In November of 1860, executor William F. Smith was in a pickle. Charged with settling the estate of Elizabeth P. Via of Augusta County, he had recently been a defendant in both a chancery and a judgment suit from seven of Via’s heirs that challenged the validity of her will. The heirs objected to the provisions that Via made for her slaves, namely that they all be emancipated. Additionally, she left $4,000 to transport them to a free state and set them up in homes there. The remainder of her estate was to be distributed amongst Via’s heirs who were not pleased by this and thought it in their best interest to have the will invalidated so that they could get everything, including the slaves that were left at Via’s death. The will was upheld, however, and then it was time for executor Smith to get on with the business of carrying out Via’s wishes. But there were some questions that he struggled to answer about his job as executor.
At issue were several points. Did children born since Via’s death have an interest in the money left to the slaves? What should happen to the residue of the $4,000 after the will’s provisions were carried out? How should title to any house or land purchased for the emancipated slaves be done? The slaves had … read more »
Lura Royall was a Lunenburg County girl. Her relatives remember her as a pretty woman who never married—a retired school teacher full of life well into old age. But there was a part of her life that remained a secret from her living relatives. It was a secret recently revealed in 97 letters and postcards, written across a span of 21 years, to her from a Russian émigré, Vladimir Sournin, her fiancé.
These letters, part of several cubic feet of papers left in the old courthouse by former Lunenburg County clerk John L. Yates, were stashed among bills, statements, and personal business correspondence. How the letters ended up in Yates’ file cabinets is uncertain, but they reveal an on-again-off-again relationship between Vladimir and Lura that started in 1898 and lasted until at least 1925.
Vladimir Sournin’s life is a little known historical footnote now, but he was no ordinary man. Ambitious and talented, his career and interests led him to three continents where his path intersected with major world events and some of the most well-known people of his day. His letters reveal him to be supremely confident in his abilities and fearless in attempts to achieve his goals. This same persistence is evident in his effort to woo Lura Royall.
Sournin was born in 1875 into a military family in Mstislavl, Russia. In St. … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images from the Prince George County chancery causes digitization project are now available on the Chancery Records Index. Both the images and the index cover the years 1809-1917 and are available to researchers on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.
The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly available Prince George County chancery digital images. Richard W. Backus vs. Admr. of John B. Williams, etc., 1837-003, references the postponement of the sale of a slave named Ursa because she was ill. Divorce suit 1875-001, David Harrison vs. Eliza A. Harrison, includes a letter from the court clerk referencing the destruction of a marriage license by the “Raiders” during the Civil War. Another divorce suit, Bettie Hays vs. William Hays, 1908-003 provides detailed testimony given by the plaintiff of spousal abuse by her husband. (These divorce cases join one already mentioned here on Out of the Box – a divorce in which the husband claimed that the child his wife gave birth to could not possibly be his.) In chancery cause 1916-023, Cubit Stith vs. Lucy Jackson, etc., Cubit Stith describes himself as an uneducated colored man who was born a slave. He and his daughter, Lucy Jackson, were in a bitter dispute for control … read more »
The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the Scott County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, is pleased to announce that digitization of Scott County’s historic chancery causes is now complete. Both the index and images are available to researchers via the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.
The Scott County chancery collection covers the years 1816 through 1942 (with digital images posted through 1912). The chancery, or equity cases, are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history. They often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that reveal detailed stories that help tell the story of Virginia. Cases contain useful biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free.
Chancery Cause 1873-034, Sampson S. Robinett vs. Samuel Babb, etc., helps document post-Civil War relations as it brings to light lingering bitterness between pro-Union and pro-Confederacy residents living together in Scott. In chancery cause 1897-057, Town of Gate City vs. Col. J. B. Richmond, the city attempted to stop a citizen from blocking what it considered a public road. A large map of Gate City was used as an exhibit. Chancery Cause 1901-058 reveals the religious beliefs of the members … read more »
During the 1820s and 1830s, northern antislavery groups that demanded the immediate abolition of slavery began to emerge. Led by abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur Tappan, and Theodore Weld, they instituted an aggressive print campaign against slavery. Abolitionist societies published newspapers and pamphlets that bitterly condemned slavery and called for its extinction. Needless to say, abolitionist literature was not well-received in slaveholding states, including Virginia.
In 1835, a Frederick County, Virginia, grand jury issued a criminal presentment against the Abolition Society of New York. In a lengthy and strongly worded indictment, the grand jury referred to the antislavery organization as an “evil of great magnitude” and accused it of disturbing the peace of the commonwealth and threatening the lives of its citizens by inciting slaves to rebel. The grand jury encouraged local law enforcement agencies throughout Virginia to adopt “increasing vigilance … in the detection of all fanatical emissaries, and in the suppression of their nefarious schemes and publications.” Furthermore, it called on the General Assembly to enforce present laws and enact stricter legislation against written or printed material that encouraged slave insurrection. The presentment also named Arthur Tappan, whom the grand jury considered to be the “prime mover” in the society. Tappan helped found the Abolition Society of New York in 1831, which two years later evolved into the American Anti-Slavery Society… read more »
We love our letterhead here in the processing sections of the Library of Virginia. One can come across such interesting, varied, and colorful examples while processing Governor’s papers, personal letters, or court records. We’ve shared a few examples of our finds in previous blog postings and have happily learned that you love them, too! As a result, we continue to save examples for future Out of the Box installments. It was with that thought that I made a Xerox of the following letterhead, assuming that I’d add it to our growing file to share at a later date. I showed it to a colleague, and she said, “Google those lines and see what you find.” Sure enough, there was more to this letterhead than met the eye.
The image and line refer to a song written during the 1844 presidential campaign for Whig Party nominee Henry Clay. The illustration shows a raccoon holding a document (or stick) labeled “Constitution,” and rolling a large ball after a scurrying fox. Considered to be the first modern national campaign, the 1844 contest pitted the Whig, Clay, against Democrat James K. Polk. This being Clay’s third presidential race, the Democrats pejoratively dubbed him “the same old coon” in reference to his perennial candidacy. In response, the Whigs decided to embrace the moniker, even using the raccoon image on their … read more »
Since the apocalypse of 2012 was a no-show, I decided to bring a little doomsday out from the archives to celebrate the start of the New Year. Fretting over the Mayan calendar was the apocalypse du jour of 2012, but back in 1812, the doomsday prophecies of Nimrod Hughes created quite the stir in Southwest Virginia.
Nimrod Hughes came to our attention here in Local Records Services during the processing of the Roanoke County chancery causes. In an estate dispute, Fanny R. Johnston, etc. vs. Executor of Nathaniel Burwell, etc., 1880-044, Nathaniel Burwell stands accused of selling and hiring out slaves inherited by his wife Lucy from her father, Charles Carter. According to their marriage contract, any profits from a sale were to remain with Lucy Burwell’s dower, but Nathaniel Burwell allegedly sold the slaves for his own benefit to purchase some land. The outcome of the case hinged on the date the land was purchased, and here is where Nimrod Hughes comes into the story. Many of those deposed in the chancery cause remembered the date of purchase because it occurred on 4 June 1812—the day Hughes declared would see the destruction of mankind.
Confined to Abingdon prison on 4 June 1808 for a crime he “detested” and claimed to be completely innocent of, Nimrod Hughes spent the ten months and nine days … read more »
On 16 December 1895, 12-year-old Mamie M. Yates wrote a letter to Santa Claus. It read:
Dear Santa Claus,
I will write to you to tell you what I want you to bring me. I want a sled and Robinson Crusoe and a pair of nice gloves and some ribbon for my hair and a writing tablet and some candy, oranges, nuts, raisins, banannas [sic] and caramels and apples and a cap for my doll.
Your little girl,
Mamie M. Yates
The letter did not make it to the North Pole. It somehow ended up in the Lunenburg County courthouse filed in the clerk’s records and became part of the Lunenburg County (Va.) Clerk’s Records of John L. Yates, 1878-1934 circa (Barcode 1046171). John L. Yates, Mamie’s father, was the circuit court clerk for Lunenburg County at the time the letter was written. Although the letter did not reach its destination, I’m sure Santa had a good idea about what to bring Mamie for Christmas.
-Greg Crawford, Local Records Coordinator… read more »
“It was a hot summer day on August 5, 1865, when George Kiner and Diana Bumgardner arrived at the courthouse in Augusta County, Virginia, to apply for a marriage license. They brought with them an order from Capt. John Collins, Provost Marshall, directing the court to issue the license as ‘they being in all respects entitled to such license.’ While there were other couples that day applying for marriage licenses, George and Diana were the only couple with such an order. This was indeed a historical event as they were the first African American couple to be issued a marriage license in Augusta County.”
-African American Marriage Index 1865-1899, Augusta County, Virginia
At first glance the story of George Kiner and Diana Bumgardner is one of love triumphing over the tragedies of slavery and war. But documents found in the Augusta County Chancery Causes reveal not a lovely wedding born of true love, but a shotgun affair with a groom forced to the altar at gunpoint. In his bill for divorce filed in the Augusta County courts in February 1866, George Coiner (the predominant spelling in court documents was Coiner, but Kiner and Koiner were also used) painted a less than idealistic picture of his wedding day. George Coiner, a former slave, was working in a field when two armed soldiers, one white and the … read more »
The colonial era Northampton County court records tell a fascinating story of a woman named Jane Webb. Born of a white mother, she was a free mulatto, formerly called Jane Williams. In 1704, Jane Webb had “a strong desire to intermarry with a certain negro slave … commonly called and known by the name of Left.” Webb informed Left’s owner Thomas Savage, a gentleman of Northampton County, of her desire to marry Left and made an offer to Savage. She would be a servant of Savage’s for seven years and would let Savage “have all the children that should be bornd [sic] upon her body during the time of [Jane’s] servitude,” but for how long the children were to be bound is not clear. In return, Savage would allow Jane Webb to marry his slave, and after Jane’s period of servitude ended, Savage would free Left. Also, neither Savage nor his heirs could claim any child born to Jane Webb and Left after her period of servitude. Savage agreed to Jane Webb’s offer, and an agreement was written and signed by both parties.
Jane Webb fulfilled her part of the agreement and served Savage for seven years. During that time, she had three children by her husband Left—Diana or Dinah Webb, Daniel Webb, and Francis Webb. After she completed her term of service in 1711, … read more »