Monthly Archives: January 2012

- “Lord Have Mercy! There is a ‘Reefer Man’ in Here!”

In the early morning hours of 31 May 1936, Margaret Jacobs was awakened by a “lumbering in the kitchen.”  She awoke to find the lights blown out and exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy!  There is a ‘reefer’ man in here.”  She saw someone going out the back door, and “he whirled right around then and ran though the front of the house, and then the gun fired twice.”  That’s when she heard her son, George Collins, yell out “Lord, have mercy! I am shot.” Margaret Jacobs sought help from her neighbors, calling out, “Somebody come here. A ‘reefer’ man has been in here and shot George.”  George later died at the Petersburg Hospital from sepsis as a result of the gunshot wound. Neither George Collins nor Margaret Jacobs knew who the shooter was, but a witness was able to identify a man he saw coming out of the home, who had earlier been to his house asking for George. Witnesses believed the shooter to be James Hines, alias Slim, but police were never able to connect Hines to the crime.

While processing Petersburg (Va.) Coroners’ Inquisitions, 1807-1947, I found these references to the “reefer man” intriguing. Early in Virginia’s history, the Jamestown Colony made cannabis cultivation mandatory because hemp was viewed as a critical crop for rope, clothing, and canvas. After the formation of the … read more »

- Nelson Co. Chancery Now Available


One of Nelson County's historical markers. (Image used courtesy of author Artaxerxes.)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that Nelson County Chancery Causes, 1808-1912, are now processed, indexed, and conserved; and the index is now available on the Chancery Records Index. These records contain considerable historical and genealogical information. Because the records rely so heavily on testimony from witnesses, they offer a unique glimpse of the people of Nelson County from the early 19th century through the First World War. Following are a few suits of interest found in this collection.

In chancery cause Tobias~ vs. Heirs of John Campbell, 1816-005, Tobias, a free Negro, sues for the payment of a judgment won against the administrator of John Campbell.  In chancery suit Eliza A. Figures vs. Christopher T. Estes, 1838-035, Eliza Figures was hired by Estes, a tavern owner, to take care of the house business and culinary affairs, and she sued for lack of compensation.  In Eliza Ann Figures vs. Dr. Matthew Figures, 1840-013, the same individual is the plaintiff suing for divorce from her husband citing cruelty, abandonment and repeated acts of adultery.  Daniel M. Harris, trustee vs. Christopher T. Estes, etc., 1846-017, includes a typical item found in many of Nelson County’s pre-Civil War chancery causes – a cash valuation of slaves.  The effects of the Civil War are noted in Elijah R. Walker vs. read more »

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- Prince Edward Co. Declarations for Revolutionary War Pensions



While examining Prince Edward County court records for chancery suits, former Local Records Archivist Catherine OBrion found a group of declarations to the justices of the peace of Prince Edward County.  The declarants were Revolutionary War veterans seeking to obtain pensions under an act of Congress passed on 7 June 1832. The applicants present detailed testimony of their time of service during the Revolutionary War. Information found in the declarations include date and location applicants entered into service, names of military companies they served in, names of military commanders they served under, names of fellow soldiers they served with, length of service, their ages, and their places of birth. The declarations also include affidavits from witnesses who could verify information provided by applicants.

The predominant portion of the declarations consists of narratives of the veterans’ tours of duty during the Revolutionary War.  William Hines, age 78, presented an account of his service under General George Rogers Clarke in present-day Kentucky.  Clarke’s army was pursuing Native Americans along the Ohio River.  Hines shared how, during the campaign, he was severely wounded by two musket balls which broke both bones of his right arm below the elbow.  Hines was personally assured by General Clarke that he would receive a pension.  William Worsham, age 80, presented an account of his service from the time the war began … read more »

- Hey, We Drink Out Of There!


Photograph of Fannie Lillian Madison, circa 1883. (Commonwealth of Virginia versus Thomas J. Cluverius, 1885, Barcode 1170946)

On the morning of 14 March 1885, Lysander Rose, caretaker of the Old Reservoir in Richmond, went about his normal duties, but this morning would not be a typical one for Rose. As he approached the reservoir, Rose found what appeared to be a piece of broken shoe string, a woman’s red glove, and what he described as signs of a “desperate struggle.” When he peered over into the water, Rose saw “floating near the top the flounce or something of a woman’s dress and one leg jutting up.” After the coroner arrived, the muddy body of a young woman was lifted from the water. A cursory examination revealed that she had slight bruising on her face, a swollen mouth, and a rent in her gown at the elbow. Later, it would be discovered that she was also eight months pregnant. Several days and several false identifications passed before the body was finally identified as that of Fannie Lillian Madison.

At the time of her death, Lillian Madison, as she was commonly called by friends and family, was 23 years old, pregnant, and unmarried. Lillian had checked into the Exchange Hotel in Richmond under the name Fannie Merton mere days before her body was discovered. Lillian’s pregnancy (without the prospect of a husband) supported the coroner’s initial ruling of suicide, but as more evidence began … read more »

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- Walk Like a Man? One-Legged Prisoner Escapes Road Camp

On Sunday 20 January 1907, Ed Baker, a “one leg Italian” with “a bad face”, escaped from the State Convict Road Force camp near Williamsburg. Baker, one of the camp cooks, made his break at 6:07 a.m. when a guard sent him to get some wood. The alarm was sounded at 6:15 and a manhunt begun.  Baker, who had a wooden leg and only an eight-minute head start, was not easy to recapture.  The Virginia Gazette reported that Baker was pursued by several guards as well as local citizens and students for nearly nine hours.  Baker was finally caught at 3 pm by guard R.F. Morris – 20 miles from the camp!  The guard in charge of Baker when he escaped was fired.  That evening camp Sgt. W.B. Pattie wrote Penitentiary Superintendent E.F. Morgan that ”a man who can’t hold 4 men with a shot gun & pistol is no good to me.”  Baker was also punished.  Even though Baker only had one leg, Pattie “put a ball and chain on that and will give him 39 [lashes] in the morning.”

Letter from W.B. Pattie, dated 20 January 1907 to Capt E.F. Morgan

The State Convict Road Force was created by the General Assembly in 1906 as part of the Withers-Lassiter “good roads” law that created the State Highway Commission. The Penitentiary was responsible for … read more »