Monthly Archives: February 2013

- Shoe Salesman Puts Foot in Mouth


Detail from a tradecard in Prints and Photographs Collection, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

In 1879, Charles C. Curtis was working at the retail store of Wingo, Ellett, and Crump at 1000 Main Street in Richmond.  A customer, a young lady named Isabel Cottrell, visited the store to try on a pair of shoes, and found Mr. Curtis’s behavior “exceedingly offensive.” Instead of allowing her to put the shoes on, he insisted on holding the shoe for her to put her foot in and on buttoning the shoe after she had “begged him” to let her do it herself.  She encountered Mr. Curtis on a second visit to pick up a pair of shoes she had ordered, and he insisted that she try them on in the store. Cottrell instead took the shoes home.

On a third visit, she took both pairs of shoes back to the store “with the purpose of leaving one pair of shoes and having the heels of the other plated.”  Cotrell claimed Curtis opened the bundle of shoes and remarked, in a rather impertinent way, “what a pretty little shoe, I certainly would like to put them on you.  I don’t see how you can walk with such a foot.”  Ms. Cottrell “was very much provoked, and told him he would oblige [her] by not commenting on [her] foot.”  She was further annoyed when Curtis accompanied her to the phaeton, where a friend was … read more »

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- Wills, Slavery, and Freedom in Augusta Co.


Map of Franklin County and Columbus, Ohio, 1872. (Image used courtesy of Historic Map Works.)

In November of 1860, executor William F. Smith was in a pickle.  Charged with settling the estate of Elizabeth P. Via of Augusta County, he had recently been a defendant in both a chancery and a judgment suit from seven of Via’s heirs that challenged the validity of her will.  The heirs objected to the provisions that Via made for her slaves, namely that they all be emancipated.  Additionally, she left $4,000 to transport them to a free state and set them up in homes there.  The remainder of her estate was to be distributed amongst Via’s heirs who were not pleased by this and thought it in their best interest to have the will invalidated so that they could get everything, including the slaves that were left at Via’s death.  The will was upheld, however, and then it was time for executor Smith to get on with the business of carrying out Via’s wishes.  But there were some questions that he struggled to answer about his job as executor.

At issue were several points.  Did children born since Via’s death have an interest in the money left to the slaves?  What should happen to the residue of the $4,000 after the will’s provisions were carried out?  How should title to any house or land purchased for the emancipated slaves be done?  The slaves had … read more »

- “My Dearest Miss Lura:” Lunenburg Letters Illuminate a Long and Unlikely Love Affair


Photograph of Vladimir Sournin at work as a cartographer, undated. (Lura Royall and Vladimir Sournin Correspondence, 1904-1925, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.)

Lura Royall was a Lunenburg County girl. Her relatives remember her as a pretty woman who never married—a retired school teacher full of life well into old age. But there was a part of her life that remained a secret from her living relatives. It was a secret recently revealed in 97 letters and postcards, written across a span of 21 years, to her from a Russian émigré, Vladimir Sournin, her fiancé.

These letters, part of several cubic feet of papers left in the old courthouse by former Lunenburg County clerk John L. Yates, were stashed among bills, statements, and personal business correspondence. How the letters ended up in Yates’ file cabinets is uncertain, but they reveal an on-again-off-again relationship between Vladimir and Lura that started in 1898 and lasted until at least 1925.

Vladimir Sournin’s life is a little known historical footnote now, but he was no ordinary man. Ambitious and talented, his career and interests led him to three continents where his path intersected with major world events and some of the most well-known people of his day.  His letters reveal him to be supremely confident in his abilities and fearless in attempts to achieve his goals. This same persistence is evident in his effort to woo Lura Royall.

Sournin was born in 1875 into a military family in Mstislavl, Russia. In St. … read more »

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- Prince George Co. Chancery Now Online!


History at Prince George Courthouse Historical Marker. (Image, taken 7 April 2009, used courtesy of Historical Marker Database and Bernard Fisher.)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images from the Prince George County chancery causes digitization project are now available on the Chancery Records Index. Both the images and the index cover the years 1809-1917 and are available to researchers on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site. 

The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly available Prince George County chancery digital images.  Richard W. Backus vs. Admr. of John B. Williams, etc., 1837-003, references the postponement of the sale of a slave named Ursa because she was ill. Divorce suit 1875-001, David Harrison vs. Eliza A. Harrison, includes a letter from the court clerk referencing the destruction of a marriage license by the “Raiders” during the Civil War. Another divorce suit, Bettie Hays vs. William Hays, 1908-003 provides detailed testimony given by the plaintiff of spousal abuse by her husband. (These divorce cases join one already mentioned here on Out of the Box – a divorce in which the husband claimed that the child his wife gave birth to could not possibly be his.) In chancery cause 1916-023, Cubit Stith vs. Lucy Jackson, etc., Cubit Stith describes himself as an uneducated colored man who was born a slave. He and his daughter, Lucy Jackson, were in a bitter dispute for control … read more »

- From Russia with Love: How a portrait of a Russian Ambassador came to be hanging in the Virginia State Capitol


Faux portrait of Captain John Smith as it appeared while hanging in the Virginia Captiol.  Note the plaque at the bottom of the frame.  Image courtesy of Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

In 1923 the Virginia General Assembly accepted a gift which would lead to an international investigation and administrative embarrassment 15 years later.  The gift was a 300-year-old portrait of none other than “first Captain and practical founder of the State of Virginia” Captain John Smith.  Or was it? The painting depicts a bearded man wearing a fur-trimmed hat and elaborately embroidered coat, flanked above by putti (chubby male children) holding pelts and below by snarling lions.  The portrait was presented to the General Assembly by 15 prominent Virginians including John Stewart Bryan, Fairfax Harrison, and Eppa Hunton Jr.

The portrait was purchased for $1,000 in 1923 through the London-based firm of B.F. Stevens and Brown, “experts in Americana.” The painting subsequently hung in the Governor’s Office, where it remained until the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Alexander W. Weddell, studied the painting while editing the book A Memorial Volume of Virginia Historical Portraiture, 1585-1830.  Weddell believed the portrait to be that of “the half-mad son of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who was known to have walked about London in Oriental garb.” Weddell discussed the portrait with the director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, H. M. Hake, who found the original engraving which the Commonwealth’s portrait was modeled after–and it is of little surprise that it was not of John Smith.… read more »

- Southside Burning!: Reformatted Recordings Preserve Historic Testimony

Editor’s Note:  On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests.  This blog post originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter.  This entry has been slightly edited.

The fortieth anniversary of the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations passed earlier this year [2003] with merely a brief mention in the press.  In the summer of 1963, violence erupted in Danville, Virginia, as the Danville establishment led by Police Chief Eugene G. McCain struggled to keep Jim Crow order during a series of civil rights demonstrations led by local and national black leaders.  Of the 45 demonstrators arrested in front of the city jail on 10 June, nearly all required medical attention at the hospital for injuries that some defendants testified were the result of being pistol-whipped or struck with nightsticks.  As evidenced in the Civil Rights Demonstrations Cases legal files on microfilm and audio compact discs at the Library of Virginia, sporadic demonstrations continued until late August 1963 despite the violence.

In the late summer of 1999, the Danville Circuit Clerk of Court transferred the legal files of the Civil Rights Demonstration Cases to … read more »

- Violence in Danville: Preservation of a Civil Rights Legacy

Editor’s Note:  On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests.  This blog post originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter.  This entry has been slightly edited.


Protesters block traffic to protest segregation.1963 Danville (Va.) Civil Rights Case Files, 1963-1973. Accession 38099, Local Government Records Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In August 1999, the city of Danville’s Circuit Court Clerk approached Glenn Smith, Grants Administrator of the Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, with a dilemma.  The city possessed a box of heavily used materials relating to the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  Concerned about both the preservation and security of the collection due to high volume usage, the clerk agreed to have the material transferred to LVA for processing and organization so that it could be microfilmed.  Though a local records collection, I was assigned the task of processing the material because of my past research on John W. Carter, a former Danville city councilman who aided the Commonwealth’s Attorney in prosecuting the civil rights demonstrators.  I interviewed Carter for my thesis on the Virginia Conservative Party on several occasions.  This was a segregationist third political party formed in 1965 to oppose Mills Godwin’s campaign for governor.  Godwin had angered many by supporting Lyndon … read more »

- LVA in the UK

If you’ve been an Out of the Box reader for a while, you may remember this September 2011 article about a Norfolk, Virginia, girl and her World War II-era Norfolk, England, penpals, and the story of a 21st-century correspondence that came out of it (see Broadside’s spring 2012 issue, page 6).  Jan Godfrey of Norfolk, England, is one of the people I’ve been privileged to “meet” online through this correspondence.  She contacted me after reading about the Leona Robbins Fitchett Collection (Acc. 50068) on the blog.  I took another look at the collection and was excited to discover letters from Jan’s sister, her sister-in-law, and even her 5-year-old self (even though she was not a member of the class that was corresponding with Leona Robbins, young Jan had stuffed a short note in with a letter sent by her elder sister). 

Jan, who is very active in the study and promotion of the history of the Wayland area of Norfolk, England, recently gave a talk to the Wayland Heritage Group.  She shared the story of the original letters, the memories they brought up, and the new trans-Atlantic friendships forged thanks to archives and the Internet.  You can see her talk by clicking the link in this Wayland News article.  

 -Jessica Tyree, Senior Accessioning Archivist… read more »

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- Scott Co. Chancery Goes Digital!


Plat of Gate City, Scott County Chancery Cause Town of Gate City vs. Col. J. B. Richmond, 1897-057, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the Scott County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, is pleased to announce that digitization of Scott County’s historic chancery causes is now complete. Both the index and images are available to researchers via the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.

The Scott County chancery collection covers the years 1816 through 1942 (with digital images posted through 1912). The chancery, or equity cases, are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history. They often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that reveal detailed stories that help tell the story of Virginia. Cases contain useful biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free.

Chancery Cause 1873-034, Sampson S. Robinett vs. Samuel Babb, etc., helps document post-Civil War relations as it brings to light lingering bitterness between pro-Union and pro-Confederacy residents living together in Scott. In chancery cause 1897-057, Town of Gate City vs. Col. J. B. Richmond, the city attempted to stop a citizen from blocking what it considered a public road. A large map of Gate City was used as an exhibit. Chancery Cause 1901-058 reveals the religious beliefs of the members … read more »