Monthly Archives: September 2011

- Johnny 99: The Records of the Virginia Penitentiary Now Available


Aerial view of Virginia Penitentiary, 24 January 1954, Adolph B. Rice Studio, Rice Collection 257B, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the records of the Virginia Penitentiary (Accession 41558) are now available to researchers.  The collection contains 289 bound volumes and 698 boxes of paper records spanning nearly 200 years (1796-1991; bulk 1906-1970). Included are administrative records such as annual reports, correspondence, office and subject files, minute books, photographs, and blueprints, as well as specific records related to the State Convict Road Force and State Convict Lime Grinding Board. Also included are financial records such as account books, cash books, ledgers, payrolls, and receipt books. The prisoner-related records include: prisoner registers, 1865-1980; photographs and negatives, 1906-1914, 1934-1961 and 1965-1966; medical records; commitment orders; punishment records; escape reports; index cards; and execution files. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary document the institution’s operational history, prisoners, and the evolution of corrections in Virginia.

The Virginia Penitentiary collection came to the Library in multiple accessions over several decades. In many cases, the original order of the material had been disturbed or was unidentifiable.  The bulk of this collection has never been accessible.  Researchers are strongly urged to read the Virginia Penitentiary finding aid.  The guide describes the contents of the collection in detail.  It also notes the significant gaps in the collection as well as cross-references to other collections at the Library of Virginia containing Penitentiary material.

I found … read more »

- Fort Monroe Records at the Library of Virginia


Chart by John Grant, C[ivil] E[ngineer], circa 1861, of the Chesapeake Bay showing Fort Monroe and Fort Calhoun, Virginia Advisory Council, Letter of John Grant, ca. 1861. Accession 50135, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia.

The recent deactivation of Fort Monroe as a military installation and its transfer back to the Commonwealth of Virginia calls to mind the fort’s rich history.  This history is well documented in the archives of the Library of Virginia.  The Executive Papers of Governor Wilson Cary Nicholas contain a letter from President James Madison dated 29 May 1816 on the need to protect the Chesapeake Bay and fortify Old Point Comfort (Accession 41612).  The Executive Communications to the Speaker of the House of Delegates  include a letter from Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to Governor Thomas Mann Randolph in 1821 regarding the cession of the fortifications under construction at Old Point Comfort and the shoal called Rip Raps (Accession 36912, Miscellaneous Reel 5389).  The archives also preserve a quartermaster letter book from the 1830s describing the day-to-day operations of the fort during that time period (Accession 24542, Miscellaneous Reel 475).  A recently discovered letter from John Grant, acting engineer and draftsman for the Potomac Department, to Captain Matthew Fontaine Maury of the Advisory Council of Virginia contains Grant’s map illustrating Fort Monroe and nearby Fort Calhoun (Accession 50135).  The fort continued to protect the Bay during the First and Second World Wars.  The papers of George Edward Barksdale note the experiences of a soldier in the Army Medical Reserve Corps … read more »

- Petersburg Chancery Reveals Rich African American History

 Newspaper notice describing the physical appearance of runaway slave Davey, Petersburg Chancery Cause 1827-003, William Smith vs. Benjamin W. B. Jones.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the first installment of images from the Petersburg chancery causes digitization project have been added to the Chancery Records Index. This project has been funded, in part, through a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Images for the first forty-four boxes of chancery suits have been added to the index (circa 1803-1845). The boxes are not strictly chronological, so not all images for a given year are available. Additional images will be added periodically as the project progresses. Be sure to check back!

Here are some interesting suits that archivists found while processing, indexing, and conserving the collection. Many other fascinating and complex stories will surely be uncovered once the project is complete and the collection is studied by students, scholars, and family historians.

Transcript of Benjamin W. B. Jones Letter to William Smith, 5 February 1826

Petersburg chancery cause 1827-003 involves a dispute over a runaway slave named Davey, alias Davey Smith. Exhibits found in the suit include a notice published in a local newspaper describing Davey’s physical appearance, occupation, and his escape (image 22). The suit also contains letters from Benjamin W. B. Jones of Alabama claiming that he was Davey’s owner (image 27). 

Also in the newly released images there are two suits that involve an African American … read more »

- New friends in wartime, an ocean apart


Photo, 22 December 1945, taken at a party given for the children of Carbrooke School by American soldiers stationed in Norfolk, England.  One of the dolls given to the students by Leona Robbins (and given the name

In late 1943, Leona Robbins was 12 years old and living in Norfolk, Virginia.  Her neighbor and close family friend, Army Lieutenant Charles Field, was headed overseas, where he would be stationed in Norfolk, England.  Field suggested that Leona and her friends pull together some toys to distribute to the children there.  England had been at war for over four years at that point, and the deprivation and danger faced by its citizens was considerable.  Leona responded sympathetically, gathering some dolls and toy cars for the children.

Lt. Field delivered the package to the junior school in the village of Carbrooke, Thetford, Norfolk, in March 1944.  Headmistress Mary Norton and each of the children in her class wrote Leona letters of thanks and introduction.  Miss Norton spoke highly of the American soldiers, who had thrown two separate Christmas parties for the children the previous December: “They spoilt our children, and consequently are very popular!  I honestly think this last was the best Christmas our children have had since 1939.”  The students also drew pictures, including some of a christening ceremony they had for the dolls (naming one of them Leona Mary).

The correspondence continued for a little over a year, with each side sending letters and small gifts. The letters show typically curious children, wanting to compare ages, schools, recreational activities, and vacation schedules with … read more »

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- Maybe we can learn from doodles…

"Registere of James Taylor" and sketches drawn on St. Peter's Parish Records, 1685-1758

Guest contributor Tricia Noel joins us to share an interesting disovery left by an anonymous artist on some New Kent County church records.

Although they can provide valuable genealogical and historical information to researchers, poring over church records can be dull and tedious work. The records of Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in New Kent County (Accessions 30117, 19729, and 19740), however, are anything but boring. The vestry books and register, which cover 1685-1801, are heavily adorned with drawings and sketches. These drawings, which occupy many of the records’ margins and blank spaces, are mostly amusing depictions of horses, dogs, people, and a building or two. Some drawings of most interest to the historian include several of people with clear depictions of contemporary clothing, including a man in a knee-length, cut away coat, and another in a long, curly wig. The faces were drawn with an attention to expression, and many, with their large noses, huge feet and messy hair, are not flattering. There are a few depictions of symmetical, Colonial style houses. There are several dogs, one of them labelled “Rover,” many horses and deer, and one unknown creature, covered with bristles and with a mouth full of dangerous-looking teeth. Several of the images include odd captions, such as “Give me an apple.” It is not known who the anonymous artist was, but one can … read more »

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- Franklin Co. Chancery Added To CRI!

One of the county's historical markers. Image from Wikimedia and used courtesy of MarmadukePercy.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Franklin County chancery causes, 1787-1912, are now available on the Chancery Records Index.  Digital images are available for the years 1787-1912. The complete index covers the years 1787-1929, and original records 1913-1929 are available at The Library of Virginia. Additional post-1913 records are available at the Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Following are a few suits of interest found in this collection.

Franklin County chancery cause 1873-050 includes a detailed report on the division of slaves (image# 10-12), including the ages of the slaves.  There are suits such as 1836-009 and 1885-027 that involve Franklin County native son and Confederate General, Jubal A. Early, who practiced law in Franklin County before and after the Civil War.  Chancery cause 1867-005 is a sad but scandalous divorce suit between James C. Smith and Lucy F. Smith.  James Smith returned home from fighting in the Civil War only to learn that his wife had been unfaithful while he was away (image# 2-3). The suit includes depositions given by Mrs. Smith’s paramours describing their secret getaways. Chancery cause 1870-006 gives details on the many difficulties women encountered while managing estates.  The plaintiff, Nancy B. Ferguson, entrusted the defendant, her nephew Thomas B. Ferguson, with running the day to day affairs of her estate which included … read more »