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Virginia Untold: Lancaster County Fiduciary Records 1657-1872

Parr, Nathaniel, engraver, [Slave factories, or compounds, maintained by traders from four European nations on the Gulf of Guinea in what is now Nigeria], published 1746. Illus. in: A New and general collection of voyages / Thomas Astley. London, 1746, vol. 3, p. 64. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of the Lancaster County Fiduciary Records, 1657-1872, to Virginia Untold. This collection contains the earliest records added to Virginia Untold, and the largest number of names added from a single locality so far—over 20,000. Fiduciary records primarily consist of estate administrator settlements, estate inventories, dower allotments, estate divisions, estate sales, and guardian accounts that record a detailed list of all personal property owned by individuals, including enslaved people.

These records demonstrate the rapid growth of slavery in Virginia from the “20. and odd Negroes” who arrived in Jamestown in 1619. Two estate inventories recorded in 1670 named a combined total of 60 enslaved people. As the records progress into the 18th and 19th centuries, the number of enslaved people owned by individuals exploded. In some cases, a single person could own hundreds of enslaved people, and their residences were not confined to Lancaster County. For example, the estate inventory of Rawleigh W. Downman recorded in 1781, lists nearly 150 enslaved people who lived on estates he owned in Lancaster, Richmond, Stafford, and Fauquier counties.

Many of these fiduciary records document additional information about enslaved people, beyond a name and assigned monetary value. The authors often included comments about individual enslaved people which, though limited to a couple of words or short phrases, shed light on the hardships that they experienced. Some comments related to the sale of enslaved people, an ever-present fear for enslaved families. The guardian’s account of Elizabeth Mitchell, recorded in 1836, identified an enslaved mother and her children who were sold in August 1835 “to go to the Western Country.” They were sold because the mother’s “husband” had been sold by a different owner “to go to the West.” All the names of the family were recorded except one, who the recorder identified as an “infant in the arms.”

One name appears frequently in the comments as a purchaser of enslaved people during 1840s and 1850s: Lewis Dix, a local trafficker in enslaved people. He probably sold the people he purchased in the larger slave markets of Richmond and Petersburg.

The comments found in the fiduciary records also demonstrate resistance to slavery by those who were enslaved. The guardian’s account of Ellyson Currie recorded in 1835 contained the following comment on an enslaved man named Ralph: “sold in consequence of his general bad conduct and its influence upon other negroes on the farm.” Numerous comments in the fiduciary records identified enslaved men and women as either a “runaway” or an “attempted runaway.” A comment concerning an enslaved man named George, listed in Betsy Hutchinson’s guardian account recorded in 1830, reads “1829 January sold in Norfolk by advice of Court, he being a runaway and bad negro.” Another concerning Davy, listed in Henry L. Biscoe’s guardian account recorded in 1832, reads “a frequent runaway; sold in 1831 in Richmond Va by order of Lancaster County Court.”

The Civil War-era fiduciary records contain the largest number of runaway references found in the collection. The records document many enslaved people fleeing to Union forces in search of freedom. More information about the Civil War-era runaways can be found in the Lancaster County portion of the Runaway Slave Records collection available on Virginia Untold.

One can discover additional information about the enslaved people listed in the Lancaster County fiduciary records by searching for the owners’ names in the Lancaster County Chancery Causes available on the Chancery Records Index. Pre-Civil War era chancery causes frequently involve disputes, friendly and unfriendly, over the division of enslaved people. Guardians of minors had to petition the chancery court to receive permission to sell enslaved people owned by the minors. Searching the Lancaster County chancery for the names of some of the enslavers found in the fiduciary records turns up numerous causes with origins in disputes over enslaved people. The chancery causes name the enslaved people found in the estate inventory or guardian’s account, revealing additional information such as family history, physical and mental health, how they were acquired, and to whom they were sold. This information can be invaluable to family history researchers and scholars.

For instance, in the guardian’s accounts for the sisters Mary Elizabeth and Maria Isabella Eustace, a comment associated with an enslaved girl named Susan refers to her as “an idiotic girl” who was sold under decree of Lancaster County Court. A search the Lancaster County chancery causes resulted in the discovery of a petition to the chancery court filed in January 1865 by the guardian of the two sisters. The guardian sought the court’s permission to sell an enslaved girl between the ages of 12 and 14, named Susan. He informed the court that Susan was “afflicted” with epilepsy. Combined with a “weak mind,” these issues made it difficult for her to carry out the “duties and labor usually assigned to one her class and age.” He made several unsuccessful attempts to hire Susan out to work for others, only to have her returned after a short time. He filed a deposition from W.T. Chase, who had hired Susan, to support his claim. The guardian informed the court he had no alternative but to sell Susan. The expenditure for Susan’s welfare (clothes, food, healthcare) came at the expense of his ward’s inheritance. The court agreed and Susan was sold on 20 March 1865 to A.A. Edwards for $610 (Confederate).

The Lancaster County Fiduciary Records are significant addition to Virginia Untold. We encourage you to explore the records and share those accounts with us through our social media sites.

The processing of local court records found in Virginia Untold was made possible through the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP). The CCRP is 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 scanning, indexing, and transcription of the records found on Virginia Untold was funded by Dominion Resources and the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

–Greg Crawford, Local Records Program Manager


  1. Carlton Dunford said:
    29 August 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Slaves and slavery. I am constantly reminded at the manner that evil works in trying to create racial divide. More and more stories are told about slavery, and it is in the majority of it biased against whites and how bad they were to have been involved in slavery. First of all, 99% of all African slaves were gathered and sold by black tribal leaders. BLACK PEOPLE SELLING BLACK PEOPLE. Second, many slave owners in the New World were black men. Third, Blacks were not the only slaves, whites, Indians, and other folks were slaves in various scenarios, But most political correct weirdo liberals, only want to pit black against white, and not try to understand the fact that most of the black slaves from Africa were living like animals, not like human beings, and farm slavery was better than what they had. Plenty of food and shelter, abeit not the big house, no, the slave quarters, which are better than many who now occupy the drug and rat infested ghettos of many inter cities across America. HISTORY, must be told truthfully, with all the facts, with explanations of the norms of the world at the time of slavery from biblical times onward. You must not use 21st. century attitudes in this explanation, or it simply becomes a BIASED RACE DIVIDER.

    • Vince said:
      29 August 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Mr. Dunford,

      Thank you for contacting us regarding the recent Lancaster County blog post. However, we would like to remind you that this blog has a comments policy governing appropriate discourse. You can find it here- http://www.virginiamemory.com/blogs/out_of_the_box/web-policy/

      That said, the arguments that you are making are historically incorrect. The goal of this blog is to share stories from the primary source materials in our care. A great deal of Virginia’s history involves enslaved individuals and, while the subject may be uncomfortable, it warrants telling.

      • Aaron Hill said:
        30 August 2019 at 7:46 pm


        Freedom includes the right to be wrong. It is a matter of opinion. Constitution of Virginia, Article I, Section 12: “…any citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects…”


        • Vince said:
          3 September 2019 at 8:54 am

          Mr. Hill,

          Citizens can indeed speak freely and write and publish their sentiments on all subjects. However, on the Library of Virginia’s social media outlets, they may not do so in a manner that is vulgar; contains personal attacks; includes offensive language that targets a gender, racial, ethnic or religious group; advocates illegal activity; promotes services, products, or political organizations; infringes on copyright or trademark; reveals personally identifiable information; links to spam; or is clearly off topic.

          If you have concerns or further questions about our comments policy, please feel free to contact our Public Information Office at 804-692-3611 or Ann.Henderson[at]lva.virginia.gov.

          Thank you.