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Category Archives: Local Records Blog Posts

- Virginia Untold: Lancaster County Fiduciary Records 1657-1872


Parr, Nathaniel, engraver, [Slave factories, or compounds, maintained by traders from four European nations on the Gulf of Guinea in what is now Nigeria], published 1746. Illus. in: A New and general collection of voyages / Thomas Astley. London, 1746, vol. 3, p. 64. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of the Lancaster County Fiduciary Records, 1657-1872, to Virginia Untold. This collection contains the earliest records added to Virginia Untold, and the largest number of names added from a single locality so far—over 20,000. Fiduciary records primarily consist of estate administrator settlements, estate inventories, dower allotments, estate divisions, estate sales, and guardian accounts that record a detailed list of all personal property owned by individuals, including enslaved people.

These records demonstrate the rapid growth of slavery in Virginia from the “20. and odd Negroes” who arrived in Jamestown in 1619. Two estate inventories recorded in 1670 named a combined total of 60 enslaved people. As the records progress into the 18th and 19th centuries, the number of enslaved people owned by individuals exploded. In some cases, a single person could own hundreds of enslaved people, and their residences were not confined to Lancaster County. For example, the estate inventory of Rawleigh W. Downman recorded in 1781, lists nearly 150 enslaved people who lived on estates he owned in Lancaster, Richmond, Stafford, and Fauquier counties.

Many of these fiduciary records document additional information about enslaved people, beyond a name and assigned monetary value. The authors often included comments about individual enslaved people which, though limited to a couple of words or short phrases, shed … read more »

- Grants Awarded to Circuit Courts for Records Preservation


Circuit Court Records Preservation program logo

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 26 July 2019 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. Five voting members comprise the board: three circuit court clerks, appointed by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the state archivist and a senior local records archivist. Board members meet once a year to evaluate applications. Clerks of the circuit courts are eligible to apply for funds to conserve, secure, and increase access to circuit court records. In all, 90 localities submitted 94 applications requesting a total of $1,441,194.21.

After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved 91 grant projects totaling over $1,200,000. Eighty-nine of the approved applications covered professional conservation treatment for items including deed books, will books, land tax books, marriage licenses, minute books, and plat books, housed in circuit court clerks’ offices, which suffered damage from use, age, pests, water, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining two grants funded records reformatting and a security system.

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

The Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division administers the CCRP. A $1.50 recordation fee on land instruments recorded in the circuit court clerks’ offices funds the program. The CCRP … 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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- Glimpses of History: Henrico County Court Order Books


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As we have often seen in this blog, even the driest local records can lead to the most interesting stories. Such is the case with the Henrico county court order books, which recorded all matters brought before the court when it was in session, providing organized synopses of cases. The Library of Virginia’s research guide for county and city court records notes that the order books contain a wide variety of information, including appointments of county and militia officers, records of legal disputes heard before the county court, appointments of guardians, apprenticeship of children by the overseers of the poor, naturalizations, road orders, and registrations of free African Americans.

Occasionally indexes to the volumes were compiled separately and inserted into the front or back covers of a volume. The indexes are a great resource to peruse, as they often reveal more than just last names and page numbers—they lead to entries that reveal much about the complex lives and times of the people referenced therein. A few examples from the indexes and entries in a few volumes of Henrico County order books created between 1780 and 1801 illustrate this.

Orphans and the poor, regardless of race, were often apprenticed or “bound out,” and sometimes the order book provided information about various trades. In 1790, “George Maxfield a poor orphan” was bound to a shoemaker, “Simon, … read more »

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- The Man Who Killed Richard Whichello: A Henrico County Legend


Dorthea Ann Farrington, Whichello Tavern (Henrico County, Va.), WPA Historic Houses Drawings Collection, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

At the end of the 1962 John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a reporter remarks, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The legend of Richard Whichello’s murder in April 1850 persists today, but it is precisely that, a legend. The persistent tale raises questions about collective memory and how stories color our recollection of the past. Like Ford’s archetypal Western, this tale also includes a horse, but let us begin at the beginning.

Whichello Tavern, also known as “Tall House,” sits on property in Henrico County once owned by the Randolph family of Tuckahoe. The land passed from a Frenchman named Druin down through his daughter and granddaughter (Catherine Woodward and Eliza Ann Woodward Winston, respectively) until  Richard Whichello bought it in 1838.

Whichello, who opted to open a rest stop for travelers heading to and from Richmond, has been characterized in lore as a miserly, abusive card-cheat, which makes him a much less sympathetic murder victim. The oft-repeated legend tells of a cattle drover, flush with cash after selling his herd in the city, who stopped at Whichello’s for rest and refreshment. The ne’er-do-well owner talked the boastful cattleman into a card game and swiftly relieved him of his riches. The cheated drover opted to stay the night to sleep off his bender and lick his wounds. … 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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- Martha Ann Hobson: A Mother’s Day Story


Wells, Jacob, Fortress Monroe, Va. and its vicinity, [New York], Virtue & Co., c1862. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

While processing some City of Richmond court records from the Civil War era, I came across the remarkable narrative of a mother named Martha Hobson. A search of Richmond newspapers on Virginia Chronicle and additional city records revealed more about her experience. It is appropriate to share Martha’s story during Mother’s Day week.

Martha Ann Hobson was born enslaved in the early 1820s. We do not know the name of the person who first enslaved her, but sometime in the 1830s her husband, a free African American man named Richard C. Hobson, purchased her. Around 1840, they had a son named Robert C. Hobson. Richard emancipated his wife and son in a deed recorded on 8 July 1850 in the Hustings Court of the City of Richmond. Soon after her emancipation, Martha registered as a “free black,” and the Hustings Court granted her permission to remain in the commonwealth.

Over the course of the 1850s, Martha’s husband used the income he earned as barber to acquire property in Richmond. According to the 1860 census, Richard Hobson held real estate valued at $3,300, which equals nearly $100,000 in today’s dollars. The Hobsons lived in the Second Ward (east of 22nd Street) of Richmond where their neighbors were lawyers, merchants, underwriters, and the city sheriff, all of whom were white.

Around 1860, anticipating the limited educational opportunities … read more »

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- Virginia Courthouses: Wellsprings of Democracy

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the CCRP Newsletter.

 


Elwood Street, undated.

A long history of collaboration exists between the Library of Virginia and the state’s city and county circuit court clerks on the preservation of their records. In the early 1970s these preservation efforts became more formalized with the establishment of the Library’s Local Records Branch, and even more so in the early 1990s with the creation of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program.

Over the years, several people have conducted surveys of the circuit court clerks’ offices across the state for various reasons. Some are more well-known than others, such as those performed by state archivist Morgan P. Robinson in the 1910s–1920s and by Local Records Branch director Connis Brown in the early 1970s. Less known are informal surveys conducted by Elwood Vickers Street (1890–1978), a Richmond social worker. Street was a competent writer and a regular contributor to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In 1941 and 1942, he wrote a regular column chronicling his courthouse visits, which was published in the paper on Sundays. Entitled “Wellsprings of Democracy in Virginia,” the series covered the historical significance of the localities he surveyed, with an emphasis on the public buildings and, in particular, the courthouses and the status of their records.

Exactly what prompted Street to write these lengthy essays … read more »

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- From Lancaster to Lunenburg: Betty Chapman’s Story in Virginia Untold


Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants, oil painting by Agostino Brunias, Dominica, c. 1764–1796. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1788, the Virginia General Assembly reformed the state judicial courts in order alleviate congestion in the General Court, which had caused unreasonable delays in the adjudication of common law cases such as repayment of debts, slander, land disputes, and fraud. They divided the Commonwealth into eighteen district courts, each composed of several counties, plus the district of Kentucky. The Brunswick County District Court heard cases originating in the counties of Brunswick, Greensville, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg until 1809 when the Superior Court of Law replaced the district courts. The Library of Virginia has scanned district court suits involving enslaved and free African Americans heard in the Brunswick County courthouse and made them available through Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative.

Two suits, William McTyiere [McTyre] William v. John Ussory, Jr, 1798 and Betty Chapman, etc. vs. William McTyre, 1800 found in the Brunswick County District Court records tell the story of Betty Chapman. Both suits papers describe her as a “mulatto” living with her family in Lunenburg County. However, her story really begins in the mid-1750s in Lancaster County. Her mother, Winny Chapman, was a free white woman who lived in the home of Robert McTyre. While living there, Winny gave birth to Betty and a sister named Milly, who was also of mixed-race parentage. Betty and Milly grew up in a community where their neighbors regarded … 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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