Flora of Virginia, the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition, highlights the botanical exploration of Virginia from the colonial days to the present. Curated in partnership with the Flora of Virginia Project, the exhibition explores the history of botanical description and illustration and celebrates the power of the flower. It features original artwork and colorful illustrations from the LVA’s collections, as well as books, photographs, and plant specimens. With the exhibit as inspiration, I wondered what flora history could be uncovered in Virginia’s local court records. Plats and surveys, documents frequently included as exhibits in court cases, are excellent resources to discover which trees grew where in Virginia counties. Trees were often used as landmarks in plats or were included by the survey maker as decorative elements to their work. My search revealed a wealth of plat and survey examples from different parts of the state spanning over 250 years of Virginia history.
B. A. Colonna, the deputy county surveyor of Northampton County, drew a unique and detailed plat of Catherine H.G. Kendall’s land. His 15 January 1869 plat included symbols for the pine, oak, and gum trees growing on her land and a key to identify what each symbol represented. This plat is part of Northampton County Chancery Cause 1869-015, Samuel E. D. Kellam & wife vs. Juliet J. Kendall, etc.
A 19 October 1807 plat and survey of the 2,240-acre estate of Colonel Lemuel Cocke in Surry County mentions pines, ash, dogwood, iron wood, red oaks, hickory, white oak, maples, lightwood, gum, and poplar. Ironwood is a name used for trees that produce hard wood, while lightwood is a resinous pine wood used for kindling. The plat and survey (images 11-12) appear in Surry County Chancery Cause, 1810-002, Children of Lemuel Cocke vs. Ann Cocke, widow.
A 13 June 1797 plat and survey of 188 acres in Greenbrier County, now in West Virginia, mentions white oak, walnut, sugartree (a sugar maple), buckeye, Spanish oak, locust, maple, hickory, beech, and elm. This plat and survey (image 58) is in Augusta County Chancery Cause 1799-001, Thomas Kinkead vs. Andrew Donnally.
A 26 July 1803 plat and survey of 112 acres owned by Samuel King in Augusta County, mentions white oaks, hickory, pines, red oak, and white walnut saplings. This plat and survey (image 31) can be found in Augusta County Chancery Cause, 1809-067, Daniel Fane vs. Samuel King, etc.
A 9 September 1741 plat and survey of 452 acres, part of the estate of Elias Edmunds in Lancaster County, mentions red oaks, chestnuts, black oaks, and white oaks. The plat includes drawings of trees at some of the corners. This survey and plat appear on images 10-11 in Lancaster County Chancery Cause 1751-001, William Edmonds, infant vs. Robert Edmund, infant.
A 17 July 1834 plat and survey of the 355-acre estate of Thomas Lee in Lancaster County mentions foxtale pine, locust, pine, hickory, and oak trees. The foxtail pine is one of several types of pines that have a dense head of foliage. This plat and survey is image 28 in Lancaster County Chancery Cause 1834-003, Guardian of John Towills, etc. vs. Henry C. Lawson & wife, etc.
A 5 March 1813 plat and survey of the 757 acres, 4 rods, and 65 poles of Francis Elgin’s land in Loudoun County mentions persimmons, black oaks, white oaks, ash, and poplar. This plat and survey is image 13 in Loudoun County Chancery Cause 1814-030, Gustavus Elgin, Jr. vs. Admx. of Francis Elgin, etc.
A 24 August 1835 plat and survey of the estate of George Cooper in Loudoun County mentions a hickory, an orchard, and a cherry tree. The plat and survey is image 21 in Loudoun County Chancery Cause 1836-051, George Cooper etc. vs. Admr. of George Cooper, Jr., etc.
A November 1867 plat and survey of 456 acres owned by John W. Powers in Wise County mentions black oaks, chestnut oak, white oaks, hickory, beech, spruce pine, and birch. The plat and survey (image 17) and a copy of a deed (image 19) that is easier to read than the plat can be found in Wise County Chancery Cause 1869-004, Samuel Pitman vs. John W. Powers.
There are a 21 December 1868 plat and survey of 593 acres and a 5 February 1869 plat and survey of 442 acres of the estate of Joseph C. Wills. The first plat and survey mentions buckeye, water oak (a member of the beech family), poplar, sugartree, white walnut, chestnut, sourwood, locust, and chestnut oak. Additional trees, mentioned in the second plat and survey, are ash and apple trees. These plats and surveys are images 16-22 in Wise County Chancery Cause 1870-008, Sylvania Wells, by etc. vs. Norvell Wells, etc.
A 28 September 1833 plat and survey of 690 acres on the estate of Terry Hughes in Henry County mentions Black Jack, Spanish oak, chestnut, red oak, apple trees, and black oak. The Black Jack tree is a member of the red oak group. This plat and survey is image 42 in Henry County Chancery Cause 1835-010, Edmund P. Wells & wife vs. Jemima Hughes, admx, etc.
To find more scanned plats and surveys on the Library of Virginia website, you can search the Chancery Records Index and choose to only see results that contain plats. To do this, choose a county or city name and then select the box option “Plats Available.” To view the scanned images of a chancery cause select “View Details.” You can then go directly to the plat image by clicking on “go to next plat.”
The Flora of Virginia exhibit is on view from 17 March 2014 through 13 September 2014.
-Louise Jones, Local Records Archivist