• Pages

  • Categories

  • Editors

Category Archives: Local Records Blog Posts

- 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 »

Tags: , , ,
2 Comments
Share |

- 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 »

Also posted in Virginia Untold
Tags: , , , ,
1 Comment
Share |

- 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 »

Also posted in Chancery Court Blog Posts
Tags: , , ,
Leave a comment
Share |

- 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 »

Also posted in Chancery Court Blog Posts
Tags: , , , , ,
Leave a comment
Share |

- Our History as Told by the Pittsylvania County Court Records


Photographic view of the Pittsylvania County courthouse, State Route 57 & U. S. Route 29, Chatham, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

In the past few months, I have examined dozens of boxes of unprocessed Pittsylvania County court records dating back to the 1760s, searching for chancery causes for a future project. Most of the bundles appeared to have remained unopened since the day they were filed away over two centuries ago. Along the way, I discovered various documents that told the individual stories of people from different backgrounds that when brought together produced a integrated historical narrative of Pittsylvania County.

One box contained a bundle of declarations for Revolutionary War pensions filed in the Pittsylvania County Court. Declarations are narratives recorded by Revolutionary War veterans recounting their tours of duty fifty years earlier. One veteran named Lewis Ralph was 100-years-old at the time he filed his declaration in 1820. A native North Carolinian, Ralph enlisted in 1775 for a three-year term. He noted that he served “two years and a half a sargent [sic] under General Washington” and fought at the battles of Monmouth, Germantown, and Brandywine. He was discharged at West Point in 1778 and after the war moved to Pittsylvania County.

In a bundle of court papers dated 1811, I found the naturalization record of Alexander Brown. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Brown immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 in 1799. He initially resided in Petersburg where he worked as a … read more »

- Virginia’s Circuit Court Records Preserved: Eighty-seven Grants Awarded

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 24 July 2018 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 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. 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, 87 localities submitted 89 applications requesting a total of $1,290,790.35.

After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved 87 grant projects totaling nearly $920,000. Eighty-four of the approved applications covered professional conservation treatment for items including deed books, will books, order books, surveyor books, minute books, and plat books, housed in circuit court clerks’ offices, which suffered damage from use, age, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining three 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. The program is funded through a $1.50 recordation fee on land instruments recorded in the circuit court clerks’ offices. The … read more »

- Adultery and Murder: A Bedford County Coroner’s Inquisition

On an August night in 1882, Adam Wilkerson returned to his Bedford County home to an unpleasant surprise. When he pushed the door open, he found his wife, Sally, in bed with Ben Quarles.

The following morning, neighbors Charlotte and William Hicks recounted what happened.   Charlotte said that Sally “called me this morning three times about day.” William heard someone holler and Charlotte said it was Sally. William then saw Adam who “told me he had killed Sally…he had found Ben Quarles in bed with his wife; Sally told Ben to kill him.” William described Adam as “not wearing any clothes but a striped shirt, and [he] had a bloody knife in his hand.” Wilkerson brought his children to the Hicks’s house and asked William to write a letter to his mother and father telling them to retrieve the children. William said, “He told me he was going on to Liberty to give himself up and to come on and go with him out there, but I did not go.”

According to the 3 September 1882 edition of the Daily Dispatch, Wilkerson, incorrectly identified as Abram, was “charged with the murder of his wife …tried in the County of Bedford…and sentenced for eighteen years, the extreme penalty of the law for murder in the second degree.”

The Coroner’s Inquisition, dated 3 August 1882, stated … read more »

Tags: , ,
1 Comment
Share |

- “The Body of an Infant There and Then Laying Dead”: Infanticide in Coroner’s Inquisitions At The Library of Virginia





Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with
Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Kristen Green, an independent author whose previous work was Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, spent the year researching and writing The Devil’s Half-Acre.

A newborn girl smothered just after birth. A baby girl killed after being struck on the forehead and above the mouth with a brick. An infant boy strangled to death.

All three cases of infanticide were the subject of coroner’s inquisitions in Henrico County in the 1830s and 1840s– and in all three cases, the victims were born to enslaved women and therefore were also enslaved. Virginia law stipulated that the slave status of the babies followed that of their mothers.

When juries were assembled to investigate the three suspicious deaths, each one pointed the finger at the enslaved mother of the baby.

Perusing the Library’s digital collection of inquisitions from around the Commonwealth, I was drawn to these stories of dead babies and the enslaved women investigated for murdering them. Coroner’s inquisitions are county investigations into deaths that are violent, unnatural, or suspicious, and juries are assembled to determine how the person was killed and by whom. The inquisitions, which exist from 1789 to 1942 for Henrico … read more »