About: Vince

Vince joined the Library of Virginia in 1999. After serving in the archives research and private papers departments, he moved to the Local Records Services branch and his present position as a Senior Local Records Archivist. Vince has a Master's degree in Archives, Museum and Historical Editing Studies from Duquesne University.

Author Archives Vince

“Horrors of a Nature Most Stern and Most Appalling”: Exploring LVA’s Sci-Fi Collection


Yan Dargent's illustration about The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall for Jules Verne's

The Library of Virginia’s most celebrated holdings include a seemingly innumerable quantity of family histories, government records, genealogical information, priceless historical documents, scores of scholarly monographs, and the like. We also have novels about flying saucers and lasers.

Even some of Virginia’s most august and beloved writers tried their hand at science fiction. Edgar Allan Poe, for instance, penned a short story about a man, Hans Pfaall, who ascended to the moon—in a hot air balloon, no less. While Poe’s tale of helium-fueled space travel doesn’t quite rank among his most well-known stories, it does illustrate why the Library of Virginia has been diligently filling our stacks with genre fiction over the years. Improbable content aside, Poe wrote the piece as a hoax in a realistic style and followed this story up with another balloon hoax published in a New York newspaper. Poe’s hoaxes and other science fiction reveal some of the hopes and anxieties surrounding technology and politics, making them useful cultural artifacts.

In the century and a half since Poe first inspired wonder in readers, Virginians have continued to use speculative fiction to comment on society. William Gibson—a well-known Virginian who is not always well-known as a Virginian—became a pioneer of the cyberpunk subgenre, predicting the rise and dominance of the Internet with novels like Neuromancer while presenting a grim picture of a society … read more »

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Virginia Untold: The Cullins family of Powhatan County


Original courtesy of Library of Congress.

Two years ago, the Library of Virginia launched Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, a digital collection aimed at helping researchers break through the “roadblock” that has long impeded African American genealogical and historical research. Virginia Untold, along with other digital collections already available at the Library of Virginia such as the Chancery Records Index Virginia Chronicleand the Legislative Petitions Digital Collection, have brought to light the pre-Civil War experiences of African Americans once hidden in bundles of administrative, estate, property, and court records stored in courthouses, state agencies, attics, basements, and libraries. One example is the narrative of an African American family who resided in Powhatan County in the mid-19th century.

In 1833, John Cullins’s last will and testament was recorded in Powhatan County court. One of the terms listed in the will was the emancipation of a family of enslaved people: a mother, Nancy, and her five daughters, Jane, Sally, Ann, Judith, and America. However, their emancipation was not immediate. Cullins’s will stipulated that the family would remain enslaved until the deaths of John’s two daughters, Polly and Henley. Following their deaths a decade later, Nancy and her daughters finally gained their long awaited freed … except for Jane, who died before receiving her emancipation.

Once emancipated, Nancy and her daughters acquired the surname of their … read more »

Collateral Damage: An Elizabeth City County Debt Case

Debt collateral usually consists of something prized by both parties. As a temporary form of payment, something of value is offered to hold or use as a lien until the debt is paid. In the mid-1800s, lenders considered enslaved persons to be prime collateral because their ownership represented wealth.  In many cases, however, lenders exploited these debt arrangements to the detriment of the borrower. Enslaved persons used as collateral were often abused or simply sought for their monetary value. Such was the case with Thomas Phillips, a slave owner pressured to leave his enslaved people behind as a surety for unsettled obligations to a creditor named N. C. Giddings.

By all indications, Phillips was a financially upright man who seemed to take full responsibility for his debt. Phillips voluntarily submitted a trust deed in Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in 1859 to use two enslaved people as collateral. Although the debt value is not given, one might reasonably assume that the amount was substantial given Phillips’s willingness to place his valuable human property in jeopardy. To make matters worse, heightened tension between the country’s northern and southern sections increased the likelihood that authorities could seize these enslaved people, leaving Phillips with little hope of their return.

Upon executing the deed, Phillips attempted to relocate to Richmond, but N. C. Giddings balked at … read more »

Tin Can Tell-All: Revealing Virginia’s Role in the Canning Trade


Goode Canning Company, Bedford County, VA, circa 1900-1915. “Virginia’s Forgotten Canneries” exhibition.

Canned foods have become an everyday part of our lives. Most people have at least a few cans in their kitchen pantry, but far fewer know the critical role Virginia played in the commercial canning industry in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. For the past few months, the Library of Virginia’s Second Floor Reading Rooms have played host to the traveling exhibit Virginia’s Forgotten Canneries. Created by the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum, located in Ferrum, Virginia, this installation looks at the visual and material impact of the Virginia canning trade.

Following the Civil War, American cities grew increasingly urbanized and industrialized, with many families moving away from the self-sufficient agricultural traditions seen in centuries past. Because of this, “convenience cooking” and the demand for canned commodities rose rapidly, and canning developed into a successful national industry. Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia led the canning trade, with nearly half of the nation’s canneries operating within their bounds. In Virginia, canneries began to pop up wherever there was steamboat or railway access to transport their finished products. This created two major canning regions in Virginia—the coastal area around Northern Neck and the Eastern Shore and the mountainous Blue Ridge region, centering on Bedford and Botetourt counties.

Tomatoes became the major canning “vegetable” for Virginia packers, with hundreds of canneries focused on … read more »

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“Persecuted By His Race”: The Norfolk County Chancery Causes, 1718-1913


Mikro Kodesh synagogue, Berkley, built 1922. Now home to the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Coutesy of Wikicommons.

The information contained in the Norfolk County Chancery Cause 1893-022, Berkley Hebrew Cemetery Association v. Abraham Liebman, et. al., makes for a highly charged and drama-filled story. More importantly, however, the cause provides insight into a diverse community beginning a more organized transition within a region. Jewish immigrants began settling in the Tidewater area in the late 18th century– according to Irwin M. Berent, author of Norfolk, Virginia: A Jewish History of the 20th century. The home of the first Jewish resident of Tidewater is found in Portsmouth, which was established in 1752, incorporated as a town in 1836 and then as a city in 1858. Jacob Abrahams came first to Maryland as a convict from London. He was part of the Ashkenazic faith (a follower of the German/Eastern European ritual of Judaism). Thousands of Jewish families came to London from Germany, Lithuania, and Poland.

The first permanent Jewish resident of Norfolk, Moses Myers, settled in the Berkley section in 1787 and began an immensely successful import-export business. Soon after, the Jewish community in Berkley became known for two significant developments:  the site of the first cemetery for Norfolk-area Jews and the beginning of the “most close-knit Orthodox Russian-Jewish community in all of Tidewater.” Berkeley (sometimes spelled Berkley) is one of the oldest communities in Virginia. It was the county … read more »

A Morbid Memento: The Trial of Kit Leftwich


Detail from Aero view of Bristol, Va.-Tenn. 1912. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

In September 1895, Kit Leftwich (also known as Kit Leftridge) was indicted for the rape of Annie Fogarty, the 12-year-old daughter of his supervisor. The jury found the former slave not guilty of the charged rape, decreasing the indictment to attempted rape. Even so, the punishment was set at death by hanging. Kit Leftwich has the distinction of being the first person legally hanged in Bristol, Virginia, since its founding.

Lynching, a common form of ‘people’s justice’ at the time, had led to several public hangings. The case of Kit Leftwich was different because it ensured the public could not execute vigilante justice in place of law and order. When it became clear that the population of Bristol was too biased, a motion was passed for the jury summons to be sent to neighboring Washington County. The assumption was that the people farther from the case would be less aware of it. Even so, one of the jurors selected shared the surname of the presiding judge, so the impartiality may have been less than initially intended. Judge William F. Rhea had retired from the Virginia Senate in 1888, and would later serve in the United States House of Representative from 1899-1903.

With jurors selected and the charges set, the trial began on 10 September 1895. By the end of the next day, the evidence had … read more »

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The Murder of John R. Moffett: Race, Politics, and Local Control


J. R. Moffett portrait, Thompson, S. H., The Life of John R. Moffett. Salem, Virginia: Mrs. Pearl Bruce Moffett, 1895.

On the evening of 11 November 1892, attorney and Democratic Party operative John T. Clark shot and fatally wounded Reverend John R. Moffett on the streets of Danville. Moffett, minister of North Danville’s Missionary Baptist Church, had feuded with Clark previously. Religious people and churchmen claimed that he was targeted for loudly proclaiming his intense anti-liquor views. In their minds, Moffett was “the first martyr to the Temperance cause,” a heroic figure battling the bottle and its terrible social consequences. In reality, as historian Richard F. Hamm has persuasively argued, Moffett’s murder reflected deep divisions in Danville—and Virginia—of race, politics, and issues of local control. As a closing chapter of our blog posts related to the exhibition “Teetotalers and Moonshiners,” we will take a look at Library sources related to the events leading to the murder and the trial and its aftermath to tease out these themes.

Rev. Moffett published a newspaper dedicated to the Prohibitionist cause. The Tennessee State Library and Archives recently donated a rare issue of Anti-Liquor to the Library. The masthead proclaimed that “Anti-Liquor is a temperance and prohibition monthly, issued for the sole purpose of educating the people upon the evils of the drink habit, and especially to turn light upon the question of Legal Prohibition.” Moffett’s powerful words, delivered in speeches and in the pages of Anti-Liquor and the … read more »

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Ghosts in the Archives: Communing with the Virginia Historical Inventory


Photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, 1936. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In recent years, tourists and locals alike have flocked to Virginia’s many old downtown areas to attend ghost tours. These events have quickly become popular ways to learn about the ways that the past lingers in the present day, but the relationship between Virginia’s history and its ghosts is much older than the tours. The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) records held at The Library of Virginia illustrate that historical ghost-lore is not a new trend; Virginians in the 1930s and 1940s saw hauntings as appropriate and desirable elements of historical properties as well.

The VHI was part of the Federal Writers Project (FWP), a leg of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The FWP program hired authors to write, and researchers to find and document, iconic American stories and locations. In Virginia, researchers spanned out across the commonwealth documenting the location, status, and history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings. This brought them to familiar cities like Williamsburg and Alexandria, and to smaller, more rural places that were best described by the nearest highway. They collected the information they needed from archives, newspapers, and interviews with homeowners and neighbors. Written sources gave them the names of previous owners, construction dates, and famous events. The oral interviews filled in the stories not present in the archives. In many cases, when the researchers spoke with locals they used ghost … read more »

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Not If You Were The Last Man On Earth!: Virginia’s Board of Censors


Movie poser, The Last Man On Earth. Source: imdb.com/

The Virginia Board of Censors (1922–1966), later the Division of Motion Picture Censorship, was tasked with identifying obscene, indecent, and immoral scenes in motion pictures. The purpose of the body was to regulate motion pictures and provide a system of examination, approval, and regulation of banners, posters, and other advertising material related to films. The board also leveled penalties for violation of its requirements. The law establishing the board made it essentially illegal to sell or exhibit any commercial film that had not been officially approved and licensed by the board.

In 1924, a silent film, The Last Man on Earth presented challenges for the Board of Censors in several areas. The movie takes place in the future; a young man believes he has met the love of his life only to be rejected by the young lady.  He is so devastated by her rejection that he moves to the mountains, determined to live his life as a hermit. While he is away from civilization a devastating worldwide plague kills every fertile man on Earth over the age of 14.  The plague called “masculitis” results in an overpopulation of women. The disease manages to become a de facto women’s rights movement. In the United States, positions in Congress, the courts, and the presidency are all held by females.

A female aviator on a flight across the … read more »

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CCRP Grants Review Board Awards Funding


CCRP logo

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 24 August 2017 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. Six members– four circuit court clerks, appointed annually by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the State Archivist and the Deputy of Collections and Programs–comprise the board. Members meet once a year to evaluate proposals. Clerks of the Circuit Courts apply for funds to conserve, secure, and increase access to circuit court records. A total of eighty applications were submitted from seventy-nine localities with requests totaling $1,090,554.15. After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved seventy-nine grant projects totaling nearly $850,000 (CCRP Grant Awards FY2018). Seventy-seven of the approved applications covered professional conservation treatment for items including deed books, will books, order books, surveyor books, minute books, and plat books housed in circuit court clerks’ offices which had been damaged by use, age, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining two grants were for storage projects.

The following are a few of the items that received grant funding:

The CCRP is administrated as part of the Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division. Funded through $1.50 from the circuit court clerk’s land instrument recordation fee, the CCRP provides resources … read more »

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