Monthly Archives: April 2011

- Treasure in the Attic: Accomack County Colonial Era Records

 These two Accomack County deeds, circa 1814, display serious insect damage. The oldest record found in the attic was a deed or land grant from 1686. These are some of the oldest records in the LVA's collection.

In 1996, Samuel Cooper, circuit court clerk of Accomack County, contacted the Library of Virginia about a large amount of county records he found in the attic of the clerk’s office.  He requested assistance from LVA to determine their value, with the possibility of transferring them to LVA.  A team of archivists travelled to Accomack County expecting to examine only a few boxes of old court papers.  After climbing through the narrow opening of the office ceiling, they discovered a treasure trove of court records dating from the late 1600s to the early 1700s.  Unfortunately, due to the poor environmental and storage conditions the records were in extremely fragile condition. Approximately 50 cubic feet of county records were transferred to the Library of Virginia where they were stabilized.

During the course of several years we examined these records to determine what they were and whether they could be recovered through conservation.  The examination revealed that the records were primarily wills, deeds, fiduciary records, judgments, and chancery suits dated from the colonial era of Accomack County.  Regrettably, the vast majority of these records are unsalvageable.  Victims of heat, humidity, and insects, they can never be recovered. (images above)  Fortunately we were able to identify a few gems that could be restored.  They include tobacco plant censuses, 1728-1729, tithable lists, 1738-1769, and oaths of allegianceread more »

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- Join Us as We Celebrate Preservation Week

In recognition of Preservation Week, April 24–30, the Library of Virginia is offering a special event highlighting the Library’s ongoing commitment to preserving Virginia’s history for future generations through its professional conservation programs. Join us to see preservation demonstrations showing proper document repair techniques, examples of conserved materials from around the Library, and also for tours of our in-house conservation lab Wednesday, April 27th at 11:45 AM and 12:30 PM. All events and parking are free and open to the public.  Light refreshments and coffee will be provided.… read more »

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- Loudoun County Chancery Now Available Online!

107_1897_005_0139-Loudoun Merry Go Round

  Did you ever wonder where “Egypt” was in Loudoun County or how the Civil War affected the settlement of estates when legatees lived outside of Virginia?  Or did you ever wonder about how the courts dealt with slaves when their owners died? Or what happens when someone makes a bequest but does not use the exact name of the group in their will?

  If you have ever wondered about historical questions involving Loudoun County, Virginia, there’s a new and valuable resource available from the Library of Virginia, which helps to preserve and make accessible the chancery records from Loudoun County from 1758 to 1912. The records are the latest local records to be processed, indexed and digitally reformatted as part of the Library’s innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program. The records can be accessed in the Chancery Records Index  in Virginia Memory. Loudoun County is the 49th jurisdiction in Virginia to have its records preserved and made available in perpetuity.  The Library of Virginia has posted more than five million digital images to date as part of the chancery program, and more locality records are in the pipeline.

          Map of Loudoun County, Virginia.

“These records are important because they help document the rich history of Loudoun County and its inhabitants,” said Carl Childs, director of Local Records Services at the Library.  “To truly understand the history of a … read more »

- “I shall die by my hands” – The Death Row Suicide of Joseph “Cocky Joe” Robinson

Mug shot of Joseph Robinson, 12 April 1951,  Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries E. Execution Files, Box 384, Folders 3-4, Accession 38103. Joseph Robinson, alias “Cocky Joe”, was convicted on 9 April 1951 in the Portsmouth City Hustings Court for the 1943 murder of Marc A. Terrell and sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia State Penitentiary on 11 May 1951. Court appeals delayed Robinson’s execution several times until the court set a new date – 4 May 1954. However, Robinson had no intention of letting the state kill him. At 5:30 a.m, ninety minutes before his scheduled execution, Robinson hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell. He was the first death row inmate to commit suicide in Virginia.

The circumstances surrounding Robinson’s suicide are documented in an investigative report dated 5 May 1954 written by W. F. Smyth, Jr., Penitentiary Superintendent, to R. M. Youell, Director, Division of Corrections, Department of Welfare. The report can be found in the Virginia Penitentiary Execution Files (Accession 38103), which also contain court records, Robinson’s mug shot, criminal record, death certificate, and suicide notes, as well as the razor blade he used to cut his wrist in his first suicide attempt.

Joseph Robinson’s saga began nine years earlier. In the spring of 1943, Robinson and his girlfriend Margaret Fowler Barnes went on a crime spree in Portsmouth, committing several robberies and assaults culminating in the armed robbery of the Capital Theater. On 11 May 1943 … read more »

- The Ordinance of Secession Coverage From the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Check out this video of our own Tom Camden, Special Collections Director, discussing a rarely seen copy of the Ordinance of Secession at the Library of Virginia. It’s provided courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.… read more »

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- Virginia Signs Off

Strong's dime caricatures presents a Northern point of view about secession in 1861. See the link in the comments section to decode the abundant imagery in this political cartoon. Image Courtesy Library of Congress.

(Note: Guest contributor Mari Julienne joins us this week with some timely background information on a pivotal document in the state’s history.  Virginia’s signed Ordinance of Secession will be on display at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 16 April 2011. See our schedule for other events related to the Library’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide.)

17 April 1861. While meeting in secret session, the Virginia Convention took a vote on whether to secede from the United States. Two weeks earlier, on 4 April, the convention delegates rejected a resolution to secede by a vote of 90 to 45. The convention, which was called to consider Virginia’s response to the secession crisis, had been meeting in Richmond since 13 February. The delegates had spent many weeks debating whether secession was legal, wise, or in the state’s best interest. Following the surrender of Fort Sumter on 13 April and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops on 15 April, the question facing the delegates became which side to take: to fight with or against the new Confederate States of America. Late in the afternoon on 17 April, the convention chose the Confederacy and voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters in a referendum. On 23 May, Virginia voters approved the Ordinance of Secession, which repealed Virginia’s 1788 ratification of the … read more »

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- Volumes Provide a Rare Glimpse Into the Life of Slaves at Furnaces

The inside back cover of the Etna Furnace Negro Book was used to record infractions and disciplinary actions.

In July 1814, entrepreneur William Weaver made a chance investment in the Virginia iron industry along with his new partner, Thomas Mayberry. Weaver and Mayberry purchased Union Forge (later renamed Buffalo Forge), located in Rockbridge County, and two blast furnaces, Etna Furnace and Retreat Furnace, in neighboring Botetourt County. Later, Weaver would become a prominent and successful ironmaster in Virginia and one of the largest slaveholders in Rockbridge County.

Initially, Weaver staffed his furnaces with a mixture of white laborers and hired slaves, but in October 1815 he purchased 11 slaves. Weaver would use this group of slaves, which included a valuable ironworker named Tooler, to form the basis of his large crew of skilled ironworkers.

In 1825, Weaver filed a chancery suit in the Augusta County courts to dissolve his partnership with Mayberry. It was a rather acrimonious dissolution, with contention over who owned the slaves purchased in 1815. In a cagey move, Weaver had the bill of sale for the slaves made out to himself, rather than to the partnership of Weaver & Mayberry, claiming that Mayberry was against slave ownership. While examining volumes found at the Augusta County Courthouse, I discovered nine volumes belonging to Weaver and his iron interests, which had been used as exhibits in the case.

The volumes cover a variety of topics and document the purchases Weaver and … read more »