Monthly Archives: October 2010

- Chris Baker: “Cheerful Among Corpses”

Chris Baker (left) with anatomy students at MCV circa 1899. Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Anatomical dissection is a matter of course for today’s medical student. Those who selflessly donate their bodies to science are treated with utmost respect for the critical service that they provide to burgeoning doctors and surgeons. Medical schools in the 19th century had a more difficult time with this aspect of education and often had to turn to “anatomical men” or “resurrectionists” to procure cadavers for study by their students. Virginia schools had no legal means of acquiring bodies until 1884 when legislation established the state anatomical board and made the bodies of prisoners and the indigent available for study. An August article in Style Weekly piqued the interest of some Library of Virginia (LVA) archivists, which turned up some interesting archival records about Richmond’s own “anatomical man,” Chris Baker.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor Shawn Utsey has endeavored to uncover the thus-far unknown history of Baker’s work for the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). In that effort, he has combed the archives of MCV and the LVA as well as other sources. So far revealed is that from sometime after the Civil War until just after World War I, Baker worked as a janitor in MCV’s Egyptian Building. However, his duties went far beyond the tidying of the dissection room. With the tacit approval of the college, Baker and his cohorts (often including young medical … read more »

- Hope, Grief, Despair: The Emotional Impact of the Civil War

Illustration of a grieving Civil War-era woman, holding an open letter in her hand. Image credit: “News from the War” by Winslow Homer (detail). Wood engraving. LVA Special Collections; West Side; AP2 .H32.

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.  The war’s effect on the people of Virginia was immense – especially to those families who lost loved ones in battle.  The pain, grief, and other emotions felt by these families are witnessed by reading the letters contained in the many Civil War collections housed at the Library of Virginia.

One such collection is the Hughes-Ware Family Papers (Accession 37961).  Mary Elizabeth “Bess” Hughes (1838-1912) married Cincinnatus  J. Ware (1839-1864) of Gloucester County, Virginia, and they settled in Richmond. “Natus” and his brother William S. Ware, Jr. (1842-1909), or “Dinkey” as he was known, would later serve together in the 5th Virginia Cavalry.

Natus was wounded in action at Newtown, in Frederick County, Virginia, on 12 November 1864, and died a short time later.  The collection contains various poignant letters written by his brother and their father, as well as a comrade, to Bess.  The first letter, written by another member of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, tells of his hopes for Natus’ recovery after being shot.  The second letter, written by William, informs Bess of the death of his brother.  The third letter is written by their father, William S. Ware, Sr., and reveals the difficulty he is having accepting his son’s death.

These letters tell the emotional side … read more »

- Take a Bow. Five Million Documents Scanned!

Attendees compare inkjet copies of selected original images from the Goochland chancery collection.

Library of Virginia (LVA) staff, partners, and dignitaries gathered at the Goochland County courthouse Thursday to celebrate a milestone in a project that aims to put Virginia’s historic chancery court documents online.

The Goochland County Chancery Causes include the five millionth chancery image scanned by the Library of Virginia’s innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program. The records are the latest local records to be processed, indexed and digitally reformatted. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate what we’ve accomplished as a team,” said Carl Childs, Local Records Services Director. “It really is a team effort. It takes many different areas of the LVA working closely with the staff at the courthouses to complete these projects.”

The chancery digitization project began in 2005 with a pilot program in Fauquier County and now includes collections from 47 Virginia localities. Each of Virginia’s circuit courts created chancery records that contain considerable historical and genealogical information. Because these records rely so heavily on testimony from witnesses, they offer a unique glimpse into the lives of Virginians from the early 18th century to the eve of the First World War. A broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free—appear in the records. Chancery cases are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding local history.  They show the … read more »

- Virginians in the California Gold Rush


A tobacco label from the T.C. Williams Co. of Richmond, Virginia.


The California Gold Rush began in 1848 with the discovery of gold at John A. Sutter’s sawmill in Coloma, California.  During the next seven years, hundreds of thousands of people moved to California in an attempt to strike it rich.  One of those people was Jonathan Ramey of Scott County, Virginia.  As he stated in the bill of an 1878 chancery suit filed against his brother Jeremiah’s estate, “….upon consideration of the difficulties which would surround him here he concluded to try to improve his condition by visiting the Eldorado, that at that time was opening to fervid minds visions of wealth as dazzling as those described in Eastern story, and which upon near approach in many instances proved as unsubstantial as Aladdin’s palace and like it vanished into viewless air….”

 In 1854, Jonathan sent $200 to his brother Jeremiah by means of a check which was later filed with the chancery suit papers.  Drawn on the Adams & Co. Express and Banking Office in Columbia, California, the check features a pictorial engraving of several groups of miners panning for gold, with a man driving a wagon and a collection of wooden buildings in the background.  At the bottom center of the check is an engraving of an early version of the California state seal with the state motto, Eureka, (Greek for … read more »

- Fall 2010 Issue of Recordatur Now Online.

Check out the Fall 2010 issue of the Recordatur. This newsletter is published twice a year to keep circuit court clerks informed about the Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) program for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Inside you will find stories Local Records archivists discover in the circuit court records and details about the CCRP program. Click this link Fall 2010 Recordaturread more »

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- “General”John Salling : Virginia’s Last Confederate Veteran?

The front page of the program for the dedication of memorial marker for John Salling in Scott County, Virginia. The monument was erected by the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

John Salling of Slant, Virginia, in Scott County, was long recognized as Virginia’s last surviving Confederate veteran.  In recognition of his service, the state of Virginia issued him a pension from 1933 until his death in 1959, at which time Salling claimed to be 112 years old. Doubt was first cast on Salling’s credibility upon his application for a state pension. When Pension Clerk John H. Johnson was unable to find evidence of Salling’s war record at the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia) which maintained the records of the Department of Confederate Military Records, he required Salling to provide a sworn statement of his service to the Pension Office. Salling submitted an affidavit before a notary public of Scott County certifying that he enlisted in Company D, 25th Virginia Regiment, under Capt. James R. Collins. Salling also stated that he was detailed throughout the war to work in the saltpeter mines in the Dekalb District of Scott County. Salling’s application was approved in April 1933 and he received a monthly pension of twenty-one dollars. In his February 1991 article “The Great Imposters” in Blue and Gray Magazine, Civil War historian William Marvel invalidates John Salling’s claim using census records which place his birth in 1858, not 1846 as Salling long maintained.  Additionally, Life Magazine ran an article in 1953 featuring Salling and other … read more »

- October is Archives Month!

October is Archives Month! The theme of this year’s celebration in Virginia is Making Connections: Archives and Imagination. Archives Month celebrates those institutions and individuals that help preserve and make accessible the important records of our actions as citizens, businesses, religious groups, government, and society. For more information and to view the images submitted by participating archives check out the Virginia Archives Month 2010 website.

Archives Month is a great time to attend a free program and explore an archives repository near you. On October 6th at noon, the Library of Virginia will host a free book signing and talk by Elizabeth Brown Pryor on her books Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters (winner of the 2008 Lincoln Prize) and Clara Barton, Professional Angel. Ms. Pryor will speak about her research adventures, past and present, in archives and libraries.

On Saturday, October 16th, the Virginia Historical Society invites you to a book launch featuring author Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, author of Finding Thalhimers.

In Roanoke, there will be a special Archives Month presentation on October 28th at the History Museum of Western Virginia featuring regional archaeologist Tom Klatka of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Virginia is home to more than 75 archives and special collections repositories that preserve our history for today’s—and tomorrow’s—researchers. Please join us as … read more »

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