The colonial era Northampton County court records tell a fascinating story of a woman named Jane Webb. Born of a white mother, she was a free mulatto, formerly called Jane Williams. In 1704, Jane Webb had “a strong desire to intermarry with a certain negro slave … commonly called and known by the name of Left.” Webb informed Left’s owner Thomas Savage, a gentleman of Northampton County, of her desire to marry Left and made an offer to Savage. She would be a servant of Savage’s for seven years and would let Savage “have all the children that should be bornd [sic] upon her body during the time of [Jane’s] servitude,” but for how long the children were to be bound is not clear. In return, Savage would allow Jane Webb to marry his slave, and after Jane’s period of servitude ended, Savage would free Left. Also, neither Savage nor his heirs could claim any child born to Jane Webb and Left after her period of servitude. Savage agreed to Jane Webb’s offer, and an agreement was written and signed by both parties.
Jane Webb fulfilled her part of the agreement and served Savage for seven years. During that time, she had three children by her husband Left—Diana or Dinah Webb, Daniel Webb, and Francis Webb. After she completed her term of service in 1711, … read more »
On 13 November 1860, J.S. Moore of Indiana wrote a letter to his Virginia relative Doctor Thomas Moore. Much of the letter has to do with health matters and the vibrant Indiana economy. The “Indiana Moore” then turned his attention to the recent 1860 presidential election. He provides “Virginia Moore” his thoughts on Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and who was responsible for the secession crisis pervading the nation at the time.
“I suppose Lincoln is elected President and report says the result has created a consternation in the South and an effort is being made to adopt a plan for secession. It does appear to me that it is folly and madness on their part to attempt resistance at all events until Lincoln or his party is guilty of an overt act that would justify such a procedure if justifiable it could be. I know that Mr. Lincoln holds today principles that you and I use to battle for under the leadership of Henry Clay.
And I do say when the Republican Party is assailed the assault is not made on their principles but a misrepresentation of those principles and I hold the Democratic Party responsible for the ill feeling engendered both North and South. They persist in saying here at home that the Republican Party proposes to make war on
In May of 1883, H. W. Gray, president of the Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Company, brought suit against Bettie L. Payne in the Frederick County Circuit Court for a debt of $500. Bettie had purchased a piano from the company via one of its agents, William H. Manby. After delivery, she refused to pay based on her belief that the piano was not of the quality that she had been promised. She claimed to have purchased the Schomacker in part due to statements made in promotional materials about honors and prizes that the pianos had received at the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876—claims she now believed to be false and misleading. In particular, she objected to the Schomacker being much inferior in tone and touch than she had been led to believe by the advertising.
The Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Company was established in Philadelphia in 1838 by John Henry Schomacker of Vienna, Austria. In 1855, he built a large piano factory at the corner of Catherine and Eleventh streets thanks in part to his success after his pianos won big prizes at various fairs and exhibitions in the United States. The factory made upright, grand, and “square” grand pianos of high quality woods that were heavily carved in a Germanic style. A big selling point was that the wires of the pianos were electroplated … read more »
Benjamin DuVal’s pottery in Richmond, Virginia is one of the best-documented early Virginia pottery manufactories, with articles about it appearing in at least two scholarly journals. Still, other than DuVal’s advertisement for a potter in the 23 February 1791 issue of the Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser and an 1808 notice for DuVal’s Richmond Tile Manufactory, there has been no known manuscript information for the period 1791-1808. However, three judgments in the Richmond City Hustings Court provide new insight into the early operations of the pottery.
As revealed in the 1795 case of Allinson v. DuVal, Benjamin DuVal got a response to his 1791 advertisement for a potter–and perhaps more than he had bargained for. The suit papers contain a broadside dated 1 July 1791 in which DuVal warns the public that the Richmond Earthen-Ware Manufactory is his property and that accounts should not be paid to Samuel Allinson, potter. Within a couple of weeks, a reconciliation seems to have occurred. On 16 July 1791, articles of agreement were signed between DuVal and Allinson for the Richmond Earthen-Ware Manufactory. The agreement was signed by the manufactory’s two journeymen, Richard Esdall and John Carty.
Allinson had paid for Carty’s passage from New York to Richmond in April 179[1/2?]. This is the earliest documentation of northern influence on the pottery. Litigation between DuVal and … read more »
During a recent cataloging project, what at first seemed like a standard exercise revealed a nice surprise. From its exterior, the Halifax County (Va.) Capitation and Personal Property Tax Ledger, 1861, had all of the makings of an ordinary volume of county taxes. This was certainly true in 1861 when it was originally created. Each page lists the names of individuals along with details of how much capitation tax (a head or poll tax levied on individuals at a fixed rate) and personal property tax was owed, along with details about what kind of personal property was being taxed (for example–furniture, watches, plate, carriages, money, livestock, and slaves).
At some point, however, someone, or more likely several someones, used a little more than half of the volume as a scrapbook. Pasted over the original document pages are a wide variety of clippings from magazines and newspapers. The clippings are primarily images; although some poems are included as well as short articles about artists and writers and a biography of British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone written on the occasion of his death in 1898. The subjects of the scrapbook are related to Biblical scenes, European royalty, Napoleon, American founding families such as the Jeffersons and Washingtons, travel, pets, artists and writers, poetry, and reproductions of paintings, drawings, and photographs with artistic themes.
A note … read more »
With good reason, hurricanes are both a familiar and forbidden subject in the state of Virginia. The Atlantic hurricane season is officially from 1 June to 30 November, with the season’s peak occurring between August-October. During the very active hurricane season of 1933, the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane hit coastal Virginia on 23 August 1933, causing catastrophic damage. The storm was first noticed when it was east of the Windward Islands. By 18 August, the tropical storm was 900 miles east of Puerto Rico and within 150 miles of Bermuda, and on 21 August it became a hurricane. On 23 August at 9:20 A.M., the storm changed track and the eye passed over Norfolk, Virginia, and moved north. Some of the lowest pressures ever measured in Virginia occurred with this hurricane. A second hurricane would hit the mid-Atlantic a few weeks later.
The stricken area covered large parts of Norfolk, Princess Anne, Northampton, Accomack, Elizabeth City, York, Gloucester, Mathews, and Lancaster counties. To a lesser extent, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties were also affected. In all, the hurricane caused $27.2 million in damage and fewer than 18 fatalities in Virginia. The 1933 hurricane season left a destructive path all the way into Pennsylvania and remained the worst series of storms on record in the area until Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
In January 1983, on the eve of … read more »
On 15 May 1883, a seemingly intoxicated man approached Richard Stevens and his group of friends as they were standing together at 513 N. 17th Street in Richmond’s Church Hill area. The man was James Harris, a fortune teller or maybe just a swindler, who asked if he could tell their fortunes. Most of the group declined, but Richard Stevens agreed, and they went to a nearby passageway after Mr. Harris suggested they find a more private location. To the skeptic’s delight, this fortune teller was not able to see his own unfortunate end coming.
The pair settled in on a bench, but before he would tell Stevens’ fortune, Harris requested payment. Stevens informed him he would give him the money only after he told his fortune, but the fortune teller claimed, “I’ve been bit too often.” James Harris then got up and started backwards, staggering. Richard Stevens provided an eyewitness account of the events that followed:
“He had a stick with a crooked handle which he nearly dropped, and I tried to help him with it by catching hold of the …end. He was intoxicated and was at that time on the edge of the doorsill and seemed to have such a slender hold on to his end of the stick that I aimed to catch [him] by his garments to prevent him
The Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Part of the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services branch, the program was created in 1992 to address the preservation needs of some of the most important records in the state – the records of Virginia’s 120 circuit courts. The CCRP continues to not only preserve, digitize, and microfilm historic records from around the commonwealth but also to reach out to circuit court clerks in each locality, offering them consultative services and financial assistance through its grant program. Since its creation twenty years ago, the program has awarded over 1100 grants, totaling nearly $16 million, to Virginia circuit court clerks to help address the preservation needs of records stored in their localities.
Twenty years later, access to Virginia’s historic court records has never been wider with more than 7 million digital chancery court images from fifty-seven counties and cities now available online through the Chancery Records Index (CRI), created to increase access to Virginia’s historic equity cases. In celebration of this important milestone, we’ve created this video celebrating the twenty year history of this innovative program that has helped ensure the preservation and accessibility of records that are a treasure trove of state and local history.
-Bari Helms, Local Records Archivist
On 29 August, the movie Lawless, starring Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, and Jessica Chastain, opens around the country. Based on the bestselling novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, the film tells the story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers – bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Franklin County, Virginia, reputed to be the “Moonshine Capital of the World.” Much of the film’s action centers around moonshiners paying “protection money” to corrupt local authorities to guarantee their loads of moonshine would be safe in the county. The Bondurant brothers refused to cooperate and ended up paying the consequences.
Part fiction, part family history, the movie Lawless tells the story of the Franklin County bootleggers, but what about the automobiles used to run their moonshine? Their stories can be found at the Library of Virginia in the Franklin County Determined Papers and Franklin County Common Law Papers. Automobiles used by bootleggers were seized by law officers when bootleggers were arrested and reported to the local Commonwealth’s Attorney who would file a criminal charge in the name of the Commonwealth against the automobile, e.g., “Commonwealth vs. REO Roadster Automobile.” These documents record the date of seizure, type and make of automobile, license number, engine number, and reason for seizure. The automobile would then be condemned and sold … read more »
On the night of 4 August 1882, James M. Duesbury heard pistol shots coming from the nearby home of Christopher Goode and ran to see what the matter was. Goode, a resident of Richmond, Virginia, lived at 709 West Marshall behind what is now the Siegel Center near Virginia Commonwealth University. When Duesbury arrived at the home, Goode stated “I have shot a man; here he is lying down on the floor.” When Duesbury asked why he shot him, he answered, “I caught him on top of my wife.” Policeman Lewis Frayser arrived at the scene and found Winston Robinson “lying on the floor with his pants and drawers down to his knees” and met Mahala Goode, the wife, in a dress that was “very much disarranged” and “bleeding very freely” from the gunshot wounds she accidentally received during the altercation.
In his testimony to police, Christopher Goode stated, “My God Master, I couldn’t help it to save my life, I shot him and couldn’t help it.” Mr. Goode further elaborated, explaining that he had been “under the porch and heard them hugging and kissing” and heard his wife invite Robinson upstairs, but Robinson declined saying he “didn’t care about going upstairs” because “if the old man came there would be a fight and one or the other would be killed.” When Goode heard them … read more »