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

Virginia Signs Off

Strong's dime caricatures presents a Northern point of view about secession in 1861. See the link in the comments section to decode the abundant imagery in this political cartoon. Image Courtesy Library of Congress.

(Note: Guest contributor Mari Julienne joins us this week with some timely background information on a pivotal document in the state’s history.  Virginia’s signed Ordinance of Secession will be on display at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 16 April 2011. See our schedule for other events related to the Library’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide.)

17 April 1861. While meeting in secret session, the Virginia Convention took a vote on whether to secede from the United States. Two weeks earlier, on 4 April, the convention delegates rejected a resolution to secede by a vote of 90 to 45. The convention, which was called to consider Virginia’s response to the secession crisis, had been meeting in Richmond since 13 February. The delegates had spent many weeks debating whether secession was legal, wise, or in the state’s best interest. Following the surrender of Fort Sumter on 13 April and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops on 15 April, the question facing the delegates became which side to take: to fight with or against the new Confederate States of America. Late in the afternoon on 17 April, the convention chose the Confederacy and voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters in a referendum. On 23 May, Virginia voters approved the Ordinance of Secession, which repealed Virginia’s 1788 ratification of the … read more »

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Dear Governor

Note: This stack of envelopes from the Gravely Family Papers (Acc. 34126) is used as an illustration for this post. Actual letters from Governor Letcher's papers are scanned below.

Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Brent Tarter offers the following post, pointing out some interesting finds made by the creators of the Library of Virginia’s Union or Secession exhibition.

During Virginia’s secession crisis in the winter and spring of 1860-1861, men and women across the state wrote to Governor John Letcher to comment on public affairs. They wrote to tell the governor what to do, to ask for help, to offer advice and assistance, or to get something off their chests. While researching in preparation for the Library of Virginia’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide , we spent time looking through the letters received by Governor Letcher. Like the records of every Virginia governor since 1776, the letters are preserved in Record Group 3 of the state’s archives in the Library of Virginia. The Governor’s Office records are an extremely rich source for the beliefs and words of ordinary Virginians.

During 1860 and 1861 the governor received letters from men and women in every part of the state who expressed every possible opinion and political allegiance. “I would like to Know from you what is to prevent me from Voting for Lincoln,” Giles County resident John M. Smith asked Governor Letcher in September 1860. “As he is the man I prefer. the reason of this letter is that there is a great deal of threatning … read more »

Introducing… the Organization Records Guide

Detail shot of the July 1843 issue of "Dies Testus Tempara" (part of LVA Accession 23479).

Fraternal orders.  Military regiments.  Agricultural societies.  Women’s organizations.  Religious associations.  Political parties.  Schools.  The Library of Virginia houses more than 650 collections of organization records from a variety of groups.  Ranging in size from one leaf of paper to over 70 cubic feet of material, these collections contain accounts, agendas, architectural drawings, correspondence, financial records, minutes, photographs, programs, reports, schedules, and other papers that detail the goals and histories of these groups.  Organization records include other types of media, including audio recordings in reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs; video recordings in cassettes and DVDs; and even archived websites.  Now, information about all of these collections is gathered in the Organization Records Guide, an on-line resource located on the Library of Virginia’s website.

The guide is organized alphabetically by organization name and includes a letter index at its top to facilitate searching.  Each entry contains the name of the organization, the title of the collection (whether records, account book, etc.), date range and size, accession number, a description of the material, and whether the materials are originals or copies.  Entries link to catalog records and, where applicable, to on-line finding aids and databases created for the collections, or to archived websites.  The Organization Records Guide will be updated on a regular basis as new collections are added to the Library and catalogued.  Jason Roma … read more »

Ensuring quality education for all

New Kent Training School teachers, 1944-1945

Editors Note:  This post is a modified version of an article that originally appeared in the Virginiana section of Virginia Memory.

The Watkins Family Papers (Accession 42063) include certificates, newspaper clippings, photographs, postcards, programs, and yearbooks documenting a prominent African American family in New Kent County, Virginia. While much of the collection consists of Jones and Watkins family photographs from Richmond and New Kent County, the collection is also significant for its connection to the struggle for school desegregation in Virginia.

Dr. George Washington Watkins (1898-1972) was born in Pickens County, South Carolina, the son of James and Lattie Watkins. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree (and later an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity) from Virginia Union University, and a Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute.  

Watkins is perhaps best known for his work in education, chiefly as principal of the New Kent Training School (renamed the George W. Watkins School in 1950).  This school played an important role in the education of African Americans in the area and was at the center of one of the most significant school integration rulings to follow Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  He was also a pastor, heading congregations at Second Liberty Baptist Church of Quinton, and Elam Baptist Church of Ruthville.

In 1930, there were 15 elementary schools in New Kent County, Virginia. Although … read more »

The secession crisis: A Frenchman’s view of the “whirlwind”

Report, 8 December 1860, of consul Alfred Paul in Richmond to the French government, discussing growing tensions and the threat of civil war in the United States. Page 1. (Alfred Paul Reports, Accession 22992).

“The indecision and the absence of energy in the convention of Virginia which does not dare proclaim itself either for or against secession have ended by making the situation intolerable for everyone,” wrote Alfred Paul, the French consul in Richmond, in March 1861.  “This lack of spontaneity after the inauguration of the new administration destroys the sympathies of the two sections, North and South, toward Virginia.”  Paul closed his report of 9 March thusly:  “all that the convention has done up to the present can be summed up in three words or in a single word: nothing, nothing, nothing.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the secession crisis and the commencement of the Civil War.  Among The Library of Virginia’s many collections concerning secession and the war is the Alfred Paul Reports, 8 December 1860-9 March 1861 (Accession 22992).  Paul proved to be a keen observer of events in Virginia during the Winter of 1860-1861, providing the French government with valuable analysis of the state’s actions during the secession crisis.  [Note: The original reports are written in French; English translations are provided by the Library.]

Southerners, Paul stated, “want secession.”  South Carolina seized on the election of Abraham Lincoln to leave the Union, even though Lincoln had been “called to the presidency of the United States…in a general election, regular, legal, constitutional, in … read more »

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Have scanner, will travel

As you may have heard from this blog and other sources, the CW 150 Legacy Project: Document Digitization and Access  is an effort to locate Civil War-era materials held by private citizens, digitize them, and place them online.  It is a joint project between the Library of Virginia (LVA) and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

Now that the project is underway, the motto “Have Scanner, Will Travel” aptly applies to my colleague Renee Savits and me. We are the CW 150 Legacy Project archivists, often seen in the LVA building rolling large plastic travel boxes containing our scanners, loading up our vehicle for the latest event. Renee is responsible for the project’s Eastern Region, and I am responsible for the Western Region.

In September, Renee and I hit the road, beginning what will be nearly two years of traveling across the commonwealth in search of these materials. We knew people would be interested in the project, but the level of interest we are encountering is beyond our expectations. At most of our events, all appointment slots are filled. We meet wonderful people who are excited to have the opportunity to share their items with us.  A story about the project in the Washington Post in November generated even more interest.

A typical scanning event is scheduled through a given locality’s Civil … read more »

Hope, Grief, Despair: The Emotional Impact of the Civil War

Illustration of a grieving Civil War-era woman, holding an open letter in her hand. Image credit: “News from the War” by Winslow Homer (detail). Wood engraving. LVA Special Collections; West Side; AP2 .H32.

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.  The war’s effect on the people of Virginia was immense – especially to those families who lost loved ones in battle.  The pain, grief, and other emotions felt by these families are witnessed by reading the letters contained in the many Civil War collections housed at the Library of Virginia.

One such collection is the Hughes-Ware Family Papers (Accession 37961).  Mary Elizabeth “Bess” Hughes (1838-1912) married Cincinnatus  J. Ware (1839-1864) of Gloucester County, Virginia, and they settled in Richmond. “Natus” and his brother William S. Ware, Jr. (1842-1909), or “Dinkey” as he was known, would later serve together in the 5th Virginia Cavalry.

Natus was wounded in action at Newtown, in Frederick County, Virginia, on 12 November 1864, and died a short time later.  The collection contains various poignant letters written by his brother and their father, as well as a comrade, to Bess.  The first letter, written by another member of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, tells of his hopes for Natus’ recovery after being shot.  The second letter, written by William, informs Bess of the death of his brother.  The third letter is written by their father, William S. Ware, Sr., and reveals the difficulty he is having accepting his son’s death.

These letters tell the emotional side … read more »

A surveyor’s view of wartime Virginia

Sketch, entitled "Fredericksburg," from B. Lewis Blackford Sketchbook (Acc. 22177c) 

In May 1863, a team of Confederate topographical engineers surveying and mapping Louisa County were surprised by Union cavalry.  All but one of the team were captured.  B. Lewis Blackford managed to escape, despite losing everything except his horse.  “Among his losses,” his brother Charles Minor Blackford later stated, “was his note book, in which he kept copies of poems and other clever things he had written to various girls, all of which were published in full subsequently in the New York Herald, to whom they were furnished by their captor.  His note book was very handsomely illustrated also, as he was a good sketcher and drew exquisite caricatures.”

Seemingly undaunted by the loss of his notebook, Blackford in June 1863 began a new sketchbook, which eventually found its way into the Personal Papers Collection at the Library of Virginia (Accession 22177c).  The small (4”x 6 ½”) book contains 20 pencil and ink sketches.  Some are outlines and rough sketches of people and landscapes, while others are more polished. The finished sketches of members of Blackford’s company catch their personalities.  Blackford also captured the poignancy of war in his sketches titled “Fredericksburg” and “Chancellorsville.”  The first simply depicts a skull and bone and the second the ruins at the tiny crossroads.

Benjamin Lewis Blackford was born 5 August 1835 in Fredericksburg, to William Mathews … read more »

We can’t all age gracefully

 Architectural model of the Richmond Coliseum

The fate of the Richmond Coliseum has been in question recently, with the city soliciting input from business leaders, local officials, and a consulting firm to determine what comes next for the much-maligned structure.  Should the city continue to keep it limping along with costly repairs as needed, do a large-scale renovation, or demolish it in hopes of building a flashier replacement?  Which of these options is best for Richmond, and where will the money come from?  Alas, the Out of the Box bloggers can’t answer these questions for you.  We can only lament on behalf of the near-40-year-old Coliseum, “What a drag it is getting old!” 

Here at the Library of Virginia, however, there are reminders of how it all began, when the 13,500-capacity arena was the pride and joy of Richmond native and architect Ben R. Johns, Jr. (1922-2006).  In 1968, Johns was tapped as the primary architect to work with the Philadelphia firm of Vincent G. Kling and Associates on the Coliseum project.  While today the building has its share of detractors, back then it had at least a few admirers.  As a result of the Coliseum design, Johns was recognized by the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1974 and the Richmond Planning Commission in 1975.

In 2007, the year after Johns’ death, a collection of his business … read more »

Sulphur, scams, and sketches

 A cropped view of one of Duralde's sketches.

“My health is so very bad that I do not know whether I will ever reach New Orleans or Cuba again.”

     –  Martin Duralde, Jr., to Henry Clay Duralde, 8 August 1846

“My cards are laying with the cock-roaches on the shelf.”

     - Martin Duralde, Jr., to Allen Jones, 12 August 1846

Wracked by tuberculosis (or consumption as it was then called), 23 year-old Martin Duralde spent a month and a half during the summer of 1846 at several Virginia springs in a futile attempt to recover his health.  As Duralde, the grandson of the legendary Henry Clay of Kentucky, traveled to the Blue, Red, and White Sulphur Springs of Greenbrier and Monroe Counties, (West) Virginia, he kept a letterbook that is now part of the LVA’s collection (Accession 22281).   

Duralde’s companion for part of this trip was a man named L. H. Coulter, called “Old C.” in the letters.  Travelling up the Kanawha River towards the springs, the two men stopped in a small town where they had heard that “there was a great superfluity of money.”  While running a card game there, Old C. was caught dealing two cards off the deck and “ruined a fine prospect” of the two winning between several hundred and two thousand dollars.  Their prospects didn’t pan out at either the Blue or Red Sulphur Springs and the … read more »