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 allegiance, 1757-1758.  All have been expertly repaired by LVA’s in-house conservation lab with funding from the Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) program.  Additional Accomack County court records recovered from the attic will be conserved in the near future.

This extraordinary conservation effort is made possible by funding provided through the CCRP, a part of the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch.  Since 1992, nearly 1000 records preservation grants totaling more than $15 million have been awarded to Virginia’s circuit court clerks’ offices. CCRP made possible the processing  and preservation of more than 16,000 boxes of Virginia’s local records, the posting of more than 5,000,000 digital images online, and the creation and storage of  more than 350,000 reels of security microfilm in the LVA vault.

 -Greg Crawford, Local Records Manager, and Carl Childs, Local Records Director

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