Category Archives: Chancery Court Blog Posts

- Paint Your Wagon


The Matchless No. 35, Hughes Buggy Company catalog, Frederick County (Va.) Chancery Cause Columbia Wagon Co. vs. John G. Crisman & Co., etc., 1903-058, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

A chancery case from Frederick County looked like any other business dispute except for a unique item presented as an exhibit. Columbia Wagon Company vs. John G. Crisman & Company, etc., 1903-058, involved the bankruptcy of the Crisman Company and the efforts of its creditors to collect on the debts owed them. One of the many parties involved in the case submitted an exhibit of their showroom catalog of wagons and carriages. The Hughes Buggy Company’s catalog reads like a modern day sale brochure by any major auto company selling a Ford Fusion or Honda Civic. The wagons listed in the Hughes Buggy catalog have their own unique names and descriptions for their particular style. “The Physicians’ Phaeton” was a canopy covered carriage with large wheels having “1 inch tread” supporting its carriage described as ideally suited for the traveling doctor making house calls. The catalog offered customized color options with purchase of this new buggy.

Another style called “The Matchless No. 35” implies the manufacturing quality and customer appeal was second to none:

“This wagon is without a doubt the most popular vehicle built in the United States today.  Every single item of material and workmanship is positively the very best that can be procured.  Every known improvement is substituted in this carriage without additional cost.

The price includes Fnenuatic Tires, Wire Wheels,

read more »

- African American Land Ownership and Loss


African American man plowing with a pair of horses in Hampton, Virginia, circa 1899. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

Prior to the abolishment of slavery, the idea of landownership was an impossible dream for most African Americans, but in the years following the Civil War, African American landowners began to appear in Virginia’s chancery records. Unfortunately, these new landowners most often came to court because they were in danger of losing ownership of their property, or they felt they had been cheated out of the true value of their lands. With little support to aid in their pursuit of landownership, many minorities lost their property in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Two such examples were found in the Patrick County chancery causes.

In 1872, Enoch Wilson, an African American, sold a parcel of land to Gabriel Hylton, a white man, at a price that was much lower than it was worth.  Hylton, regarded as a shrewd man and apparently not averse to taking advantage of others, vowed to pay Wilson $1.25 per acre for 217 acres of land.  The transaction even included an offer to allow Wilson to continue to reside on the property until his death.  Unfortunately for Wilson, the agreement was simply verbal and no money or documentation was ever exchanged.

Wilson’s grandson lived with him and was unaware of the verbal agreement with Hylton.  As the assumed heir to the property, he decided to grow and sell … read more »

- “I speak for the trees!”


Plat, 9 September 1741, Lancaster County Chancery Cause William Edmonds, infant vs. Robert Edmund, infant, 1751-001, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Flora of Virginia, the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition, highlights the botanical exploration of Virginia from the colonial days to the present.  Curated in partnership with the Flora of Virginia Project, the exhibition explores the history of botanical description and illustration and celebrates the power of the flower.  It features original artwork and colorful illustrations from the LVA’s collections, as well as books, photographs, and plant specimens. With the exhibit as inspiration, I wondered what flora history could be uncovered in Virginia’s local court records. Plats and surveys, documents frequently included as exhibits in court cases, are excellent resources to discover which trees grew where in Virginia counties. Trees were often used as landmarks in plats or were included by the survey maker as decorative elements to their work. My search revealed a wealth of plat and survey examples from different parts of the state spanning over 250 years of Virginia history.

B. A. Colonna, the deputy county surveyor of Northampton County, drew a unique and detailed plat of Catherine H.G. Kendall’s land.  His 15 January 1869 plat included symbols for the pine, oak, and gum trees growing on her land and a key to identify what each symbol represented.  This plat is part of Northampton County Chancery Cause 1869-015, Samuel E. D. Kellam & wife vs. Juliet J. Kendall, etc.

A 19 … read more »

- King William Co. Chancery Now Online!


Letterhead for the Terminal Hotel, West Point, Virginia. King William County (Va.) Chancery Cause Anderson Bourgeoise, etc. vs. Daniel L. Risley, 1904-026, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for the King William County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1868-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site. Because they rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information and are especially useful when researching local, state, social, or legal history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that are especially helpful in documenting the African American experience, family history, women’s history, and Southern business and labor history. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.

The King William chancery causes contain several suits which illustrate the experiences of Native Americans in the Tidewater region. The Mattaponi Tribe is represented in Chancery Cause 1895-002, George F. Custalow vs. James S. Robinson, Trustee. In the case, two members of the Mattaponi Tribe, Custalow and Austin Key, dispute ownership over a piece of land.  In Chancery Cause Walter Miles vs. Alice Miles, 1907-006, two members of the Pamunkey Tribe, living in Indian Town, head to the King William County court to seek a divorce. Walter Miles claimed that on 15 November 1904 he was called before the chiefs of the tribe to face a charge … read more »

- We Raise Our Glasses to Carl Childs


Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Erica Williams, Local Records Services director Carl Childs, Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney, and Local Records Program Manager Greg Crawford, Montgomery County Courthouse, 22 July 2013.

The editors of Out of the Box would like to give a belated good-bye to Carl Childs, the Library of Virginia’s former Local Records Services director.  Last month, Carl started his new job as Director of Archives and Records for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  When former local records archivist Dale Dulaney first proposed our little blog five years ago, Carl’s support, encouragement, and leadership helped Dale’s idea become a reality.  The result:  the Out of the Box blog may be the most successful outreach tool used by the Library of Virginia.  For the fiscal year ending 30 June 2013, Out of the Box had 435,859 page views, 221,667 visitors, and 369,123 visits.

Out of the Box is one of many innovative projects that Carl has been a part of at the Library.  In a 20-year career at the agency, Carl moved into increasingly responsible positions, from his first job as a front desk attendant, to state records archivist and then local records archivist and, beginning in 2005, Local Records Services director.  Carl brought enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things to every position.  Accordingly, in his tenure overseeing the Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) grants program, Carl helped strengthen the application and oversight process, resulting in a more efficient and beneficial program to care for historic records in Virginia’s circuit courts.  Similarly, … read more »

- Fancy Skating


Advertisement dated 5 May 1885 found in Rockingham County Chancery Cause Christina J. Ergenbright vs. Administrator of Jacob Ammon, etc., 1888-021, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

While processing collections, archivists often come across items that don’t directly relate to the collection at hand but which often provide a window into a different subject altogether.  One good example of this is from an 1888 Rockingham County chancery case.  Amid the various items in the case is an advertisement that reads: “Mr. John Christian, Champion Colored Fancy Skater of Virginia, will give an exhibition at 9:15.” Having never heard of “fancy skating,” I wanted to know more about the sport and who John Christian was. After a little research some questions were answered and others were not.

Roller skating became very popular in the 1880’s, and most towns had their own rinks where the general public could skate.   Industrial advances made this fad possible, allowing for average citizens to own their own skates. At its height, in 1885, it is estimated that $20 million of roller skates and related equipment were sold. Local newspapers seem to back up this trend. The People, a Harrisonburg newspaper, reported on 1 May 1885: “it is hard times, but the skating rink is furnished nightly with $30.00 houses.”  This new craze appeared to be popular with black as well as white citizens. It was also segregated. In the same issue of The People it was reported that “the colored people have a skating rink over Kavanaugh’s … read more »

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- The Women of Smithfield


Portrait of Susanna Smith Preston by Jeremiah Deus at Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Processing of the Montgomery County chancery began in August 2013, and one of the early finds was Chancery Cause 1848-016, Letitia Floyd vs. Executors of Elizabeth Madison, which involved two locally well-known Virginia families, the Prestons and Floyds.  While much of the history of these families revolves around the military, economic, and political exploits of the men, this particular suit reveals great politicking among the females as well. Additionally, this case permits researchers to evaluate changes in women’s economic and social status over several generations.

William Preston, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Virginia in 1737, moved to western Virginia and became a surveyor in Augusta and Botetourt Counties.  He fought in the French and Indian War, became an officer in the colonial militia, and eventually served in the House of Burgesses and as a sheriff and surveyor in Fincastle County. In 1775, he signed the Fincastle Resolutions and helped to recruit soldiers for the militia, ultimately serving as a colonel in the newly-created regiment mustered from Montgomery County.  Preston and his friend and fellow surveyor, John Floyd, (among others) advanced land claims for prominent Virginians by surveying tracts (legally and illegally) in Kentucky.

Numerous local and area histories celebrate adventurers and pioneers but few of these accounts consider the experiences of the women who carved out a home for their families in the … read more »

- From Russia Without Love


PRINZESS IRENE ashore, 1911. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

It has been said that there is a thin line between love and hate, and apparently love and obsession.  Or so appears to be the case in the life of Abram D. Toporosky.  In a Winchester chancery cause we find that Abram was a young man of 21 when he left his native country of Russia to begin a new life in the United States.  He married Rosie Ziman in Lomsk, Russia, before making his way to the harbors of New York.  He planned on finding employment and establishing residency so that he could send for his wife and they could begin their new lives in America.

Abram found work as a tailor in New York and after two years he had saved enough money to send for Rosie. Abram’s work load was steady; however, a few months after Rosie arrived his work began to slow down at the tailor shop. An affable fellow, Abram made friends easily, and the Toporoskys did not want for male company. A friend from Russia, Benjamin Stein, even lived with the couple. Abram had a couple of other male friends from the tailor shop—Harris and Wiegder who came around and were considered “good sports.” In particular, Harris, first name unknown, was willing to help Abram out financially. Stein described Harris as a “kind of a sport, a well dressed, … read more »

- Frederick Co. Chancery Goes Digital


Buggy advertisements found in Frederick County Chancery Cause Columbia Wagon Co. vs. John G. Crisman & Co., etc., 1903-058.

The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the Frederick County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, is pleased to announce that the digitization of Frederick County’s historic chancery causes, 1860-1912, 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 Frederick County chancery collection covers the years 1745 through 1926 (with digital images posted from 1860 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 details 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.

Frederick County Chancery Cause 1867-007, Administrator of Hiram A. Jordan vs. Margaret Swann, etc., tells the story of how prior to the Civil War, Catherine Jordan, a free African-American, purchased her husband, Sylvester, but never technically freed him, and their son who attempted to buy his wife. Chancery cause 1899-058, Board of Supervisors of Frederick County, etc. vs. City of Winchester, etc. chronicles a dispute over whether the city or the county controlled the court house property they read more »

- Kicking Up A Stink In Virginia Beach


Map of Virginia Beach Owned by the Norfolk and Virginia Beach Railroad and Improvement Company, Portsmouth City Chancery Cause 1911-015, A. Johnson Ackiss for etc. vs. E. H. Morrison.

Here at Out of the Box we’re still celebrating Archives Month 2013, and while getting ready for the Library of Virginia’s 30 October event “Homegrown: Celebrating Virginia’s Cultural Heritage in its Archives and Special Collections,” we’ve had many conversations about local food movements and urban farming.  Some issues that came up included land use and neighborhood development—especially when it comes to animals. Some people just don’t want a rooster or goat living next door. Livestock in the city limits is certainly not a strictly modern issue. In fact, we uncovered an early 20th-century Portsmouth City chancery cause in which a horse was causing problems in the summer resort town of Virginia Beach.

The Norfolk and Virginia Beach Railroad and Improvement Company purchased land in Princess Anne County in 1883 to create a “high order summer resort” called Virginia Beach.   The company hoped to attract refined and cultured people to purchase land to build cottages and residences. The original deeds sold by the company included seven covenants that were to be followed for the construction of buildings and use of the property.  One of the covenants forbade the building of public or private stables on the lots.   According to B. P. Holland, a real estate agent, the covenants were made “to have a high order of summer resorts and to do away with … read more »