About: Jessica

Jessica is the Senior Accessioning Archivist at the Library of Virginia. She holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Author Archives Jessica

Name that town


Unidentified town plan by Thomas R. Dunn. Library of Virginia Maps Collection.

The Library of Virginia began accessioning maps in 1911. Today its collection has grown to encompass several types of maps, including town plans. One of those plans is currently the center of a mystery for Library of Virginia staff members. Completed by Thomas R. Dunn in the late 19th century, it is drawn with pen and ink on cloth and measures 29 1/2 x 27 1/8 inches. The featured town is 16 blocks wide and 15 blocks high with 4 block spaces in the center. Streets running horizontally are named after states: Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Colorado. Vertically-laid streets are identified sequentially from First Avenue to Sixteenth Avenue. Beyond this basic information, the plan is unnamed and unidentified. What town does it represent?

Dunn did notate the plan but he didn’t include an index to explain the numerous abbreviations. Several lots are identified by surnames but we haven’t been able to verify if they represent the names of lot owners. A search through ProQuest’s digital Sanborn maps collection was not conclusive but there are several Virginia localities that include sections similar to Dunn’s plan, including Portsmouth. The 1920 Sanborn map of the City of Portsmouth is the first we know of featuring a similarly-laid section.

So, what more do we know? T.R. … read more »

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A ‘Salty’ take on survival


CERTIFICATE OF SURVIVAL, 2 May 1945, issued to Grayson Boyer upon the conclusion of the Battle of the South Atlantic. (Grayson B. Boyer Papers, 1937-1945, Accession 50238, Personal Papers Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond)

In cataloging the papers of Grayson B. Boyer (1915-1970) of Grayson County, Virginia, one cannot help but notice the dramatically-titled and cheekily-illustrated “Certificate of Survival” issued to Boyer upon completion of the Battle of the South Atlantic during World War II.  As well as being a unique marker of the end of a major wartime naval effort, the document also helps offset the Library of Virginia’s surprising scarcity of holdings featuring cartoon images of lusty, bare-chested mermaids.

Dated 2 May 1945 and given some semblance of credibility by the facsimiled signature of Admiral J.H. Ingram, commander of the South Atlantic forces, the document humorously celebrates the various achievements of Boyer and his fellow sailors. These range from spending months (19, in Boyer’s case) “in a state of moral indecision and physical peril,” to “enduring the rigors of Gin tonicas and Caçhaca.”  The mock-solemn text concludes by commending  Boyer’s “placing in sacrifice the best years of his life on the gilded altar of Pan-American Relations.”

The document’s light tone is further indicated by its comic drawings. The aforementioned mermaid and two similarly-clad women (who are given the courtesy of names–Maria and Inez–if not opaque bikini tops) are surrounded by fish, sea horses, and shells.  Still, the accompanying aircraft carrier, blimp, and seaplane remind the viewer that this is war, not merely a pleasure cruise.

Our hero the American sailor is featured triumphantly, flanked by his mermaid gal pal and … read more »

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Big Find Friday: Reference staff to the rescue

Here on Out of the Box we like to take the occasional Friday to let patrons of the Library of Virginia tell our readers of their research success stories.  We call it Big Find Friday, and today we bring you the latest installment.

James and Andra Krehbiel made the long journey all the way from Arizona to Richmond to research the descendants of Jacob Wees (1733-1826) of Muddy Creek, Pennsylvania, and Elkins, (West) Virginia.  Their visit yielded valuable information on some ten generations of the family (variations of the surname include Weese, Wease, and Wiess). 

“While we had names and dates for most, we were in need of a great deal of assistance to locate ‘the story’ of each,” the Krehbiels wrote in their “My Big Find” submission.  “This could never have been done without the amount of help your staff provided and which we never expected.”

The couple specifically thanked Bill Luebke, Dave Grabarek, Ginny Dunn, and Lisa Werhmann for their help, adding that “As both of us have doctorates and have done our share of research, we can attest that the staff of the Library of Virginia is outstanding.”

If you want to “get to know” your ancestors a little better, we would love for you to take advantage of our unique and impressive resources – including our dedicated reference staff.  For those just getting … read more »

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“Nothing but…”


Handwritten copy (page 1 of 2) of a Civil War era poem, found in the papers of the Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia. CW 150 Legacy Project.

The Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia, had seven children, among them three sons who all served in the Confederate army. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has scanned a significant number of the family’s letters and miscellany; one item is a handwritten poem which I initially theorized was the work of a Runkle daughter. No obvious identification could be made, as the poem itself was unsigned, the scanning of the object was not accompanied by further detail as to its writer, and attempts at locating more personal information about the family were unsuccessful.

This is a pity, for the poem is an enormously rich document, written by a hand quite obviously skilled in the art form. A Google search of a refrain that appears throughout the poem (“Oh, he’s nothing but a soldier”) offers some hints, revealing that the poem was in fact a widely-distributed work.  A reference to it appears in The Southern War Poetry of the Civil War, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis by Esther Parker Ellinger, published by Hershey Press in 1918.  According to its listing in the book’s index, the poem is an air set to the tune of “Annie Laurie,” and is credited to “A Young Rebelle, Esq.”  Perhaps a Runkle woman was the mysterious “Young Rebelle,” but more than likely a family member copied it down … read more »

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“Nelson County in Hollywood”


Second revision of THE WALTONS Season 4 episode, The Fledgling. Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

The papers of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator and writer of the popular television series The Waltons, are now available for research at the Library of Virginia. One might wonder what the papers of a famous Hollywood figure are doing in Richmond.  Granted, Hamner was born in Schuyler, a small town in Nelson County, but he left Virginia in 1949.  His many accomplishments in film and television took place outside of his home state. But when Hamner left 65 years ago, it wasn’t as though he didn’t look back.

Much of Hamner’s inspiration and ideas grew out of the first 25 years of his life growing up in Nelson County and attending college at the University of Richmond.  Delivering the commencement address at his alma mater the University of Cincinnati in 2008, Hamner said, “What has inspired me has been the family and neighbors I grew up with in rural Virginia during the Great Depression.  They were a decent, God-fearing, patriotic people.  Like most Appalachian folk, they were frugal, proud, and self-reliant.  They were story tellers and I listened.” 


Stock photo of the cast of THE WALTONS, courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Found in Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

While a student at the University of Richmond just prior to World War II, Hamner was working on a short story which described the feelings of a boy when he joined his father for his first deer hunt.  As the story grew, Hamner realized the … read more »

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“Half way across the river”

Robert Cromwell (1838-1918) was a Union soldier serving in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company A. For several months during the spring and summer of 1864 he kept a diary. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project was lucky enough to scan, catalog, and digitize the diary, and numerous other papers of the Cromwell family.


Two pages from the diary of Robert Cromwell of the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, including a 30 May 1864 entry describing the sights and sounds of battle. Cromwell Family Papers, Civil War 150 Legacy Project.

Robert’s company took part in Major General William T. Sherman’s so-called “Atlanta Campaign,” a relentless and brutally long-lasting effort to sweep through Georgia, and ultimately seize Atlanta from the Confederate army. In his 30 May 1864 entry, Robert beautifully described the thrilling grotesquerie of the battlefield, with all its horrific forms of sensory overload:

“…crack crack in our front followed by a continuous crash of small arms then increased by heavy artillery soon brought us to our feet. For 35 or 40 minutes the roar was terrific.

…The unceasing roll of musketry the concussion caused by the booming cannon and bursting shell conspired to produce indescribable sensations, mingled exultation and awe.”

But the levity and humor found in the following anecdote from 13 July 1864, is even more noteworthy. Robert’s company is encamped on one side of the Chattahoochee River, and the Confederate troops they fought mere weeks earlier are encamped across the way. As Robert states:

“Although against orders conversation will occur.  Agreed last night to xchange [sic] papers this morn

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A “Passport for Any-Where”


Cover of G.B. Lamar Jr.'s so-called PASSPORT FOR ANY-WHERE (G.B. Lamar Jr. Papers, 1859-1867. Civil War 150 Legacy Project. Permission to publish or reproduce is required.)

Recently I stumbled upon one of the more interestingly-worded government documents that I have ever encountered. Housed in the papers of Confederate soldier G.B. Lamar, Jr., of Georgia, was a leather-bound “passport” dated 1867. But this wasn’t just any ole’ passport–embossed in gold letters on the book’s cover were the words:

Hand Book of Loyalty.  
Passport for Any-Where.

Being a holder of a passport myself, and thereby glancingly familiar with the process of attainment and the general requirements of such, I couldn’t believe that such fanciful language could accompany something heretofore seen as banal and utterly devoid of hyperbole or flights of fancy. But–here it was! A passport to anywhere!

One might argue this is just a statement of the obvious, for a United States passport is, clearly, a document allowing one to travel “anywhere.” Yet the language trumpeted on Lamar’s leather cover hints at possibility and adventure in a way that my prosaically blue passport vehemently does not.

To open the book is to be confronted with yet more extravagant jargon, for it announces these intentions:

To produce the most
Soothing Feelings of Patriotism
In the Shortest Space of Time.—Works like Magic.

It turns out this was not a passport per se, but a wryly humorous book for former Confederates who had, perhaps reluctantly and out of pure necessity, sworn their allegiance to the United States after … read more »

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Big Find Friday: You can’t always get what you want, but…

Today we bring you another installment of our Big Find Friday series.  While we love those “Eureka!” moments where a patron finds the exact, obscure document that unlocks an entire family history in one fell swoop, occasionally the historical record keeps a stingy grip on its secrets.  This post shows that sometimes a patron’s “big find” is the Library of Virginia itself.

Donna Potter Phillips of Spokane, Washington, visited us in May 2014 for the National Genealogical Society’s conference.  While here, she hoped to find evidence of the 1725 marriage in Williamsburg of her ancestor Marquis Calmes (b. 1705, Stafford County, Virginia) to a “fine English lady,” Winnifred Waller, and learn the identity of Waller’s parents.  “Alas, I accomplished neither,” Phillips wrote to us afterward, prompting optimistic archivists to shed forlorn tears.  Ah, but wait!  She didn’t stop there, adding, “But I surely had a great time looking.” 

As Phillips exhausted the resources of not only the Library of Virginia, but also Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg and William and Mary’s Swem Library, she was able only to determine that her ancestors did not marry at Bruton Parish. Undeterred, she proclaimed herself “comfort[ed] to know the ‘final score’ from a reputable source.”  She closed by sharing that “I happily looked at everything on the Waller family that your great staff could dig up for me.  … read more »

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Wartime musings on God and nature


Aquilla Peyton diary entry, 19 December 1861, showing his attention to clarity as he edits his thoughts on how constant his sense of his own

In my work for the Civil War 150 Legacy Project, I recently came across the diary of Aquilla Peyton (1837-1875). A private in the Confederate Army, Peyton was a young man with a loving family living near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and an avid diarist with a spiritual nature and a naturalist bent. Peyton kept this particular diary from August 1861 to August 1863. His final days as a soldier were in December of 1862; in January 1863, he returned home and recommenced teaching school.

Peyton’s diary is quite long at 186 pages, and is teeming with quotes from the Old and New Testaments, daily logs on the weather and the changing of seasons, and achingly personal observations on the unworthiness of his character and his struggle to be a better Christian. On Wednesday, 19 December 1861, Peyton wrote:

I am constantly almost constantly disturbed by a sense of my sinfulness, and I can not be satisfied with any thing less than true religion. I view the law of God as perfect and lovely, and it seems to me that I pray sincerely for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. But so cold is my heart, and so feeble my efforts, that I can not conclude that I am a Christian. I am afraid I am devoid of the faith that works by love, purifies

read more »

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A stone’s throw from madness


Image of a mad stone, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C., as displayed on the Old Farmer's Alamanac website (www.almanac.com).

“I send you two patients to the mad stone. They are natives of this place and had their children bitten today.”

-J. Reuben Richerson to R. L. Harrison, 26 June 1893

“1/3net receipts from mad stone since same was placed into hands of R. L. Harrison.”

-written on checks from Harrison to Richerson and Maria L. Motley, 14 March 1893

“Mad stone? What’s a mad stone?” I wondered out loud.

I’d stumbled across the R. L. Harrison Papers, 1893-1901 (Library of Virginia accession 26527), during the dog days of summer. This business records collection consisted of correspondence, checks, accounts, and receipts from Harrison, a druggist in Richmond during the 1890s-1910s, to J. Reuben Richerson, Nannie E. Richerson, and Maria L. Motley, all of Caroline County, concerning something called a mad stone (or madstone) and payments for its use. Piqued by this reference, I set out to answer my own question.

I learned from the Oxford English Dictionary that a mad stone is a “stone or similar object supposedly having the power to counteract the effect of the bite of a rabid or venomous animal.” Furthermore, thanks to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, I discovered that it was a “stony concretion (as a hair ball from the stomach of a deer).” In appearance, it looked like a small stone; according to various descriptions, it could be smooth or it could be rough. The … read more »

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