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“We Were Residents of Loudoun County”

Editors’ Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 Loudoun County Office of the Circuit Court Clerk Historic Records Newsletter, “Little Gems.” We are grateful to Gary M. Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, for permission to publish this post. Individual names of enslaved people from this indexing project have been added to the Chancery Records Index for Loudoun County.


Map of Loudoun County,  ca. 1854, Philadelphia : Thomas Reynolds & Robert Pearsall Smith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. In the June 2018 newsletter I wrote about a project I was tasked with to compile a spreadsheet that listed the names and cases involving enslaved people in Loudoun County’s early chancery records. It took the whole of 2018 to complete the index, comprised of 3,990 lines in an Excel spreadsheet. Those 3,990 entries represent 3,990 names of enslaved people who were included in chancery cases from the years 1757 through 1866.

In this project, I reviewed 3,028 chancery cases, 550 of which involved a dispute over enslaved individuals. I documented names and case details in relation to each enslaved person. Chancery cases for this time period encompassed disputes over things such as land, crops, houses, estates of deceased individuals, tobacco, and just about anything of monetary value. It was interesting to notice trends in the number of cases in certain years.

From 1831-1835 there were 101 cases out of a total 487 cases filed that involved enslaved people. In those 101 cases, 735 enslaved people were named. These numbers led me to wonder what the economic climate was for people in those times and what pushed them to fight so readily over property and estates, specifically in the year 1832. In 1832 alone, there were 249 chancery cases filed. Upon further research I found this was a turbulent year for a couple of reasons. First, there was a presidential election, and second, President Andrew Jackson vetoed the Second Bank of the United States rechartering. This veto destabilized the local and national banking system, creating a need for people to recall debts and dispute their share of estates.

A look at cases from 1851 to 1860, leading up to the Civil War, included a total of 535 chancery cases. The number of cases involving enslaved people was 139, which was lower than other time periods in this project. I was surprised to see that these 139 cases actually provided more names of the enslaved than I had seen in other time periods, with 1,175 people represented.

As this project was coming to an end, the final file I read stuck out and brought this whole experience to a close for me. It involved a dispute over the estate of Mahlon Baldwin where his heirs contested his will, Heirs of Mahlon Baldwin vs. Exr. Of Mahlon Baldwin, & ect., 1866-008. In his will, Mahlon Baldwin freed two enslaved people named Jane and Gilmore and left the whole of his estate to them. This file shows that his heirs contested the will and wanted it invalidated due to its contents. The court dismissed the case in 1866, unfortunately, with no disposition noted.

It has been both an honor and privilege to work on this project and to help tell a small part of the story for the thousands of people who lived here. As this project came to a close, I have now started reviewing post 1865 chancery cases that list enslaved people.  As names of the formerly enslaved appear in a number of cases up to the 20th century, I look forward to continuing my efforts to shed light on otherwise unknown names.


– Melissa Murphy, Deputy Clerk, Office of the Circuit Court Clerk, Loudoun County

Posted by in Chancery Court Blog Posts.

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  1. Sarah said:
    20 March 2019 at 8:49 am

    Melissa we are so proud of you. This is an amazing project!!!

  2. Clerk Clemens said:
    22 March 2019 at 3:12 pm

    We are honored to enhance public access to Loudoun’s history by virtue of preserving valuable records, indexing key information and digitizing these records. Come see Loudoun’s history in my historic court records museum in Loudoun County.