Dr. Paul Parker, medical examiner of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, wrapped up a 19 April 1935 coroner’s inquest by ruling that “Dorothy McGaha Reeves came to her death on April 15th, 1935, of general peritonitis and perforated uterus as a direct result of a criminal abortion performed by Dr. N[elson]. F[rederick]. McNorton, of York County (Yorktown), Virginia, on the 9thday of April, 1935. Death occurred at the Dixie Hospital, Hampton, Virginia, on April 15th, 1935, about 12:20, A. M.”
Dr. McNorton was arrested on 15 April but charges were not disclosed. Authorities were led to him based on a deathbed statement given by Reeves, as well as Dr. Parker’s inquest findings. The Danville Bee reported that Reeves purportedly went to Dr. McNorton’s office for the illegal operation on the evening of 9 April in the company of Nellie Frye. Five days later, without ever having returned to work, Reeves was taken to the hospital where she died the following morning. In addition to Dr. McNorton’s arrest, later revealed to be on charges of second-degree murder and performing an illegal operation, Frye was also arrested. She was held as a material witness and also on the charge of being an accessory to the illegal operation.
Dr. McNorton belonged to a noted and influential African American family in Yorktown. His father, … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Elizabeth City County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1747-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website. Traditional wisdom has always held that not many pre-1865 chancery suits managed to survive the burnings of Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, and the great 1865 Richmond evacuation fire that consumed many locality records sent to the capital for safekeeping. While not all of the records that should have existed still survive, it is fortunate that 366 suits from Elizabeth City County dating 1865 and prior were discovered as part of this processing project allowing for a richer portrait of the locality to emerge.
The earliest surviving suit is that of John Hunt and wife vs. William Hunter, 1747-001, and concerns the estate of William Hunter. Hunt’s wife was one of Hunter’s children and as such the couple sued for their portion of her father’s estate, which consisted of four slaves: Moll, Diana, Jemmie, and an unnamed child. The suit, which commenced in 1744, was continued for several years until it was finally sent on to the General Court in Richmond in 1747. The General Court papers burned completely in Richmond in 1865 so the ultimate disposition of this … read more »
This is the last in a series of four blogs related to the “To Be Sold” exhibit which opens on October 27 at the Library of Virginia. Each post will be based on court cases found in LVA’s Local Records collection and involving slave traders. These suits provide insight into the motivation of individuals to get into the slave trading business as well as details on how they carried out their operations. Even more remarkably, these records document stories of enslaved individuals purchased in Virginia and taken hundreds of miles away by sea and by land to be sold in the Deep South. Today’s blog focuses on the experiences of slaves bought and sold by Richard R. Beasley and William H. Wood–experiences conveyed in Lunenburg County Chancery Cause, 1860-026, Christopher Wood, etc. vs. Executor of William H. Wood and Petersburg (Va.) Judgments 1837 May, Hester Jane Carr vs. Richard R. Beasley.
As shared in last week’s blog, Richard R. Beasley and William H. Wood formed a partnership to purchase slaves in Virginia and sell them for a profit in Mississippi and Louisiana. Following the death of Wood in 1845, Beasley was responsible for administering his estate. Wood’s heirs sued Beasley, accusing him of mismanaging the settlement. Both sides in the suit provided the court with a substantial amount of testimony and exhibits which … read more »
This is the second in a series of four blogs related to the “To Be Sold” exhibit which opens on October 27 at the Library of Virginia. Each post will be based on court cases found in LVA’s Local Records collection and involving slave traders. These suits provide insight into the motivation of individuals to get into the slave trading business as well as details on how they carried out their operations. Even more remarkably, these records document stories of enslaved individuals purchased in Virginia and taken hundreds of miles away by sea and by land to be sold in the Deep South. The following is the story of a slave named Elizabeth (also known as Lizzy or Betsey) found in Norfolk County Chancery Cause 1853-008, Thomas Williams vs. William N. Ivy, etc.
As told in last week’s blog post, Thomas Williams and William Ivy formed a partnership to purchase slaves in Virginia, transport them to Louisiana, hire them out to a local timber company for a year, and then sell them for a profit. Elizabeth was one of the slaves purchased by Williams and placed on a ship headed to Louisiana where Ivy was awaiting them. When Ivy received the first shipment of slaves, he was not happy to see the slave girl Elizabeth coming off the ship. He could not understand … read more »
Additional document images from counties or incorporated cities classified as “Lost Records Localities” have been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory. The bulk of the additions are copies of wills, deeds, and estate records of members of the Bell family from Buckingham County; these items were used as exhibits in the Nelson County Chancery Cause 1841-071, William Scruggs and wife, etc., versus Rebecca Branch, etc. The wills of Frederick Cabell, Dougald Ferguson, and William Woods–all recorded in Buckingham County and all exhibits in other Nelson County chancery suits–have been added as well. One document from Buckingham County was found in City of Lynchburg court records. It is an apprenticeship indenture dated 1812, made between Clough T. Amos and Betsy Scott, a free African American. Amos was to instruct Scott’s son Wilson “in the art and mystery of a waterman in navigating [the] James river above the falls at the city of Richmond.”
Documents from other Lost Records Localities used as exhibits in Middlesex County chancery suits have been added as well. They include the will of Edward Waller, recorded in Gloucester County; the wills of Patsy Wiatt and James Christian, recorded in King and Queen County; a deed between Henry Cooke and wife to William Taylor, recorded in King and Queen County; and the will and estate … read more »
A recent episode of BackStory With the American History Guys entitled “On The Take” addressed the topic of corruption in American politics and government. Host Brian Balogh interviewed legal scholar Nicholas Parrillo, who pointed out that, in an effort to prevent such corruption around the turn of the 20th century, government officials’ salaries were often paid through the fees and fines that they levied. Essentially, they were paid on commission. Some coroner’s inquest records from Bedford County recently brought that practice to light.
On 30 May 1890, jurors selected to inquire into the death of James Brown, a resident of Bedford County’s Big Island, were stumped. After reviewing the evidence, half of the jury thought that the deceased came to his death by poison, and the other half thought the cause of death was unknown. They all agreed on one thing –that Brown had shown symptoms of having been poisoned, and they wanted his stomach analyzed.
Apparently, what they wanted was expensive and somewhat complicated. State Assayer and Chemist Dr. William H. Taylor wrote from his laboratory at 606 E. Grace St. in Richmond, Virginia, a letter that described exactly how much it would cost and what he would need. He explained that the fee for the stomach analysis was $200, and that the State would only cover $25 of the cost, … read more »
Dr. Paul J. Parker ruled on 11 June 1935, that “James A. Branch came to his death of gun shot wound while gun was in hands of Lewis Smith at No 4 Curry St Phoebus Va [sic].” However, five months later he modified his ruling when he wrote, “James Branch came to his death by a gun shot wound just below the lobe of the left ear, this occurred at the corner of Curry and County Streets, Phoebus, Va.” Lack of an explanation for this momentous change amplified the intrigue and portended a unique case in the otherwise straightforward files of Dr. Parker.
As the medical examiner for Elizabeth City County, later the City of Hampton, Dr. Parker was tasked with conducting coroner’s inquiries into any sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious deaths, or any death which occurred without medical attendance. These inquiries included conducting depositions to determine how the victim came to his or her death and, if so warranted, forwarding his findings to the Elizabeth City County Circuit Court for grand jury consideration.
In the case of James Branch, Dr. Parker, after deposing eleven witnesses, found that Lewis Smith had held the gun that fired the fatal shot. Included in this group of witnesses was Mr. Smith, whom Dr. Parker advised had been charged with murder. Interestingly Dr. Parker then did what … read more »
Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by two variants of a virus—variola major and variola minor. Since smallpox was certified as eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1979, it has managed to make its way back into the news. Vaccination has become a hot button topic among parents. As a nation, free from epidemics and pandemics, we have become suspicious—sometimes with the perceived risks of vaccination outweighing the advantages. Without a large-scale and successful vaccination program, however, smallpox would still be claiming lives. During the 20th century alone, an estimated 300-500 million people worldwide were victims of this deadly disease.
Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the concerns about using lethal viruses, like smallpox, as weapons of bioterrorism have become all too real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traveled to New Mexico and the College of Santa Fe’s Fogelson Library in 2004 and the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond in 2010 to remove and study smallpox scabs found in their collections. Smallpox scabs could contain the live virus. In these cases, the virus was no longer live but the scraps of DNA found allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of the evolutionary history of the smallpox virus. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, a new policy to make the vaccine available to every American was instituted. As the scientific community … read more »
The varied experience of the African American residents of Montgomery County, Virginia, reveals itself in many documentary sources, but perhaps none as unexpected to some researchers as in the chancery causes. As a preview of the upcoming workshop “Researching Your African American Ancestors: Genealogy to 1870” scheduled to be held at the Christiansburg Public Library on 19 July 2014, here follow five examples from the Montgomery County chancery causes highlighting different facets of African American life over the span of 100 years.
Whether as slaves or free persons of color, African Americans arrived in the western parts of Virginia as soon as the area began to be settled by easterners. The earliest chancery suit with an identified free person is suit 1819-016, Lewis Garner vs. Peter Hance. Peter Hance executed a bond to Garner, “a man of color” for $49.75 in 1813. Garner then lost the note and Hance refused to honor the debt. Garner filed suit against Hance to clarify the circumstances of the debt, the loss of the note, and to collect what he was owed. The suit was dismissed at the request of the plaintiff in 1819.
Slaves appear throughout the chancery suits in many different situations, most commonly in an estate settlement suit when the slaves are divided among heirs or sold to pay debts. Chancery cause 1847-015, Ann Trigg, … read more »
Our valued colleague in the Imaging Services Section, Dwight Sunderlin, passed away on February 8 after a brief illness. He will be laid to rest this spring in his beloved hometown of Winchester, Virginia. During his lifetime, Dwight wore many hats as both a soldier and a civilian. He proudly served his country in the National Guard. Here at the Library of Virginia, Dwight was a methodical, trustworthy coworker who was willing to assist in any type of situation–from changing windshield wiper blades to implementing the operational procedures for a new software program.
Dwight was an avid hunter throughout his life. As a civilian, he always scheduled his annual vacation in November to go deer hunting. The yearly trip had a three-fold purpose. First, hunting allowed him to apply some of the training that he received in the military. Secondly, it allowed him to practice his marksmanship using weapons from his extensive firearms collection. Hunting was a contest between him and the deer; however, the deer usually won. If he was successful, Dwight acted like a little kid and bragged about his prize! He even took a picture of the trophy buck that he’d bagged and displayed it proudly on his desk. Finally, and most importantly, was the bonding time spent between Dwight and his brother, with few interruptions from the outside world.
Like … read more »