Category Archives: Local Records Blog Posts

- A Monument of Debt


Washington Monument, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, 2010. (Image used courtesy of George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

The Washington Monument is finally reopening on 12 May 2014 after undergoing restoration for damage caused by an earthquake in August 2011. I was curious what the Library of Virginia had in its collections relating to the monument and discovered an interesting footnote to the history surrounding its construction. The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization formed in 1833 to fund and build the monument, solicited donations and designs for more than a decade before construction finally began in 1848. In 1854, the Society went bankrupt, leaving a partial structure that stood unfinished until Congress assumed the duties of funding and construction on 5 July 1876. Arlington County Judgment Samuel Harrison Smith vs. Thomas K. Beale, dated October 1838, sheds some light on why the Society found itself bankrupt.

The judgment concerns the work of James M. McRea, an agent for the Society sent to Alabama to solicit donations “for the erection of a great national monument to the memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government.” Included in the case are three letters sent by McRea during his travels in Alabama. In the first, dated 2 April 1836 and sent from the then state capitol, Tuscaloosa, we discover that McRea did not travel alone but took along his family, causing a delay in his journey when his children were “attacked … read more »

- Jackass: The Blog Post


Broadside advertising Don Alphonso, Lunenburg County (Va.) Clerks' and Miscellaneous Records, 1802-1925, (Barcode 1046170) Local Government Records, Library of Virginia.

When the first Saturday in May rolls around and the attention of the horse world gets fixated on Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, I like to remind our Out of the Box readers that Virginia is full of horse history, too. Broadsides advertising horses for sale or available breeding seasons are a frequent find in local court records. A recent fun discovery was a broadside advertising the stud season of Don Alphonso, a “Thorough-Bred Jack-Ass.”

Don Alphonso was not a cross between a Thoroughbred and a jackass but rather a well-bred jackass, as the term “Thorough-Bred” is used here to denote purebred. Described by his owner, Richard Bland, as being of “high perfection” and possessed of “as much vigor as any Jack I ever faw [sic]; and that I believe him to be as fure [sic] a foal getter as any on the continent.” Don Alphonso stood for six dollars for the season lasting 10 March to 10 August 1802.

A stud book for Don Alphono’s 1802 season was included along with the broadside, but when opened it did not reveal Don’s breeding transactions for that season. Instead, listed inside were the “Amount of Articles purchased for D. S. McCormick’s Negroes.” The list was an account of items such as fabric, shoes, and clothing purchased for McCormick’s slaves for the years 1847-1849. Two female … read more »

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- Magic Lantern After-Show Turns Deadly


Phantasmagoria by James Gillray, 1803. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

Sometimes what starts out in fun can turn into a deadly accident.  That’s exactly what happened on 5 September 1894, in Bedford County, Virginia, when John Robinson decided it would be amusing to play a prank on some friends.

The friends had attended a magic lantern show held at the “Negro church” in Montvale, Virginia, and it was after the show that John Robinson devised his idea for a prank. Bud Anderson was there that night and told about the events that led up to the incident. “The show closed at 10:15 P.M. I stayed a few minutes afterwards and went with Bob Rosebrugh and met [Robinson] on the railroad crossing.” Robinson had “proposed a plan to scare Hunter Clark and John Minter, who had gone home with the Flood girls.” He shared his plan with Anderson and Rosebrugh, who told him, “I’m afraid Hunter Clark will shoot.” Not to be deterred, Robinson left for “some minutes” and returned with a rope and white garment.  Robinson took the rope and garment and crossed the creek “by the Bluff Road.” Some 20 minutes later, Anderson and Rosebrugh heard four pistol shots.

Hunter Clark was able to fill in the details about the prank that went horribly awry: “Just before we got to the creek at Rice’s Mill, I ran against a white garment tied to a … read more »

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- Henry Co. Cohabitation Register and African-American Naming Practices


This visual representation of the names of the mothers found in the Henry Cohabitation Register illustrate the frequency of use by the size of the name.(Word images created using wordle.net)

The Library of Virginia has completed the digitization and transcription of the last of the cohabitation registers in its possession, the Henry County Cohabitation Register, 1866. Others have already been transcribed and are available in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory. For African-American genealogical researchers, the names contained herein provide priceless clues to retracing their ancestors. Cohabitation registers imparted legal legitimacy to African-American marriages and children. This was also the first time many of these individuals would appear in public record under their own names.

Naming under the practice of slavery was fraught with power dynamics. The enslavers often gave names to the enslaved. The amount of input the family of the child would have in his or her name varied, but journals of slave-holders indicate they specifically assigned names to slave children on a regular basis.[1] Newly enslaved Africans were often issued a new name by their captors, causing their identities to become yet another site of colonization. Naming was a powerful tool for enforcing cultural assimilation and denigrating African cultural identity.[2]

When viewed simply as data, the set of names used for slaves seems to have been larger and more varied than the set of names used for free people. Slave names tended to fit within five categories: diminutive versions of English names (Jim, Bess), place names … read more »

- Early Warwick Co. Records Added to Lost Records Digital Collection


Picture frame once containing a writ taken from the Warwick County courthouse by Union soldier George H. Sterling. The writ is believed to have been Simson vs. Hubbard, 1725. Inscribed on the frame back: This Writ was taken from Warwick Court House, Warwick Co. Virginia by Geo. H. Sterling.

Warwick County records that date from 1650 to 1840 have recently been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory. The types of records found in this addition include wills, deeds, court suits, estate records, jail reports, a docket book, a complete order book, and pages torn from order books. Many of these documents were removed from the Warwick County courthouse during the Civil War by Union soldiers as spoils of war. Over the course of the last century, they made their way back to Virginia.

A page from a 17th century order book, removed by John Hart of the 29th Massachusetts Regiment in 1862, ended up in the hands of LaRoy Sunderland of Boston, Massachusetts, who donated it to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The society discovered the torn order book page while in the process of moving to a new location in 1964 and returned it to Virginia. Other documents were returned to Virginia after being discovered amongst family papers. E. Russell Jones of Pennsylvania and Charles Fitchorn of Missouri both discovered Warwick County records taken during the Civil War among the belongings of their deceased relatives. In 1914, James P. Williams returned Warwick County records he received from a friend named Edward G. Wood whose grandfather was a collector of relics. In a letter … read more »

- “I told you I had no money & therefore could not pay you”


Ad placed by James Juhan in the 19 April 1787 issue of the VIRGINIA GAZETTE.

In 1771, James Juhan, musical instrument maker, arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, from Boston, Massachusetts. From 1771 to 1772 he advertised in the Charleston newspapers as a music teacher and repairer of musical instruments. Years later, having recently moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, he advertised in the 15 April 1786 issue of the Virginia Gazette, stating that he taught music, repaired instruments, and was a “Harpsichord and Forte Piano maker.”  He also advertised as a journeyman cabinetmaker or joiner (Virginia Gazette, 19 April 1786, 3-3). The following letters and accounts, found in the Henrico County judgments Southall vs. Juhan and Blodget & Eustis vs. Juhan, provide a unique description of Juhan’s Virginia career and provide further information on the history of music in this country, especially American-made organs.    

In 1786, Juhan rented a house “lying on a back street in Williamsburg” from James Southall.  When Juhan later left Williamsburg for a job opportunity in Petersburg, he departed without paying the rent he owed to Southall.  He attempted to satisfy the debt by offering Southall his piano forte and promising further payment from organ-building jobs in Petersburg and Richmond.  In a 20 April 1788 letter, Juhan told Southall “you’ll be pay’d Sooner So than in going to law Suit.” Unconvinced, Southall chose the lawsuit route, as documented in Southall vs. Juhan (Henrico County … read more »

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- Bad Romance


Postcard, Petersburg (Va.) Judgments, Permelia F. McKinney vs. Frank Roberts, Letters used as Exhibits, 1915-1916, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to bring a bit of romance to Out of the Box, but when one spends her day working with historic court records, it’s rare to find evidence of a happy couple. In fact, I am convinced that there may never have been a sighting of connubial bliss in Virginia’s circuit court records. Divorce cases, however, are abundant, and this Petersburg couple never even made it to the altar before heading to the courthouse in 1916.

A recently widowed Permelia F. McKinney, born in Connecticut around 1880, met grocery store owner Frank Roberts while visiting friends in Petersburg. Little is known about their initial meeting, but after her return to Connecticut, the two commenced a courtship conducted entirely through letters, with correspondence dating from 4 January 1915 through 26 July 1916. During their year and a half courtship, one would hope for a steamy love affair conducted in the written word, but the couple’s correspondence was tame, with most letters filled with longing to see each other while making plans for Permelia to head south.  On 7 March 1915, Frank wrote, “I for one would like to see you here among us,” but first it was too cold for Permelia to travel, then too hot. It seemed that Permelia would never make her way back to Petersburg.… read more »

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- We Raise Our Glasses to Carl Childs


Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Erica Williams, Local Records Services director Carl Childs, Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney, and Local Records Program Manager Greg Crawford, Montgomery County Courthouse, 22 July 2013.

The editors of Out of the Box would like to give a belated good-bye to Carl Childs, the Library of Virginia’s former Local Records Services director.  Last month, Carl started his new job as Director of Archives and Records for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  When former local records archivist Dale Dulaney first proposed our little blog five years ago, Carl’s support, encouragement, and leadership helped Dale’s idea become a reality.  The result:  the Out of the Box blog may be the most successful outreach tool used by the Library of Virginia.  For the fiscal year ending 30 June 2013, Out of the Box had 435,859 page views, 221,667 visitors, and 369,123 visits.

Out of the Box is one of many innovative projects that Carl has been a part of at the Library.  In a 20-year career at the agency, Carl moved into increasingly responsible positions, from his first job as a front desk attendant, to state records archivist and then local records archivist and, beginning in 2005, Local Records Services director.  Carl brought enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things to every position.  Accordingly, in his tenure overseeing the Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) grants program, Carl helped strengthen the application and oversight process, resulting in a more efficient and beneficial program to care for historic records in Virginia’s circuit courts.  Similarly, … read more »

- Death by Eggnog


Vintage postcard, circa 1900.

During the holiday season we are warned to avoid overindulgence.  There are many temptations around this time of year—turkey and stuffing, grandma’s pecan pie, and, perhaps, even eggnog.  Sadly, we often hear of folks who would have done better to take a more moderate approach during holiday festivities.  Addison Williams was one such person.

On 25 December1872 in Bedford County, Virginia, Williams paid a visit to the home of Cornelia and Charles Abram.  He arrived “about light” and was given a dram of whiskey by William Ogden.  Ogden then made a gallon of eggnog, and Williams “drank a glass and repeated several times.”   Everyone present “drank eggnog freely,” but Williams enjoyed it most of all, drinking more than the rest of the party.  He “left the house and threw up,” only to come back and take another drink.  Afterwards, Williams “left in a run, as in a prank,” never to be seen again. Williams “had commenced showing he was under the influence of liquor,” but no one at the party thought him too drunk to make it home. As one partygoer put it, “…as I thought he was going so well it was useless for me to go with him.”

Unfortunately, Williams could have used a little assistance. He was found on Christmas morning “dead and frozen” mere yards from his house.  The resulting coroner’s … read more »

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- From Russia Without Love


PRINZESS IRENE ashore, 1911. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

It has been said that there is a thin line between love and hate, and apparently love and obsession.  Or so appears to be the case in the life of Abram D. Toporosky.  In a Winchester chancery cause we find that Abram was a young man of 21 when he left his native country of Russia to begin a new life in the United States.  He married Rosie Ziman in Lomsk, Russia, before making his way to the harbors of New York.  He planned on finding employment and establishing residency so that he could send for his wife and they could begin their new lives in America.

Abram found work as a tailor in New York and after two years he had saved enough money to send for Rosie. Abram’s work load was steady; however, a few months after Rosie arrived his work began to slow down at the tailor shop. An affable fellow, Abram made friends easily, and the Toporoskys did not want for male company. A friend from Russia, Benjamin Stein, even lived with the couple. Abram had a couple of other male friends from the tailor shop—Harris and Wiegder who came around and were considered “good sports.” In particular, Harris, first name unknown, was willing to help Abram out financially. Stein described Harris as a “kind of a sport, a well dressed, … read more »