The naming of the local history and genealogy reading room at Newport News Public Library after Martha Woodroof Hiden is well deserved. Born in Orange County, Virginia, in 1883, Hiden graduated from Randolph-Macon College and went on to graduate school at the University of Chicago and The College of William & Mary. In 1909 she married Philip W. Hiden, who became the first mayor of Newport News, the city where she spent the rest of her life. She ran her husband’s business after his death in 1936, and went on to serve as a member of the board of visitors at William & Mary, an executive at the Virginia Historical Society, and a board member of the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia). An accomplished and scholarly researcher, she authored numerous reviews, articles, and books on Virginia history and genealogy.
With all those accomplishments, however, her work with Virginia city and county court records might be her most important achievement. More than most, she understood the historical significance of the records and their need to be preserved. Among her writing on Virginia history, she published essays on court records, outlining the importance of each of the “classes” or record groups, explaining their use and purpose as few had done before, and laying the groundwork for social historians of the future. In her aptly … read more »
In 1856, the General Assembly decided that free African Americans could petition their county or city court to be enslaved. These individuals had to be at least twenty-one if male or eighteen if female and they could choose their own master. Once the General Assembly accepted the petition, the only difference between someone who was born a slave and someone who was enslaved as an adult was that the children of a woman born while she was free remained free.
Why would anyone wish to be re-enslaved? An 1806 law made it illegal for a former slave emancipated on or after 1 May 1806 to remain in Virginia for more than a year after emancipation. If the individual stayed past that time, period, the government could sell them as a slave. Individuals could petition the General Assembly to remain in Virginia, or their county or city court beginning after 1837. If the government rejected an individual’s petition, the freed person had to leave the state.
On 13 May 1844, Isham Tatum of Madison County wrote his will. Upon his death, three of his slaves—French, Edmond, and Findley—were to receive their freedom. Another slave, Barber, would receive his freedom after the remarriage or death of Isham Tatum’s wife, Frances. He described four slaves as “boys”—Jeptha, William, Thaddeus, and Timothy—who were also to be manumitted upon the … read more »
Last summer, the Westmoreland County Circuit Court Clerk Gwynne Chatham contacted the Library of Virginia concerning old marriage records that staff discovered in her office. After she read the title of one the records, it was clear that she had found the Westmoreland County Cohabitation Register. Ms. Chatham read the title of another group of records which proved to be the Westmoreland County Register of Children of Colored Persons. As former local records archivist Sarah Nerney pointed out in a previous Out of the Box entry about Augusta County cohabitation registers, these “are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the murky past to their enslaved ancestors.” The registers, which in the case of Augusta County dated from 1866, “provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and provide a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover.”
The original Westmoreland County register pages were transferred to the Library of Virginia for conservation and scanning. A comparison of pictures taken before and after conservation reveals the improvements made to the time-damaged documents. Library of Virginia conservator Leslie Courtois dry cleaned the paper surfaces, flattened creases and crumpled edges, then repaired tears and losses with Japanese tissue and de-acidified the document. Both registers are now available digitally with searchable … read more »
UPDATE: The Charles City County Order Book is now available online.
If you live in the Richmond area or are connected to the Library of Virginia through social media, you may have seen the recent announcement of the return of the Charles City County Record Book, 1694-1700. This volume, taken from the Charles City courthouse in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War, was returned by a Pennsylvania family who had cared for it for over three decades. In anticipation of the record book’s return, I had occasion to review other replevined records from Charles City County—a saga with its own century-long history.
First, a bit about replevin. No, it doesn’t mean to plevin again. Officially, it’s a common law action that allows a person or entity to recover wrongly or unlawfully taken personal property. In the archives and records profession, it refers more specifically to the recovery of public records (with or without legal action) by an agency or organization. The Virginia Public Records Act (§ 42.1-89) vests the power to petition a local circuit court for the return of public records held by an unauthorized custodian in the Librarian of Virginia or designee. Public records never cease being public records; so, unless lawfully and properly destroyed, they should remain with the appropriate custodian.
Thankfully, in the case of … read more »
Processing county deeds is usually not the springboard to finding something that is, well, blog-worthy. Deeds are already recorded in county deed books that have been scoured by generations of genealogists, researchers, and historians; it’s unlikely that anything new or odd will come to light. But something new did come to light from those dusty bundles of tri-folded Lunenburg County deeds, and it illuminates a small part of Virginia’s architectural history.
The county court was held in a variety of locations during Lunenburg County’s first twenty years. This practice was common and practical since the county’s boundaries shifted frequently as the General Assembly carved eleven new counties from Lunenburg’s western borders. In 1765, Robert Estes agreed to build a courthouse for the county on his property near what is today Chase City in Mecklenburg County. Its design was based on the courthouse in Dinwiddie County. Joseph Smith, a tavern keeper, took over the property when Estes died in 1775.
The people of Lunenburg County faced an ironic problem in the 1780s; the area surrounding the county courthouse had become a hotbed of lawlessness and disorder. The courthouse grounds apparently became infested “with persons violently suspected of Horse-stealing and sundry other crimes,” not least among them Smith himself, according to a legislative petition signed by more than a hundred residents in 1782.
The petition asked that … read more »
The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 23 May 2016 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. The board is comprised of 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. The board meets twice a year to evaluate proposals. This cycle’s grant applications requested funds for processing, conserving, securing, and increasing access to circuit court records. A total of seventy-nine applications were submitted from seventy localities with requests totaling over one and a half million dollars. After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved seventy-three grant projects totaling nearly $900 thousand. Seventy-two of the approved applications were for funding to perform professional conservation treatment on more than 250 volumes housed in circuit court clerks’ offices that had been damaged by use, age, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining seven grants were for security systems, reformatting projects, and plat cabinet.
The CCRP is a part of the Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division. Funded through $1.50 from the circuit court clerk’s recordation fee, the CCRP provides resources to help preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court records. The program awards … read more »
French’s Tavern, located in Powhatan County, was a prominent 19th century inn and ordinary that served travelers on the Old Buckingham Road, an important thoroughfare linking Richmond with the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley. The tavern, which still stands today, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. An 1843 Powhatan Chancery cause, Meriwether Goodman & wife vs. Lucy S. French, etc., 1843-008, provides more details about French’s Tavern including a plat containing a sketch of the tavern and its location.
According to the National Register nomination, parts of French’s Tavern were built in the early 1730s by Col. Francis Eppes, who patented 2,300 acres in the area in 1730. Thomas Jefferson inherited the land and buildings when he married Eppes’s granddaughter Martha Wayles in 1772. In 1777, the property passed into the hands of Henry Skipwith, who was married to Martha’s half-sister, Ann. Additions and modifications to the building gradually transformed it from an eighteenth century plantation manor house to a nineteenth century tavern.
Hugh French came to Powhatan County from Loudoun County, “friendless and penniless,” according to an 1842 obituary. French worked as an ordinary keeper in a neighborhood store owned by Francis Eppes Harris, a cousin of Martha Jefferson who bought a portion of Skipwith’s property in 1798. In 1807, French bought the property from Harris, … read more »
Pocahontas Island is a peninsula in the Appomattox River incorporated as part of the City of Petersburg in 1784. The small town became home to a large free African American population following the Revolutionary War. The Petersburg chancery causes contain plats showing lots of land in the Town of Pocahontas. The plats show changes to the town during the early 1800s, as the early African American community developed.
A 1993 tornado had a significant impact on the historic fabric of Pocahontas. However, archeology, historical research, and oral history projects continue to uncover information about this unique community. Plats and documents from the Petersburg chancery causes contribute to that documentation.
Other plats and maps can be found in the Chancery Records Index for Petersburg showing other parts of city, as well as plats for land in Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, and Prince George Counties.
–Louise Jones, Local Records Archivist… read more »
Some things in life never change. Seasons, hunger, sleep, and calamity are constants which prove that the world repeats itself. Relationships are no different. For centuries, married couples have promised to remain faithful while one or both secretly desire the affections of another. In the 19th century, the marriage of Mary and William Cox served as an example of infidelity not unlike a modern-day soap opera.
An 1873 bill to the court indicates that the marriage of Mary and William Cox was in distress because of an adulterous lifestyle. Despite three years of marital bliss, Mary accused William of being unfaithful with several women because he no longer wanted to provide for his family. Mary’s accusation also implied that William molested her and the children, abandoned them, and later forced her to rent a place to stay. To satisfy her expenses, Mary works for the landlord before deciding to ask the courts to require William to answer for his actions.
Two court depositions are documented. The first, from George W. Clark, responded to the question of whether he was aware of William Cox’s unfaithfulness. Clark confirmed that he had known the couple since their marriage and that, as a practicing physician, he had discovered that Mary Cox contracted gonorrhea from her husband. Clark even testified that he actually heard William say that he had … read more »
Military bounty land warrants, given by individual states or the Federal Government to reward military service or encourage enlistment, have long been a useful resource for the genealogist, providing proof of service and establishing a person’s whereabouts during a particular time. The Library of Virginia’s chancery causes offer a little known but excellent avenue of exploration on this topic. By providing additional context, the chancery suits concerning bounty land create a broader understanding of the subject. Causes fall into three categories: contract disputes, estate disputes, and debt.
The interested parties were prominently mentioned in any disagreements where the land rights of the claimant were assigned, or sold. Heirs of the claimant were principal figures in chancery actions when the original claimant died and his heirs filed suit in Virginia for a fair distribution of the claimant’s real property. Much like causes involving debt, these suits resulted in the sale of the disputed property. Examples of both federal and state lands are noted—stretching well beyond the years of the original warrants—in Augusta, Fluvanna, Greensville, Halifax, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Prince Edward counties. Warrants include lands granted during the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. In order to acquire the land, the federal warrant had to be surrendered for a patent—usually at a federal land office. With the establishment of a state … read more »
Also posted in Chancery Court Blog Posts
Tags: Augusta County, bounty land, Bounty warrant, Fluvanna County, Greensville County, Halifax County, Middlesex County, Norfolk County, Prince Edward County, Revolutionary War, War of 1812