This is part one of a two part post on a fascinating freedom suit discovered during the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Project. Part two of the story will be published next week.
Women had more to lose in the system of slavery. Saying this is not in any way meant to downplay the pernicious effects of slavery on the lives of men. However, at least in the slave system of the U.S. South, women ensnared within slavery saw their children and, if they lived long enough, their grandchildren caught in a chain of matrilineal descent predicated on the bondage status of the mother. Conversely, if one could prove that a woman was unjustly or illegally forced into slavery, she and her descendants had much to gain. The story of Flora and her daughters, Cena and Unis, makes public the double bind experienced by female slaves in the antebellum South. Their story also reveals the ongoing claims to freedom made by Flora and her family over sixty years, across three states, and throughout multiple counties in Virginia.
Flora, an African American later held as a slave in Montgomery County, Virginia, was born in the late 1750s in either Massachusetts or Connecticut. In the late 1770s Flora married “Exeter, a Negro man of Southwick” [MA], a marriage recorded by Reverend John Theodore Graham on 26 … read more »
In the courthouses of Virginia, one can often find records that are not and were never under the official purview of the clerks of the court. Newspapers, church minutes, private papers, and other records of these kinds turn up as the collections are searched by today’s researchers. The private papers of Charles J. Callison are an example of one such find in the Montgomery County Circuit Court records.Discovered in a file cabinet drawer of court judgments and estate bonds, the Callison papers consist of two issues of a handwritten newsletter titled “The Moonbeam,” two bound booklets, and a loose sheet of paper. Most of these seem to have been composed when Callison was a child or at least a young man. They concern his interests in hunting, nature, and wild adventure stories. There is no discernible reason why these papers should have found their way into the courthouse, but it is delightful to us that they did.
According to the 1880 federal census, Charles J. Callison was born in Virginia. Eighteen years of age at that time, he lived at home in Montgomery County with his parents and his five brothers and sisters. His father, Isaac, was a shoemaker according to the 1880 census and a farmer according to the 1900 census. Other information about Callison is thin on the ground. He served in the … read more »
The varied experience of the African American residents of Montgomery County, Virginia, reveals itself in many documentary sources, but perhaps none as unexpected to some researchers as in the chancery causes. As a preview of the upcoming workshop “Researching Your African American Ancestors: Genealogy to 1870” scheduled to be held at the Christiansburg Public Library on 19 July 2014, here follow five examples from the Montgomery County chancery causes highlighting different facets of African American life over the span of 100 years.
Whether as slaves or free persons of color, African Americans arrived in the western parts of Virginia as soon as the area began to be settled by easterners. The earliest chancery suit with an identified free person is suit 1819-016, Lewis Garner vs. Peter Hance. Peter Hance executed a bond to Garner, “a man of color” for $49.75 in 1813. Garner then lost the note and Hance refused to honor the debt. Garner filed suit against Hance to clarify the circumstances of the debt, the loss of the note, and to collect what he was owed. The suit was dismissed at the request of the plaintiff in 1819.
Slaves appear throughout the chancery suits in many different situations, most commonly in an estate settlement suit when the slaves are divided among heirs or sold to pay debts. Chancery cause 1847-015, Ann Trigg, … read more »
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Southwest Virginia was gripped with “boom” times as the Norfolk & Western Railroad opened up the region for development. Small towns and even previously non-existent ones exploded with growth seemingly overnight. Land development companies swooped in, mainly with northern capital, to carve up farmland into future cities. Montgomery County was no stranger to this concept as the “boom” swept through its borders. Central Depot at the far western edge of the county had been a small railroad community, but by the 1870s and 1880s, developers started devising ways to make it grow. The community would go on to become Central City as a fully incorporated town, then Radford, and then the independent City of Radford. A group of chancery records from Montgomery County bear witness to the “boom,” or more accurately to its aftermath, as the bubble burst on dreams for development. These cases, W.R. Liggon vs. George W. Tyler etc., T.E. Buck vs. George W. Tyler etc., and Nancy M. Liggon etc. vs. George W. Tyler etc. (1897-056) and R.B. Horne etc. vs. George W. Tyler etc. (1897-057) give fascinating insight on the inner workings of “boom” times.
In this period of extraordinary growth for many towns, real estate speculation was the name of the game. Huge profits could be made by buying land, dividing it into … read more »
The Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services branch, in partnership with the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk, was recently awarded a 2-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support the processing of the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Collection, 1777-1912. The grant provides for the processing and indexing of the Montgomery County Chancery Causes with an eye toward future digitization as well as the creation of electronic finding aids for the remaining loose historical court records found in the clerk’s office in Christiansburg. The project will utilize a new strategy for the LVA in that all work will be completed by professional archivists in the clerk’s office rather than at the Archives in Richmond.
The NHPRC recognized the national significance of the Montgomery County court records as the county was ideally situated on routes west to experience the travel and migration of people seeking opportunity, land, and adventure in the West. These court records also illuminate the lives of numerous under-documented populations and have national significance for researchers interested in the African American experience, women’s history, westward migration, and southern labor and business history in the antebellum and post-Civil War periods.
In their current state, the Montgomery County chancery records are only known and utilized by a select few historians and humanities researchers. When completed the Montgomery County Chancery Causes … read more »
The staff at Montgomery County’s Circuit Court Clerk’s Office recently rediscovered the county’s cohabitation register, one of the most valuable records used for African American genealogical research. Its official title is The Register of Colored Persons of Montgomery County, Virginia, Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife on February 27, 1866. Watch as this video tells the story of this register and its preservation at The Library of Virginia. Montgomery County is one of only 19 Virginia localities known to have a surviving cohabitation register. The video script was co-written and narrated by our own Sarah Nerney, Local Records Senior Archivist. Thanks also to Audrey Johnson of Special Collections, Leslie Courtois of Etherington Conservation, and videographer Pierre Courtois for their invaluable contributions to this video production. See a previous blog post about the Smyth County cohabitation register.
-Dale Dulaney, Local Records Archival Assistant… read more »
We are excited to announce that the Friends of the Virginia State Archives 23rd Annual Spring Conference will be held at the Library of Virginia on Friday, 27 March 2015. This year’s theme, “Straight to the Source,” will be explored in presentations by four knowledgeable LVA staffers.
The conference will kick off with an expert guide to perhaps the Library of Virginia’s most powerful resource—its website. With layer after layer of unique and fascinating material, it can be easy to miss some of the site’s offerings. Digital Initiatives & Web Services Manager Kathy Jordan will give attendees a tour that will hit all of the highlights and equip them for “web wise” independent navigation.
For those researching Revolutionary War-era ancestors, the Library has no shortage of information waiting to be accessed. Archives Reference Coordinator Minor Weisiger will guide listeners to an array of useful tools, from compiled service records, pensions, and bounty warrants, to lesser-known resources including naval records, Auditor’s Office records, legislative petitions, Continental Congress papers, the Draper Manuscripts, the online George Rogers Clark papers database, and miscellaneous personal papers collections.
Regular readers of Out of the Box may already have heard of two big projects that the Library is proud to support, both of which will be discussed at the conference. The Montgomery County Chancery Project, funded in large part by an NHPRC grant, is nearing the … read more »
The conservation of the original pages of the Henry County Cohabitation Register has recently been completed. Previously, only a poorly and confusingly microfilmed version of this register was available for researchers and was the only option to be digitized for inclusion in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Vickie Stone Helmstutler, the Henry County Circuit Court clerk, the original register pages were located in the courthouse and sent to the Library for conservation. The conserved pages of the register were digitized and the digitized microfilm images have been replaced with images of the conserved original document. We hope that researchers find these images a great improvement over the others, which were dark and difficult to read.
A comparison of pictures taken before and after conservation reveals the improvements made to the damaged original document. Library of Virginia conservator Leslie Courtois dry cleaned the paper surfaces, humidified and flattened creases and crumpled edges, then repaired tears and losses with Japanese tissue and deacidified the document.
To get a better idea of what these conservation processes look like, please view the YouTube video made about conservation undertaken in 2011 on the cohabitation register from Montgomery County. The Henry County Cohabitation Register is now in a stable and preserved state which will allow this very valuable record to exist for … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Elizabeth City County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1747-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website. Traditional wisdom has always held that not many pre-1865 chancery suits managed to survive the burnings of Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, and the great 1865 Richmond evacuation fire that consumed many locality records sent to the capital for safekeeping. While not all of the records that should have existed still survive, it is fortunate that 366 suits from Elizabeth City County dating 1865 and prior were discovered as part of this processing project allowing for a richer portrait of the locality to emerge.
The earliest surviving suit is that of John Hunt and wife vs. William Hunter, 1747-001, and concerns the estate of William Hunter. Hunt’s wife was one of Hunter’s children and as such the couple sued for their portion of her father’s estate, which consisted of four slaves: Moll, Diana, Jemmie, and an unnamed child. The suit, which commenced in 1744, was continued for several years until it was finally sent on to the General Court in Richmond in 1747. The General Court papers burned completely in Richmond in 1865 so the ultimate disposition of this … read more »
The editors of Out of the Box would like to give a belated good-bye to Carl Childs, the Library of Virginia’s former Local Records Services director. Last month, Carl started his new job as Director of Archives and Records for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. When former local records archivist Dale Dulaney first proposed our little blog five years ago, Carl’s support, encouragement, and leadership helped Dale’s idea become a reality. The result: the Out of the Box blog may be the most successful outreach tool used by the Library of Virginia. For the fiscal year ending 30 June 2013, Out of the Box had 435,859 page views, 221,667 visitors, and 369,123 visits.
Out of the Box is one of many innovative projects that Carl has been a part of at the Library. In a 20-year career at the agency, Carl moved into increasingly responsible positions, from his first job as a front desk attendant, to state records archivist and then local records archivist and, beginning in 2005, Local Records Services director. Carl brought enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things to every position. Accordingly, in his tenure overseeing the Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) grants program, Carl helped strengthen the application and oversight process, resulting in a more efficient and beneficial program to care for historic records in Virginia’s circuit courts. Similarly, … read more »