Petersburg Chancery Hits the Rails

Map showing the Chesterfield Railroad from where it left the Town of Manchester to its terminus position near Rocketts Landing in Richmond.

The latest images from the Petersburg chancery causes digitization project are now available on the Chancery Records Index. The scanning project is funded by the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program along with a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Chancery causes for Petersburg can now be viewed online through 1888. The following is an example of an interesting suit found in this latest addition.

Petersburg chancery suit 1850-025, Chesterfield Railroad Co.] vs. Richmond & Danville Railroad Co.] and Richmond & Danville Railroad Co.] vs. Chesterfield Railroad Co.], is a rich resource for research on the history of the rail and mining industries in the Richmond area. The suit concerns a dispute between the mule and gravity powered Chesterfield Railroad Company and the steam powered Richmond & Danville Railroad Company over access to the Manchester coal yards on the James River opposite Rocketts Landing. Since 1830, the Chesterfield Railroad Company held a monopoly on transporting coal from the Midlothian mines to the James River. The railroad used gravity to transport coal-laden railcars downhill and draft animals to pull them uphill. The company emptied the railcars on James River docks in Manchester, and the mules and horses brought the empty railcars back to the mines. The Richmond & Danville Railroad emerged as a competitor to the Chesterfield Railroad Company in the late 1840s. The Richmond & Danville began building its own rail line from the Midlothian mines to the James and wanted equal access to the coal yards. Knowing that it would be put out of business by the faster, cheaper services of the steam powered line, the Chesterfield Railroad sued to prevent the Richmond & Danville’s access. The R & D quickly countersued, and the Chesterfield County circuit court heard both suits, first in Chesterfield County, then finally in Petersburg circuit court. The suit includes depositions from numerous individuals associated with both railroad companies, as well as multiple plats showing the rail lines of both companies between the Midlothian mines and the James River (images 86, 735, 750).

The Petersburg chancery causes scanning project is nearly complete. Additional image postings will be made in the coming months.

 -Greg Crawford, Local Records Coordinator

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