There is an old saying that everyone has a double somewhere. To my surprise, I found mine in a most unlikely place: the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection. While processing the 47,000 prints and negatives of prisoners from 1934 to 1961, I suddenly found myself staring at a picture that looked remarkably like me when I was 18. Intrigued, I conducted further research on my doppelganger.
Prisoner 34402, David Armbrister, was an 18-year-old farmer from Wythe County, Virginia. On 14 August 1935, he was admitted to the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond to begin serving his one-year sentence for statutory rape. At the time of Armbrister’s conviction, the Code of Virginia defined statutory rape as consensual carnal knowledge with a female child between the ages of 14 and 16 years and who also was not “an inmate of a hospital for the insane, or an inmate of an institution for the deaf, dumb, blind, feeble-minded, or epileptic.” However, if the man married the female and did not desert her before her 16th birthday, the charges would be dropped. Apparently Armbrister opted for prison instead of marital bliss. He was released in 1936 and died on 23 January 1943 when the ship he was traveling on from Scotland to the United States was sunk by a German U-Boat.
When Mary Walker Cabell died in 1862, a series of chancery suits were filed in Nelson County by her numerous descendants in an attempt to settle her estate. Such complicated cases could not be remedied by courts of law and were usually decided according to fairness by courts of equity, called chancery courts in Virginia.
In 1863 this hand-drawn family tree was entered into the case to note the lineage on Cabell’s father’s side. Cabell was the paternal granddaughter of Charles Hill Carter (1733-1802) of Shirley Plantation. Charles Hill Carter was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter (1663-1732) one of the richest men in 17th century colonial America. His parents, John Carter and Elizabeth Hill, built Shirley Plantation in 1723. The home, a private residence in Charles City County, remains in the family today.
This family tree serves as a reminder that chancery court cases are often invaluable to genealogical researchers because courts frequently sought to determine heirs and family connections. Though this example is of the powerful Carter family, most suits concerned ordinary Virginians and some even document the lineage of the enslaved.
This large chancery cause, Executor of Mary Walker Cabell, etc. vs. Peyton H. Skipwith, etc. & Representative of Charles Carter Lee, etc. vs. Executor of Mary Walker Cabell, etc., 1882, is part of the Nelson County Chancery Collection and … read more »
On 5 July 1858, the remains of former President James Monroe were transported aboard the Jamestown amid much ceremony from New York City’s Marble Cemetery to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Then governor Henry A. Wise had engineered the return of Monroe’s remains to his native Virginia. Wise’s Executive Papers contain correspondence between Daniel F. Tiemann, Mayor of New York City, and Samuel L. Gouverneur, Jr., son-in-law of James Monroe, regarding arrangements for the reburial. Architect Albert Lybrock’s design of a cast-iron monument for Monroe’s tomb is also included with these papers.
A lesser-known effort also initiated by Wise was his unsuccessful attempt to have Thomas Jefferson’s remains relocated from the family cemetery at Monticello to Hollywood Cemetery. On 26 June 1858, Governor Wise wrote a letter to Charles C. Wertenbaker, 1st Lieutenant of the Monticello Guard and Chairman of the Committee of Arrangements at Monticello. The Governor wished to receive the consent of Thomas Jefferson Randolph to remove the remains of Thomas Jefferson on July 3rd and deposit them next to those of James Monroe at Hollywood. Wertenbaker’s return letter communicated Randolph’s disapproval of the plan, citing Jefferson’s wish to be buried next to his wife and daughter. In a letter to the Governor, George W. Randolph expressed his disagreement with his brother, but Jefferson’s remains were never laid to rest next to those … read more »