Monthly Archives: September 2012

- “hundreds of the descendants of Indians have obtained their freedom:” Freedom Suits in 18th & 19th Century Virginia

 

Thomas Nast's celebration of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War, circa 1865.

A small slip of paper on display in the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition You Have No Right: Law and Justice in Virginia, running 24 September 2012-18 May 2013, was of immense importance to twelve people. It discloses, even though it does not state the fact in so many words, that on 2 May 1772 they gained their freedom after being held in slavery since each of them was born. The piece of paper and the fates of those Virginians illuminates a disturbing and little-known part of Virginia’s history, the enslavement of American Indians.

The paper came into the possession of the Library of Virginia in 1988 when it acquired a copy of volume two of John Tracy Atkyns, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery in the Time of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke . . . (London, 1765–1768) that had once been in the library of the colonial government in Williamsburg. One of the librarians in the cataloguing section showed it to me, knowing of my interest in that library. When she lifted it from her desk to hand it to me, a piece of paper that had been slipped between leaves in the middle of the volume fell out and fluttered to the floor. We were surprised, and I was even more surprised when I saw what it … read more »

- Two Faces: The Personal Files of Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette


Photo of Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette, undated, Records of Western State Hosptial, 1825-2000, Box 114, Folder 7, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Processing the records of a state agency director can often be unsatisfying.  While the folders of historically important correspondence, reports, and meeting minutes describe the inner workings of an agency, they usually reveal very little about the individuals running it.  However, that is not always the case.  While processing what initially appeared to be unremarkable 20th century Western State Hospital (WSH) superintendent’s records, I discovered a treasure trove of personal material related to one of Virginia’s most (in)famous physicians, Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette.

A celebrated physician and psychiatrist during the early decades of the 20th century, Dr. DeJarnette is most famous for his support and involvement in the eugenics movement, which included support for sterilization of the “feeble minded,” alcoholics, drug addicts, and those suffering from other mental illnesses.  He penned the pro-eugenics poem “Mendel’s Law” and lobbied prominently in favor of Virginia’s 1924 compulsory sterilization law.  Dr. DeJarnette also served as an expert witness in the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell (1927), which upheld the constitutionality of Virginia’s sterilization legislation.  Though his deeds were revered during his lifetime, Dr. DeJarnette’s legacy is something most find rather repugnant today.  Due to DeJarnette’s eugenics advocacy, the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services in 2001 changed the name of the DeJarnette Center for Human Development (formerly DeJarnette State … read more »

- Fortune Teller Comes to Unpredictable End


Present-day location where fortune teller James Harris died in Richmond in May 1883.

On 15 May 1883, a seemingly intoxicated man approached Richard Stevens and his group of friends as they were standing together at 513 N. 17th Street in Richmond’s Church Hill area. The man was James Harris, a fortune teller or maybe just a swindler, who asked if he could tell their fortunes. Most of the group declined, but Richard Stevens agreed, and they went to a nearby passageway after Mr. Harris suggested they find a more private location. To the skeptic’s delight, this fortune teller was not able to see his own unfortunate end coming.

The pair settled in on a bench, but before he would tell Stevens’ fortune, Harris requested payment. Stevens informed him he would give him the money only after he told his fortune, but the fortune teller claimed, “I’ve been bit too often.”  James Harris then got up and started backwards, staggering. Richard Stevens provided an eyewitness account of the events that followed:

“He had a stick with a crooked handle which he nearly dropped, and I tried to help him with it by catching hold of the …end. He was intoxicated and was at that time on the edge of the doorsill and seemed to have such a slender hold on to his end of the stick that I aimed to catch [him] by his garments to prevent him

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- Spinnin’ on top of the world


Architect Haigh Jamgochian poses among models of his designs, including the revolving hotel.  Haigh Jamgochian Papers, 1930-2006. LVA Accession 41492.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the former “Virginiana” section of Virginia Memory.

Ever been on vacation and experienced weather so bad that it traps you in your hotel room? Know that feeling of a desperate urge for a change of scenery? If Richmond architect Haigh Jamgochian (1924- ) had had his way, visitors to one proposed hotel in Virginia Beach would have enjoyed a new view every hour. No, he didn’t plan to organize a huge game of “musical rooms” by having guests periodically change their accommodations. Rather, he planned for the hotel buildings to revolve. The rationale was simple even if the engineering was not. The hotels, like the dock of a departing ocean liner, would themselves become a destination. Tourists would visit the area just to see these wonders, thus benefiting the entire local economy rather than just the specific hotel.

The Library of Virginia had the great fortune to receive Mr. Jamgochian’s architectural records in August 2004 (Accession 41492). Included are a number of models designed and built by the architect for various projects in the region. One of the more intriguing is the motorized model for the unbuilt Virginia Beach revolving hotel.

Insanity, you say? Not necessarily. While there was definitely madness to Jamgochian’s method, this project was fully in the realm of the possible. The … read more »

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