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Warren County Chancery Causes Digitized

Warren County courthouse. Courtesy of Tracy Harter. The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Warren County chancery causes, 1837-1912, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on Virginia Memory. Chancery suits are useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions. They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history, and serve as a primary resource for understanding a locality’s history.

The following are a sample of causes of interest for researchers of African American genealogy and history found in the Warren County chancery collection. In John J. Johnston vs. William A. Mitchell, etc., 1845-006, Johnston accused one of the defendants, James C. Mitchell, of secretly carrying enslaved people from Fauquier County to Washington, D.C., under cover of darkness and selling them to the infamous slave trader Joseph Bruin. Guardian of James R. Ash vs. James R. Ash, etc., 1850-007, involves a dispute over expense payments related the capture and sale of a runaway enslaved man named Tom. The chancery causes Duskin, an enslaved person vs. Admr. of Henry Self, etc., 1850-001, and John R. C. Reed vs. Admr. of Mary Shambaugh, etc., 1859-003, describe the forced migration of African Americans from Virginia to free states such as Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa in the pre-Civil War era.

The social and economic impact of the Civil War is evident in the Warren County chancery causes. The chancery cause Elizabeth A. Richardson vs. Charles T. Weston and Abraham Forney vs. Charles T. Weston, 1870-004, contains numerous references to federal occupation and its impact on the region. Federal troops under Brigadier General James Shields used counterfeit Confederate money to purchase flour from a mill. The mill manager recognized it as counterfeit and refused to take it, but was forced to take it under threat of violence. The chancery cause George Nave vs. Sarah Nave, 1866-001, illustrates a common occurrence in post-Civil War Virginia chancery causes—divorce.

Chancery suits often concern disputes over land. They can be useful to historians and genealogists, as well as title searchers researching the history of property ownership. As an example, consider two chancery causes that had their origins in a quarrel over burial grounds–  C. F. Sumption, etc. vs. Welton W. Beaty, 1910-002, and W. W. Beaty vs. C. F. Sumption, etc., 1911-002.

According to an 1857 deed creating a burial plot near Front Royal known as the “Old Grave-yard,” it was to be used only as cemetery. The defendant, Beaty, purchased the property and built a warehouse on it in violation of the terms of the original deed. The causes include names of individuals and families buried in the “Old Grave-yard” such as Isaac Trout, Dr. George Carter’s heirs, Bush Keeler’s heirs, Inman H. Thompson, Berryman Jones, and John Bennett, Sr. The suits reference the creation of a second cemetery known as “Prospect Hill” because no more space was available at the “Old Grave-yard.”

Depositions in the causes offer detailed testimony concerning the two cemeteries. One deponent, when asked a road currently under construction and whether it would go over any graves found in the “Old Grave-yard,” responded, “I know it runs over old Mrs. Hope, I know that very well, right in the middle of it. I was there at the burying.” He listed the graves of other individuals threatened by the road. The suit also includes a plat showing where the “Old Grave-yard” was located.

Researchers can also find the unusual and the humorous in the Warren County chancery causes. For instance, Tom Lee vs. Moy Sing Lee, 1902-030, includes the agreement for the sale of a laundry business written in Chinese. In the chancery cause of Winchester Telephone Co. vs. Southern Railway Co., 1901-027, the defendant challenged the plaintiff’s right to string telephone wires across its rail lines near Front Royal. The defendant ripped down the wires and threatened to tear down the telephone poles. The railroad company claimed the right of way extended into the air above their rails. The telephone company challenged this argument saying it had “the same undisputed right to maintain and use them there, and with no more use of any right of the R.R. Co. than the buzzards make, who fly high above the R.R. tracks.”

The scanning of the Warren County chancery causes, 1837-1912, is now complete and the images are freely available online. The project was made possible by funding from the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program between the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association (VCCA), which seeks to preserve the historic records found in Virginia’s circuit courts. The $55,870 project is the 72nd digital chancery collection added to the Chancery Records Index.


–Greg Crawford, Local Records Program Manager

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  1. […] researchers can now access Warren County chancery records online. Read the article at their blog Out of the Box. Winchester City records primarily 1859-1936 and Frederick County records primarily 1860-1912 are […]