been left in the cabinet, had no problems.  Dr. W.W.S. Butler, head pharmacist at the asylum, testified that no poisons were missing from the dispensary.  Autopsies were performed, and University of Virginia chemistry professor John W. Mallet used the latest forensic techniques to analyze three of the victims’ stomachs and their contents.  Mallet concluded that the poison used was aconitia (also known as aconitine), an extremely toxic extract of the aconite or monkshood plant, and the coroner’s jury agreed.  The asylum pharmacy had a bottle of highly diluted “tincture of aconite,” but Mallet thought it was not strong enough to … read more »

- The Island Formerly Known as 314


Richard Young, A Plan of the City of Richmond, Detail, 1809.

This summer’s announcement that Mayo’s Island is again for sale prompted a look back at the history of of the most well-known of the James River islands.

Mayo’s Island is located at degrees 37˚31’45.47”N, 77˚25’59.14”W and can easily be viewed through Google Earth. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names officially registered “Mayo’s Island” as a feature name in 1979. The name also appears on earlier maps and atlases of Richmond, including the Beers (1877) and Baist (1889) atlases. Going back even further, the land mass was unnamed on the Young (1809) and Baist (1835) maps of Richmond, identified only as number “314.” An untitled manuscript map of the city drawn circa 1838 merely labels the island as “Toll Gate,” and an 1873 office map of Richmond identifies present-day Mayo’s Island as two islands: Long Island and Confluence Island.

Plats and certificates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are extant and they reveal that the islands were commonly known as Long and Confluence Islands; parcels of land were granted by the Virginia Land Office to John Mayo (Long Island) in 1792 and to Thomas Burfoot and Milton Clarke (Confluence Island) in 1830. Mayo had petitioned the General Assembly in November 1784 to build a bridge at his own expense and desired to levy a toll to recoup his costs. While John Mayo never saw … read more »

1 Comment

Tags: , , , , ,

Share |

- “Nelson County in Hollywood”


Second revision of THE WALTONS Season 4 episode, The Fledgling. Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

The papers of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator and writer of the popular television series The Waltons, are now available for research at the Library of Virginia. One might wonder what the papers of a famous Hollywood figure are doing in Richmond.  Granted, Hamner was born in Schuyler, a small town in Nelson County, but he left Virginia in 1949.  His many accomplishments in film and television took place outside of his home state. But when Hamner left 65 years ago, it wasn’t as though he didn’t look back.

Much of Hamner’s inspiration and ideas grew out of the first 25 years of his life growing up in Nelson County and attending college at the University of Richmond.  Delivering the commencement address at his alma mater the University of Cincinnati in 2008, Hamner said, “What has inspired me has been the family and neighbors I grew up with in rural Virginia during the Great Depression.  They were a decent, God-fearing, patriotic people.  Like most Appalachian folk, they were frugal, proud, and self-reliant.  They were story tellers and I listened.” 


Stock photo of the cast of THE WALTONS, courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Found in Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

While a student at the University of Richmond just prior to World War II, Hamner was working on a short story which described the feelings of a boy when he joined his father for his first deer hunt.  As the story grew, Hamner realized the … read more »

Leave a comment

Tags: , ,

Share |

- “Half way across the river”

Robert Cromwell (1838-1918) was a Union soldier serving in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company A. For several months during the spring and summer of 1864 he kept a diary. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project was lucky enough to scan, catalog, and digitize the diary, and numerous other papers of the Cromwell family.


Two pages from the diary of Robert Cromwell of the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, including a 30 May 1864 entry describing the sights and sounds of battle. Cromwell Family Papers, Civil War 150 Legacy Project.

Robert’s company took part in Major General William T. Sherman’s so-called “Atlanta Campaign,” a relentless and brutally long-lasting effort to sweep through Georgia, and ultimately seize Atlanta from the Confederate army. In his 30 May 1864 entry, Robert beautifully described the thrilling grotesquerie of the battlefield, with all its horrific forms of sensory overload:

“…crack crack in our front followed by a continuous crash of small arms then increased by heavy artillery soon brought us to our feet. For 35 or 40 minutes the roar was terrific.

…The unceasing roll of musketry the concussion caused by the booming cannon and bursting shell conspired to produce indescribable sensations, mingled exultation and awe.”

But the levity and humor found in the following anecdote from 13 July 1864, is even more noteworthy. Robert’s company is encamped on one side of the Chattahoochee River, and the Confederate troops they fought mere weeks earlier are encamped across the way. As Robert states:

“Although against orders conversation will occur.  Agreed last night to xchange [sic] papers

read more »

1 Comment

Tags: ,

Share |

- October 30th is Ask An Archivist Day on Twitter!


askanarchivistday-1

Do you have burning questions for an archivist here at the Library of Virginia or elsewhere? Questions like, What’s your favorite document? Where did you get your education? Are socks and sandals mandatory footwear? Do you knit your own sweaters?

Well, head on over to the Twitter-verse any time tomorrow and hit us up with your inquiry. Be sure to use the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. You can direct it to @LibraryofVA or any of the other wonderful institutions that will be participating or to no one in particular.

Just don’t get too personal. What’s in our fanny packs is our business! ;)

Talk to you tomorrow!… read more »

2 Comments

Tags: ,

Share |

- Elizabeth City County Chancery Causes Online


Broadside for sale of land in Hampton, 1886, Elizabeth City County chancery causes, 1889-008, James D. Winnie & wife &etc. v. Milton R. Muzzy & wife &etc., Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Elizabeth City County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1747-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website.  Traditional wisdom has always held that not many pre-1865 chancery suits managed to survive the burnings of Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, and the great 1865 Richmond evacuation fire that consumed many locality records sent to the capital for safekeeping.  While not all of the records that should have existed still survive, it is fortunate that 366 suits from Elizabeth City County dating 1865 and prior were discovered as part of this processing project allowing for a richer portrait of the locality to emerge.

The earliest surviving suit is that of John Hunt and wife vs. William Hunter, 1747-001, and concerns the estate of William Hunter.  Hunt’s wife was one of Hunter’s children and as such the couple sued for their portion of her father’s estate, which consisted of four slaves: Moll, Diana, Jemmie, and an unnamed child.  The suit, which commenced in 1744, was continued for several years until it was finally sent on to the General Court in Richmond in 1747.  The General Court papers burned completely in Richmond in 1865 so the ultimate disposition of this … read more »