Don’t Throw That One Out!

Harper’s Weekly, 21 July 1866. "Taking the Oath."

Sometimes an archivist must be a detective looking for things everyone else missed.

As part of an appraisal project in local records, I reviewed blank volumes sent to the Library of Virginia from county courthouses searching for entries that may have been overlooked in their initial description.  Several volumes that were described as blank actually contained information, most notably a large bond book from Frederick County.

The book was in pieces, tied together with string, with only one of its leather covers remaining.  The pages printed with executors bonds—outlining the obligations of individuals carrying out the directions and requests in wills—were completely blank.  However, the back of some of the pages were filled with faint, but legible, writing.

The book was used not for its original purpose, but instead was used to record loyalty oaths after the Civil War.  These oaths, dated 1865–1866, consisted of statements signed by residents of Frederick County in which they promised to “support the Constitution of the United States and the laws made in pursuance thereof as the supreme law of the land.”  Each oath recorded the individual’s name, age, and sometimes his profession (for example, Henry Brent was a cashier at the Bank of the Valley of Virginia, and C. Lewis Brent was a lawyer).  The volume also contains an alphabetical index that the record keeper crafted by tracing lines for columns and drawing letters on carefully-cut tabs.  The index lists 89 county residents, including some women (like eighteen-year-old Sarah Adams).

The outbreak of the Civil War meant that the lives of Virginians were forever changed.  Twenty-six major battles and more than four hundred skirmishes during the fighting left their mark on the commonwealth and its citizens.  More men fought and died in Virginia than in any other state.  Virginia was the center of military activity in the eastern theater of the war, and Union soldiers were a continuous presence in the commonwealth from the summer of 1861 until the end of the war in April 1865.  The war lasted longer and was bloodier than anyone anticipated when it began.  Three of every four white men of military age ultimately served in the Confederate Army.  Frederick County was itself a battleground, and Winchester changed hands between Union and Confederate troops multiple times during the war.

The loyalty oath was signed by persons during and after the war to pledge allegiance to the Union. Initially intended for employees of the federal government and military personnel, the oath soon took several different forms and eventually extended to the state level. Employment and business ownership were then dependent on these signed oaths.  Recently rediscovered, they will allow researchers to glimpse the lives of postwar Virginians in a new way.

-Jennifer Davis McDaid, Local Records Appraisal Archivist

Posted by in Civil War-Related Posts, Uncategorized.

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3 Comments

  1. Dale said:
    2 December 2010 at 11:38 am

    James Dorman Davidson (he was an attorney, and he was married to Hannah
    Greenlee) was a son of Reverend Andrew Baker Davidson and Susan Dorman of Rockbridge Co., VA. James and Hannah had at least five sons in the Confederate army during War Between the States, and three were killed as the result of battle (and one was killed after General Lee had already surrendered, but word of the surrender had not yet reached the mountains where this man was fighting). One of the three sons who was killed was Captain Greenlee Davidson. Greenlee had been in charge of Gov. John Letcher’s recruiting office in Richmond, VA, and then Greenlee was an officer in the outfit commonly known as “Letcher’s Artillery.” Greenlee was killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. I note that Gov. Letcher named one of his own sons Greenlee Davidson Letcher.

    One of Greenlee Davidson’s brothers was Charles A. Davidson (who also fought for the Confederacy). When Robert E. Lee went to Rockbridge Co., VA after the war to become the president of Washington College, he was required to sign an “Amnesty Oath.” The notary public who co-signed that oath was the above Charles A. Davidson. I would imagine that there was a lot of emotion as the former General and one of his former loyal soldiers sat together to sign that document. I have a copy of that “Amnesty Oath,” should the LOVa need it (it was provided to me several years ago by a lady who worked for the Washington Post).

    Per my research, a brother of the above Reverend Andrew Baker Davidson named William Davidson, Junior was the father of Captain William Baker Davidson (a West Point grad who was killed in Florida in 1840 on Christmas Day during the Seminole War). Captain William Baker Davidson and his wife Elizabeth Chapman Hunter were the parents of General John Wynn “Blackjack” Davidson (a West Point grad who fought for the Union) and Lt. (later Commander) Hunter Davidson (a Naval Academy grad who fought for the Confederacy). Lt. Hunter Davidson was the onboard Confederate officer who was in charge of the armament when the CSS Virginia fought the USS Monitor in the famous battle between those two ironclads in 1862. If you “Google” Hunter Davidson, you can find a photo of him, as well as read about his many other exploits.

    There was another “branch” of this same overall Davidson family that was in Buckingham Co., VA. A Charles Edward Davidson in that “branch” of the family was an Assistant Surgeon for the Confederacy. He and a Mr.
    Housewright wrote a letter to Jefferson Davis, in which they offered the services of a British man to help secretly bring arms into the South. I have a copy of that letter, but I believe that the original is at Rice University (you MAY find that….or at least a transcription of it….via “Google,” as well).

    Anyway, I think that this Virginia family has a VERY unique history concerning their various “connections” to the War Between the States. This family has been “traced back” to the David Davidson (born in Holland, per his naturalization papers….and married to a Sarah Unknown) who died in James City Co., VA about 1687.

    -Bill Davidson

  2. Bill Davidson said:
    19 March 2014 at 3:20 pm

    DNA testing has now shown that the family of Dr. Charles Edward Davidson in Buckingham Co., VA and the family of the William Davidson who married Martha Baker of Prince Edward Co., VA were NOT related after all! Dr. Charles Edward Davidson was out of the family of the David Davidson who was in James City Co., VA in the 1680s (DNA “Family 10″ at http://www.davidsongenes.org), while the referenced William Davidson was a member of the unrelated DNA “Family 16″ (out of PA). This was a complete surprise to the researchers of both families. To date, no one has been able to determine the father of that William Davidson.

    • Bari said:
      25 March 2014 at 8:13 am

      Thanks for commenting and keeping us up to date on the Davidson family research.

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