About: Roger

Roger has worked at the Library of Virginia since 1997 and currently works in the state records section. Roger has a Master of Arts degree in Public History from the University of South Carolina. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from Millersville University.

Author Archives Roger

Jailing the Jerkers



Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, Rockbridge County, National Register Nomination, Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Rockbridge/TimberRidgePresChurch_photo.htm, accessed 20 June 2017.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, sponsored four residential fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Doug Winiarski, Religious Studies professor at the University of Richmond, spent the spring semester researching and writing Shakers, Jerkers & the Shawnee Prophet: Religious Encounters on the Early American Frontier, 1805-1815.

Samuel Houston probably scoffed at the legal proceedings against him as he stood before the bar in the Lexington, Virginia, courthouse on 6 August 1805. How could his peers on the grand jury take this case of assault and battery seriously? After all, he was one of the most prominent men in the Rockbridge County: a decorated Revolutionary War officer, a wealthy planter, and a slaveholder. Most important, Houston was a devoted member and patron of the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, the handsome stone edifice that stood only a few yards from his imposing log house.

The charges against Houston stemmed from a bizarre new religious phenomenon known as “the jerks”: involuntary convulsions, in which the subjects’ heads lashed violently backward and forward in quick succession like a “flail in the hands of a thresher.” The strange bodily fits erupted unexpectedly during the Great Revival (1799–1805), the powerful succession of Presbyterian sacramental festivals and Methodist camp meetings that … read more »

Virginians in the Great War: Harry Anderson Matthews (1894-1918)


Photograph of Harry Anderson Matthews (1894-1918), Questionnaire, Virginia War History Commission, Series I. Individual Service Records (Questionnaires), box 17, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

This is the latest entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I. Corporal Harry A. Matthews, the subject of this week’s post, died on 5 December 1918 from wounds he received during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on 11 November. Matthews’s sparse World War I Questionnaire tells a sad story of love and loss.


Harry Anderson Matthews (1894-1918), Questionnaire, Virginia War History Commission, Series I. Individual Service Records (Questionnaires), box 17, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Harry Anderson Matthews was born on 8 December 1894 in Richmond, Virginia, to Harry Lee Matthews (1868-1925), a general contractor, and Minnie Pohle (1870-1951). The Matthews family had at least eight children: Hudson W. Matthews (1893-1924), Henry A. Matthews (1894-1918), Irving Lee Matthews (1898-1967), Linwood C. Matthews (1901-1965), Marie Matthews (1905-1969), Herbert T. Matthews (1906-1967), Audrey L. Matthews (1906-1994), and William A. Matthews (1909-1910). When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Matthews worked for his father as a building foreman. On 19 January 1918, Matthews married Adelia Charlotte Howland (1899-1982). He was inducted into the army on 27 May 1918 and left for Europe on 6 August 1918. His daughter, Marjorie, was born thirteen days later.

Matthews served in the 164th Machine Gun Company, 26th Infantry Division. His unit fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a 47 day (26 September to 11 November 1918) American offensive along a twenty-four mile front from the Argonne Forest to the Meuse River. … read more »

“A Frolicsome Freak of Boyhood”



Jacket of Application for Pardon of James Gibson, Charles Tosh, John Lyle, James Allen, Rufus Percival, and David Austin. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers, 1876, June 20-September 1876, Box 48, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, sponsored four residential fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Catherine Jones, associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spent the fall semester researching and writing, Child Prisoners and the Limits of Citizenship in the New South.

On 22 September 1876, Governor James L. Kemper issued a conditional pardon to six inmates housed at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. He explained his action by noting that all but one was “under seventeen years of age.” Further, he characterized the boys’ actions—stealing and consuming food from a hotel dining room—as an “impulsive and frolicsome freak of boyhood.”  Kemper’s pardon and the appeals that prompted it, shed light on a tricky question— what did age mean to Virginians in the nineteenth century, particularly as it related to criminal responsibility?


Entry for James Gibson, John Lyle, Rufus Percival, James Allen, and David Austin, 11 May 1876, Prisoner Register No. 5, 1876-1884, page 59, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Subseries A. Registers, Miscellaneous Reel 5990, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, LIbrary of Virginia (part one).

The Virginians pardoned by the Governor—James Gibson, Charles Tosh, John Lyle, Rufus Percival, James Allen, and David Austin—were committed to the penitentiary on 11 May 1876. The Wythe County Court had sentenced the youths to five years in the penitentiary for burglary and theft of food valued at under $9. These six young prisoners became part of a penitentiary population that grew rapidly between the end of the … read more »

Time in a Box: the Kaine Administration “Time Capsule”


Contents of Time Capsule

Every box of records that arrives at the Library of Virginia is full of possibilities. We never know what we are going to find in the most seemingly mundane records series. I was reminded of this recently when I discovered a mini time capsule in a box of records from the Kaine administration (2006-2010).


kaine001

I was processing a box of Secretary of the Commonwealth Kate Hanley’s (2006-2010) correspondence when I found a bundle of papers with the following note:

“Please Read! We decided to fill the empty space in this box with some time capsule items from here in the SOC. Enjoy! Governor Kaine’s SOC 2006-2009

The “time capsule” contains:

  • A Virginia is for Lovers bumper sticker
  • A paper plate
  • The wrapper from a Dr. Pepper bottle
  • Coupons for Papa John’s Pizza
  • The Wall Street Deli takeout menu
  • Road map of Virginia
  • Chicken Box menu
  • Bojangle’s menu
  • A copy of Museum Movement Techniques: How to Craft a Moving Museum Experience by Shelley Kruger Weisberg

What can we learn about the staff of the Secretary of the Commonwealth from this anthropological find? Food, especially chicken and pizza, was very important them. And, judging by a photocopy of this image,

Image from: http://www.aaanything.net/40695/pictorial/funny/demotivate-july/attachment/survival-when-you-are-in-deep-trouble-say-nothing-and-try-to-look-like-you-know-what-youre-doing/ accessed on 2 May 2017

they had a sense of humor. As to the meaning of the Museum Movement Techniques book, I’ve got nothing.

This time capsule also spotlights the human … read more »

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Virginians in the Great War: Clarence A. Bryce, Jr. (1889-1918)


Photograph of Clarence A. Bryce, Jr. (1889-1918), Bryce Questionnaire.

This is the first entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I. United States Marine Private Clarence A. Bryce, Jr., the subject of this week’s post, died on 2 November 1918 after being hit by a German artillery shell during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.


Clarence A. Bryce (1889-1918) Questionnaire, Virginia War History Commission, Series I. Individual Service Records (Questionnaires), box 16, folder 15, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Clarence Archibald Bryce, Jr. was born on 17 August 1889 in Richmond, Virginia, to Clarence Archibald Bryce, Sr. (1849-1928), a physician, and Virginia Keene (1861-1935), an artist. Dr. Bryce was a prominent Richmond physician for over 50 years and a prolific writer on medical topics. Virginia Bryce studied art in Paris and ran an art school in Richmond. They had five children: Mildred Bryce (1886-1955), Virginia Bryce (1888-1974), Clarence Bryce, Jr. (1889-1918), Jeannette Bryce Staton (1892-1975), and Louise Bryce Pavay (1898-1985). When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Bryce was a self-employed auto mechanic in Richmond. He attempted to enlist in the Army but was rejected because of his low weight. Bryce successfully enlisted in the United States Marine Corp on 7 April 1918 at Paris Island, South Carolina.

After training at Fort Crockett, Texas and Quantico, Virginia, Bryce and his unit, Company B, 1st Training Battalion, left for France, arriving in Brest on 26 August 1918. After additional training for the front, Bryce joined 82nd Company, 6th … read more »

“Down in the shadow of the penitentiary:” the Closing of the Virginia Penitentiary


Photograph of Virginia Penitentiary, ca. 1991, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Warden Raymond M. Muncy, Box 481, Folder 2, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

On Friday, 24 February, a new historical highway marker will be unveiled at the site of the former Virginia Penitentiary at the intersection of Belvidere and Spring Streets in Richmond. The marker, sponsored by Richmond author Dale Brumfield, was approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on 30 June 2016. The Penitentiary closed on 14 December 1990. The Ethyl Corporation, which purchased the 16-acre property for $5 million in December 1987, demolished the Penitentiary in 1991-1992 to build their corporate headquarters on the site. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary at the Library of Virginia document the closing and demolition of the buildings.


Photograph of Cell Block,  Virginia Penitentiary, ca. 1991, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Warden Raymond M. Muncy, Box 481, Folder 2, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

After the state sold the site to Ethyl, the plan was to close the Penitentiary on 1 July 1990. By that time, two new correctional facilities being built in Buchanan and Greensville counties would be finished and operational. Construction delays pushed back the openings of these new prisons and the closing of the Penitentiary was rescheduled for December 1990. In April 1990, A Building, the oldest prison building built in 1904, was closed and the prisoners relocated to B Building. A Building was in terrible condition: rusted cells, peeling paint, and pigeon droppings on the floor. B Building, built in 1939 and opened in 1942, wasn’t much better. A July 1990 inspection by the American Civil Liberties Union … read more »

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Mug Shot Monday: Michael Bertone, No. 18654 and No. 21579


Photograph of Michael Bertone, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 419, Folder 5, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Michael Bertone, the subject of this week’s post, was a member of a gang of yeggmen who robbed the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield in 1921.


Virginian Pilot, 8 February 1921, page 15.

Early on Sunday, 6 February 1921, four men entered the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield through a window. At about 2 AM, an explosion blew off the door to the vault. The bank robbers looted approximately $30,000 worth of Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps from the safety deposit boxes. They left by the back door and drove off in a stolen car. The vehicle, along with $1,800 of Liberty Bonds, was recovered in Petersburg the next day. The police had no witnesses or suspects.

The first break in the case occurred in July 1921. Harry Young, James Powers, alias “Hooligan Joe,” John Hall alias “Jingle Jerry,” and Mike Benton alias Michael Bertone, were arrested near Clarksburg, West Virginia. The four were charged with attempted train robbery. The thieves had removed the switch lights in an attempt to wreck the train and rob the express car. In November 1921, United States Post Office inspectors connected the four to the Wakefield Bank robbery. During their January 1922 term, the Sussex County grand jury … read more »

Mug Shot Monday: Willie Williams, No. 17280


Photograph of Willie Williams, No. 17280, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 42, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Willie Williams’, the subject of this week’s post, unruly behavior led a State Convict Road Force (SCRF) officer to shoot him in 1934.

Willie Williams was only 16 years old in August 1921 when he was convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to three years in the Virginia Penitentiary by the Richmond Circuit Court. Williams was then assigned to State Convict Road Force Camp 21. He was not a model prisoner. He was punished three times prior to his escape on 20 June 1923.


Letter from Sgt. M.C. Russell, dated 1 January 1934, to Superintendent R.M. Youell, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Box 527, Folder 6.

Williams was on the run for over nine years. After his recapture on 1 August 1932, Williams was assigned to SCRF Camp 15 in Wythe County where he continued to be disruptive. In 1933 alone he was disciplined three times for fighting with other prisoners and once for talking back to one of the guards. For each infraction his punishment was standing in cuffs for several hours. By the end of the year, SCRF Sgt. M.C. Russell had had enough. On 30 December 1933, Williams claimed he was sick and refused to work. A doctor’s examination found Williams fit and able to work. When informed of the doctor’s findings, Williams said “this was a hell of a … read more »

Mug Shot Monday: William H. Oehlert, No. 11708 and 17831


Photograph of William Oehlert, No. 17831, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. William Oehlert had a lengthy criminal record, a history of escapes, a love of shooting guns, and was one of the worst behaved prisoners in the Virginia Penitentiary – until his incarceration finally broke him and he became a model prisoner.

William H. Oehlert, the son of German immigrants, was born on 21 July 1884 in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, August Oehlert (1851-1914) was a cigar maker and Alexandria’s police commissioner. Oehlert’s first known brush with the law occurred in January 1905, when he was arrested in Alexandria on suspicion of robbery. The case was dismissed but other arrests in Alexandria soon followed:

  • March 1905 – arrested on suspicion of robbing freight cars. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
  • January 1910 – arrested on suspicion of robbery. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
  • September 1911 – arrested for assault and fined $10 for creating a disturbance.
  • August 1912 – arrested for transporting stole goods. Charges dropped.
  • August 1912 – charged with stealing a spark coil from a Southern Railway Company freight car. Acquitted.
  • January 1913 – arrested for assaulting his brother-in-law A.E. Smoot and shooting a pistol in the street. Fined $10 for assault.

In October 1912, … read more »

Electoral College Digital Collection Released


Certificates of Vote and Ascertainment for President and Vice President of the United States, 1948 December 13. Virginia. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers, Box 1293, Folder 3, Accession 24938, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the release of the Electoral College Digital Collection. The Library has a variety of records scattered across several collections (Secretary of the Commonwealth, Office of the Governor, Virginia General Assembly, and State Board of Elections) related to the Virginia Electoral College from 1789 to 2012. The Electoral College Digital Collection brings all of this material together in one place and makes it accessible online.

As we all learned in our high school government class, the President and Vice President are officially elected by the Electoral College. Under this system, established by Article II and the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution, voters in each state on Election Day are actually choosing a candidate’s slate of electors to serve in the Electoral College. Under Chapter 1 of Title 3, United States Code (62 Stat. 672, as amended), the Electoral College meets and votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The 2016 Electoral College will meet on 19 December in the Virginia Capitol to cast Virginia’s 13 electoral votes for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

Some of the highlights of the collection include: the returns for the election of George Washington in 1789 (discovered by archivist Craig Moore when he processed the records of Governor Beverley Randolph); the Journal … read more »

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