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Category Archives: Chancery Court Blog Posts

- Money Money Money: Running Up Student Debts in Brunswick County

The start of August brings with it the excitement and anticipation of numerous young men and women as they prepare for their first year in college, moving away from home to a new part of the commonwealth, or to a new state altogether. It also brings many parents the not-so-pleasant anticipation of a variety of associated expenses, and the fear of unwanted debt. An 1832 Brunswick County chancery cause is a sobering reminder of how important it is for students to understand and follow a good budget, and to live within their means.

In 1826 Edwin Drummond was a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He appears to have been what we would now call an out-of-state student, hailing from Morgan County, Georgia.  However, it seems he had family and friends in Brunswick County, Virginia, and owned a tract of land there. Documents in the chancery cause do not reveal whether he was a “first year” or an upper-classman, yet they do reveal that he was boarding locally and not living “on grounds.” Like your average college student today, Edwin wanted to dress stylishly. He frequented local tailors, boot and shoemakers, and general merchandise stores.

 

Unfortunately, Edwin ran up debts with two Charlottesville tailors. He owed Henry Price $26.37 for his services between January 1826 and January 1827. A detailed account … read more »

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- Out of Character: A Middlesex County Divorce Suit


Detail. Strohmeyer & Wyman. The Pastoral Visit. , ca. 1897. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/95515258/.

Inviting a man of the cloth to live in your home seems like it should be a good idea. You might expect a resident clergyman to bless a home with prayers and bring a heightened sense of peace to all who dwell there. Unfortunately, a man in Middlesex County discovered just the opposite when he and his family welcomed a pastor into their home. Instead of dispensing godly wisdom, the pastor set his eyes on the lady of the house, and she was happy to oblige.

In 1893, Thomas and Fannie Harris opened their home to their pastor, William E. Thompson. Pastor Thompson lived peaceably as a guest for nearly 10 months until Thomas began to notice his wife acting out of character. Fannie was extremely generous to the pastor, providing him with meals, gifts, and other favors above and beyond expected courtesy. According to Thomas, Fannie also appeared to have a strong desire to please the pastor rather than her husband. The impropriety of the relationship grew to the point that Harris forcibly evicted the pastor from the home. However, this was only the beginning.

In the spring of 1894, the pastor purchased land near the Harris estate. While the purchase did not immediately alarm Harris, he again noticed a drastic change in his wife’s behavior. Fannie made significant efforts to carry fruit and refreshments to … read more »

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- The Kindness of Strangers: A Story from the Montgomery County Chancery Causes


Postcard of Northfork, WV, coal camp just north of Switchback, WV. Courtesy of Pintrest.com.

The bedrock of the Library of Virginia’s chancery causes collection is the personal story. While most causes share similar documents, topics, and resolutions, each story told is unique. While processing 3,510 Montgomery County chancery causes during a two-year National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant-funded project, former Library of Virginia Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney and her staff of two, Regan Shelton and Scott Gardner, managed to record numerous noteworthy causes, known in local records jargon as suits of interest. One such suit of interest is  Agnes Schaub by, etc. v. Floyd Schaub, 1912-042.

On 15 December 1908, Agnes L. Harrison and Floyd Schaub married in Bristol, Tennessee. As Agnes later recounted, she “was a mere child when she ran away and married… just about 30 days before her sixteenth birthday.” As their marriage license indicates, Agnes was born in Carroll County, Virginia, while Floyd was born in neighboring Pulaski County. For a short time, they live together with “his people” in Carroll County and in Bluefield, West Virginia. Eventually, the couple settled “half-time in Pocahontas, Virginia and half-time in Switchback, West Virginia.”

Agnes acknowledged that Floyd began to mistreat her almost as soon as they were married, and that “on the slightest provocation or without provocation, he would curse and abuse her and threaten to beat her.” She described Floyd … read more »

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- Big Top or Crops?


Staunton Spectator, 16 September 1873, Virginia Newspaper Project, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Traveling circuses, with their daring performers and ferocious animals, drew considerable crowds in the 19th century. The incredible feats of courage exhilarated the minds of visitors and broke the monotony of everyday life. Not everyone, however, celebrated circus excitement. In fact, as proven in an 1850s Smyth County court case, a circus could intrude upon the rights of others and even threaten to degrade their livelihood.

In 1859, a man by the name of W. D. Strother was troubled because of a “circus intrusion.” Strother owned approximately 15 acres of land in rural Smyth County, Virginia. He sold ten of those acres sold to Hubbard and Clark; the remaining five acres were later sold to Jones and Gilmore, who used their portion to grow and sell crops and shared proceeds with Strother. On the surface, the arrangement seemed harmless and Strother did not have an issue with the transactions. A road through the estate made the parcels easily distinguishable. The ten-acre lot was on one side of the road, with Strother’s residual five acres on the other. Everything seemed perfect, until the circus came to town.

Hubbard and Clark decided to rent their land to a traveling circus. The Robinson and Lake Circus was a popular antebellum troop known to travel across the country. They built temporary shelters to house the events and performers during their stay, which varied from city to city. It is fair … read more »

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- “We Were Residents of Loudoun County”

Editors’ Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 Loudoun County Office of the Circuit Court Clerk Historic Records Newsletter, “Little Gems.” We are grateful to Gary M. Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, for permission to publish this post. Individual names of enslaved people from this indexing project have been added to the Chancery Records Index for Loudoun County.

 


Map of Loudoun County,  ca. 1854, Philadelphia : Thomas Reynolds & Robert Pearsall Smith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the June 2018 newsletter I wrote about a project I was tasked with to compile a spreadsheet that listed the names and cases involving enslaved people in Loudoun County’s early chancery records. It took the whole of 2018 to complete the index, comprised of 3,990 lines in an Excel spreadsheet. Those 3,990 entries represent 3,990 names of enslaved people who were included in chancery cases from the years 1757 through 1866.

In this project, I reviewed 3,028 chancery cases, 550 of which involved a dispute over enslaved individuals. I documented names and case details in relation to each enslaved person. Chancery cases for this time period encompassed disputes over things such as land, crops, houses, estates of deceased individuals, tobacco, and just about anything of monetary value. It was interesting to notice trends in the number of cases in certain years.

From 1831-1835 there were 101 cases out of a total 487 cases filed that involved enslaved people. In those … read more »

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- The Cost of Freedom: A Campbell County Story


 Illus. in: The Child's Anti-Slavery Book..., New York, [1860], frontispiece. Library of Congress.

The Campbell County court ordered the sale of Louisa Alexander and her daughter, Eliza, because as enslaved persons, Virginia law considered them part of Louisa’s deceased husband’s estate. After William Alexander, Sr., a free person of color, died, John P. White sought payment of a debt that he claimed Mr. Alexander owed him. The Campbell County chancery cause Louisa Alexander & etc. vs.  John P. White, 1852-017, lays out the Alexanders’ tale.

Louisa told a different version of her life story. She called White’s claim of a debt owed by her husband fraudulent. She said that for many years she and Eliza had also been free persons of color. Louisa claimed that she and William had moved to Maryland, lived there for a while, and then moved back to Wythe County, Virginia, before his death. Louisa and Eliza then moved to Campbell County. The Campbell County sheriff, on White’s word, had already advertised their sale to the highest bidder at auction. Establishing their freedom became an urgent matter.

An injunction was filed on her behalf to halt the sale until the suit could be settled. Louisa further claimed that she had never been her husband’s property, but had been sold to William Alexander, Jr. Young William then carried her and her daughter into the state of Maryland and sold them to James Selden, contrary … read more »

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- What a Difference a Day Makes: Serendipity in the Reading Room


1834 woodcut depicting the kidnapping of a freeman, Library of Congress.

The Library of Virginia employs both reference archivists and processing archivists. Reference archivists work exclusively with the public—the Library’s front line. Processing archivists work behind-the-scenes to arrange, conserve, and describe the collections—whether private papers, state records, or local government materials. Large-scale gatherings such as conferences afford the Library’s archivists an opportunity to work together, as it is all hands on deck for major events.  In October 2015, the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society (AAHGS) held its 36th annual national conference in Richmond.  The Library of Virginia hosted AAHGS members for several formal and informal events during the conference.

While volunteering with the reference staff during the conference, I had a chance meeting with one of the Library’s long-time patrons, James Bundick.  Mr. Bundick resides in Philadelphia but is researching his family in Accomack County, Virginia.  He traveled for years to the Accomack County courthouse for his research, but now he and his wife are happily ensconced at the Library. While making copies of chancery related documents for his research, I introduced myself. I then proceeded to tell him about a story that I had discovered a few weeks earlier while processing Accomack County chancery causes. Given the coincidence of the same last name, I felt that there was a relationship between him and the individual in the story.

There is a debt suit, Jacob Warner read more »

- A Greensville County Fixer Upper


Fowler, T. M. Birds eye view of Emporia, Virginia. Morrisville, Pa, 1907. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/75696640/.

Greensville County Chancery Cause Pierce R. Farley VS Benjamin D. Tiller, etc., 1886–007 tells the tale of a business deal gone sour. With echoes of the comedy film The Money Pit, which would follow a century later, this attempt at live-in renovations goes predictably badly.

The Cato House was a hotel located in Hicksford, Virginia, on the corner of Brunswick and Halifax Streets. It was an old building, even in 1882. The hotel contained eight rooms and was in bad condition. Stables and a lot of land extending along Brunswick Street, from Halifax Street to the Petersburg Railroad line, went along with the hotel property.

Benjamin D. Tiller, president of the Upshur Guano Company of Norfolk, owned the hotel and hoped to find a renter for it. After lengthy negotiations by letter and in person, Pierce R. Farley agreed to rent the hotel after Tiller showed him plans for the enlargement of the building, which would add twenty-four rooms and a second story. At the contract signing in January 1882, Mr. Tiller promised that he would complete the addition by 1 June 1883. Tiller also promised that the roof would remain on the existing building until the addition was completed.

In February 1882, after Farley moved into the Cato House with his wife and six children, six carpenters began framing the addition. Three bricklayers … read more »

- Early 20th Century Entertainment Comes to Virginia in a Most Unusual Way


Boer War Spectacle program, ca. 1904. Courtesy of https://www.bidsquare.com/online-auctions/potter-potter/the-great-boer-war-spectacle-926042

In the spring of 1905, a half-mile from the Norfolk city limits, the Boer War Spectacle (also called the Transvaal Spectacle or Anglo-Boer War Historical Libretto) was set to commence. First, however, there was the matter of some local government fees. Norfolk County chancery cause, 1907-055, Boer War Spectacle] v. S.W. Lyons, etc, details the ensuing conflict.

Chartered as a corporation in Missouri, the historical reenactment troupe was under the direction of Frank E. Fillis, a famous South African organizer and showman. Fillis sold this ambitious exhibition as “the greatest and most realistic military spectacle known in the history of the world.”

The idea was born near the Boer War’s end. While sitting around camp discussing news of the upcoming world’s fair, Major Charles Joseph Ross originally came up with the idea for the spectacle. A Canadian scout serving with the British, Ross hoped to capitalize on the fair’s expected popularity. As general manager, he hired artillery captain Arthur Waldo Lewis, who assembled British and Boer veterans to restage the pivotal battles of Colenso and Paardeberg. An advertisement appeared in Johannesburg’s Rand Daily Mail on 1 March 1904, entitled “Boer War Exhibition A chance for the unemployed!” Over 600 veterans, including a contingent of native black South Africans from various ethnic groups, in particular the Tswana, and a pair of notable generals … read more »

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- A Will without a Way: An Amherst County Freedom Suit


Title: Personal recolletions of the war, Illus. in: Harper's Weekly, v. 33 (1866). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Sometimes a will is not worth the paper it’s written on. Too often, people go through the trouble of creating a formal last will and testament only to have their desires ignored. The chances for dispute or contestation are even greater when there is opportunity for financial gain, as was the case of a 19th century man who wanted a better life for his slaves.

Samuel Gist listed in his will specific instructions for how his enslaved people should be treated after his demise. The will filed in the City of Richmond noted that Gist’s land would be sold and the enslaved people emancipated and taken to Ohio. In all, between 80 and 100 enslaved men and women gained freedom in 1819 and relocated with the assistance of William Hickman as dictated in the Gist will.  The men and women affected must have been overjoyed as Gist’s will created a way to escape from bondage. Yet all did not share the enjoyment.

At the time the move to Ohio, an enslaved women named Sarah was away from the Gist estate, living with her husband’s owner, George P. Luck. Luck had sold Sarah’s husband, leaving her with eight children between the ages of 18 months and 19 years, and a ninth baby on the way. To make matters worse, Luck was in debt, and unbeknownst to … read more »

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