On Thursday, October 20, staff from the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch were in Jersey City, New Jersey, to formally accept one of the Commonwealth’s long-lost treasures – a Stafford County record book taken from Virginia in 1863 by a Union officer serving in a New York regiment.
The volume, an order book detailing the daily activities of the court from 1749 to 1755, was transcribed by a Stafford deputy clerk in 1791. The book was removed from the Stafford courthouse by Captain W. A. Treadwell of the 4th N.Y. Regiment and was long considered to be a casualty of the war. A note inside the front cover and presumably in Treadwell’s hand states that it was “Taken from Stafford Court House, March 30 1863.”
The volume was handed down several times over many years before it was presented to the Hudson County Historical Society. The Society’s collection eventually was transferred to the collection of the Jersey City Free Public Library’s New Jersey Room. Recognizing that the order book did not fit within the New Jersey Room’s collection policy, Jersey City Public Library’s John Beekman contacted the LVA to return the volume to its rightful home in Virginia. The volume will be conserved at LVA’s in-house conservation lab and scanned and microfilmed to ensure its preservation. Scanned images will be presented to the Stafford County Circuit Court Clerk’s office so that the citizens of the county will have ready access to a volume long thought to be lost.
Stafford County is one of a number of Virginia localities that suffered major records losses during the Civil War due to acts of vandalism in which records were seized by Union soldiers and destroyed or taken as souvenirs. The Library of Virginia is the repository that holds many of the records that still exist from the colonial era. “It is time for this volume, after nearly a century and a half, to be returned to an institution where it can be preserved and made accessible to researchers,” said Beekman, New Jersey Room assistant manager.
“The Library of Virginia is pleased to accept this volume on behalf of Barbara Decatur, the Stafford County Circuit Court Clerk, and the citizens of Stafford County and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Carl Childs, director of Local Records Services at the Library of Virginia. “The return of this volume helps to fill a gap in the history of Stafford County and its inhabitants,” Childs said.
“For the Library of Virginia to receive back a unique, irreplaceable 18th-century ledger almost 150 years after it was stolen and after all expectation of its return had long ago died, is nothing short of miraculous. Perhaps other archivists will be inspired by John’s action to take a closer look at items that don’t really fit the scope of their collection and find more suitable homes or even the rightful homes for any such items,” added New Jersey Room manager Cynthia Harris.
[Editor's Note: A "Welcome Home" ceremony was held at the Stafford County Courthouse on December 1, 2011, to celebrate the order book's return and to allow the public and local officials to get a glimpse of this rare volume. For more on the celebration see the article "Lost Ledger Returns Home" from fredericksburg.com.]