Monthly Archives: May 2011

- Mapping segregation in Virginia’s early public schools

Before the Civil War, Virginia did not have a comprehensive public school system. Lawmakers passed various measures to fund public schools, but these measures were directed primarily toward schools for a small segment of the population, the children of indigent white families. These schools were known as “free schools” or “charity schools,” and only the very poor attended. African Americans, free and enslaved, were excluded from these schools because it was illegal to teach them. With the end of the Civil War and ratification of a new state constitution in 1869, lawmakers established in 1870 Virginia’s first public school system for all children, in order to “prevent children growing up in ignorance, or becoming vagrants.”

As local officials complied with the new state law, they set about drawing school districts segregated by race. This could be a challenge, however.  While cataloging Alexandria/Arlington County school records recently, I came upon this hand-drawn map of Jefferson Township (in what was then Alexandria County, part of present-day urban Arlington), which shows white and African American families living closely together. To create two districts segregated by race, the map-maker drew what looks like a badly gerrymandered voting district. The map was attached to an 1870 census of school-aged children in Jefferson Township. Each dwelling is designated W (“white”) or C (“colored”).

Jefferson Township was located near what is now … read more »

- History in Motion

Former Virginia Governors William Tuck and Colgate Darden during the filming of Living History Makers, 1976

One of the benefits of studying more recent history is the opportunity to see and hear historical figures on film, providing information about speech, mannerisms, and personality that can be difficult to capture in words.   For students of 20th-century Virginia history, a series of public television programs taped in the mid-1970s to late 1980s gives just this sort of glimpse at key state leaders.

Hosted by Richmond Times-Dispatch (RT-D) political reporter James Latimer (1913–2000), and jointly produced by Central Virginia Educational Television and the RT-D, the Living History Makers series featured lengthy interviews of influential Virginia politicians. While the details of each man’s career have been hashed out in print many times, these extensive on-camera interviews breathe life into the story of Virginia’s leadership during times of exceptional stress, including World War II and the battle over school desegregation.

In 1975, Colgate W. Darden (1897–1981, governor 1942–1946) and William M. Tuck (1896–1983, governor 1946–1950) sat down with Latimer for the first Living History Makers program. As public personas, the two men were strikingly different. While the dignified Darden was once hailed by a political opponent as “the noblest Roman of them all,” Tuck was a brash good-timer described by the Richmond News Leader as having “the comfortable appearance of a man who has just dined on a dozen pork chops.” Yet the two … read more »

- Library of Virginia Receives $155,071 NEH Grant to Scan Petersburg Chancery Records

The Library of Virginia has received a grant of $155,071 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the scanning of the City of Petersburg chancery records, a significant collection for researchers interested in the African American experience, women’s history, and southern labor and business history in the antebellum and post–Civil War periods. The Library of Virginia is one of only 33 institutions to receive a grant in the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources category and one of only two state archives awarded an NEH grant.

 The Petersburg chancery causes are comprised of case files from the City of Petersburg Court of Chancery, 1803 to 1912, and consist of 150 cubic feet and include bills of complaint, affidavits, wills, business records, correspondence, and photographs. Prior to 1860 Petersburg had the largest population of freedmen in the Mid-Atlantic states. The records offer social, demographic, and economic details that affected state, regional, and national politics; legal decisions; and institutions. The evolution of Petersburg’s economy from one based on tobacco to one centered on milling and manufacturing can be explored through the chancery records. The importance of Petersburg as a prosperous and diverse city—the state’s largest market town and center of economic activity—is seen in the chancery causes. As a commercial and industrial center as well as a transportation hub Petersburg attracted an unusually large number of … read more »

- New Look, New Blog

We here at Out of the Box are so excited about our one-year anniversary that we decided to throw a new coat of paint on the old blog. One year and more than 80 posts later we are still happy to share with our readers what we discover as we work in Virginia’s archive. Many thanks to our IT department and graphic design for helping us create a new look. Also, we are very happy to announce a new blog from LVA Special Collections. Multiple Exposure is a catablog (a cross between a blog and catalog) that will draw from the 500,000 item LVA Prints and Photographs Collection.

Find the link to Multiple Exposure in this post or on our blogroll. It’s sure to become a favorite. Congratulations to LVA’s Special Collections department for this worthwhile project!

read more »

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- Tractors on Rabbit Trails.

The inside cover of the B.F. Avery & Sons catalog/calendar showing the company's humble origins in Clarksville, Virginia.

When I found a little booklet titled “Presented with the Compliments of B.F. Avery & Sons…” in a box of oversized Smyth County Chancery Court papers, my first thought was how to, if possible, reunite it with the court case of which it was originally part. The booklet was part notebook, calendar, and company catalog, a common advertising tool. When I opened the front cover, I saw on its reverse side a picture of a log building with the caption, “B.F. Avery’s First Plow Factory, at Clarksville, Mecklenburgh (sic) Co., Va.” Then I wondered how I missed the connection between B.F. Avery and Clarksville. Was Clarksville really the starting point for one of America’s most famous farm implement companies? The temptation to chase down stories that may be unrelated to the work at hand, or go down a rabbit trail,  is a great danger in the archivist’s line of work.

After a little digging – on my own time – I found that the answer is yes and no. When Benjamin Franklin Avery (born 1801) set sail from New York City in 1825 on a boat headed for Virginia, he left behind his legal career and prominent family in upstate New York, according to Luther D. Thomas’s 2003 book B.F. Avery and Sons: Pioneer Plow Makers. His plan was to start a manufacturing operation to … read more »

- See Montgomery County’s Cohabitation Register Conserved!

The staff at Montgomery County’s Circuit Court Clerk’s Office recently rediscovered the county’s cohabitation register, one of the most valuable records used for African American genealogical research. Its official title is The Register of Colored Persons of Montgomery County, Virginia, Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife on February 27, 1866. Watch as this video tells the story of this register and its preservation at The Library of Virginia. Montgomery County is one of only 19 Virginia localities known to have a surviving cohabitation register. The video script was co-written and narrated by our own Sarah Nerney, Local Records Senior Archivist. Thanks also to Audrey Johnson of Special Collections, Leslie Courtois of Etherington Conservation, and videographer Pierre Courtois for their invaluable contributions to this video production. See a previous blog post about the Smyth County cohabitation register.

-Dale Dulaney, Local Records Archival Assistant… read more »

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