Category Archives: Local Records Blog Posts

- Shoe Salesman Puts Foot in Mouth


Detail from a tradecard in Prints and Photographs Collection, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

In 1879, Charles C. Curtis was working at the retail store of Wingo, Ellett, and Crump at 1000 Main Street in Richmond.  A customer, a young lady named Isabel Cottrell, visited the store to try on a pair of shoes, and found Mr. Curtis’s behavior “exceedingly offensive.” Instead of allowing her to put the shoes on, he insisted on holding the shoe for her to put her foot in and on buttoning the shoe after she had “begged him” to let her do it herself.  She encountered Mr. Curtis on a second visit to pick up a pair of shoes she had ordered, and he insisted that she try them on in the store. Cottrell instead took the shoes home.

On a third visit, she took both pairs of shoes back to the store “with the purpose of leaving one pair of shoes and having the heels of the other plated.”  Cotrell claimed Curtis opened the bundle of shoes and remarked, in a rather impertinent way, “what a pretty little shoe, I certainly would like to put them on you.  I don’t see how you can walk with such a foot.”  Ms. Cottrell “was very much provoked, and told him he would oblige [her] by not commenting on [her] foot.”  She was further annoyed when Curtis accompanied her to the phaeton, where a friend was … read more »

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- Wills, Slavery, and Freedom in Augusta Co.


Map of Franklin County and Columbus, Ohio, 1872. (Image used courtesy of Historic Map Works.)

In November of 1860, executor William F. Smith was in a pickle.  Charged with settling the estate of Elizabeth P. Via of Augusta County, he had recently been a defendant in both a chancery and a judgment suit from seven of Via’s heirs that challenged the validity of her will.  The heirs objected to the provisions that Via made for her slaves, namely that they all be emancipated.  Additionally, she left $4,000 to transport them to a free state and set them up in homes there.  The remainder of her estate was to be distributed amongst Via’s heirs who were not pleased by this and thought it in their best interest to have the will invalidated so that they could get everything, including the slaves that were left at Via’s death.  The will was upheld, however, and then it was time for executor Smith to get on with the business of carrying out Via’s wishes.  But there were some questions that he struggled to answer about his job as executor.

At issue were several points.  Did children born since Via’s death have an interest in the money left to the slaves?  What should happen to the residue of the $4,000 after the will’s provisions were carried out?  How should title to any house or land purchased for the emancipated slaves be done?  The slaves had … read more »

- “My Dearest Miss Lura:” Lunenburg Letters Illuminate a Long and Unlikely Love Affair


Photograph of Vladimir Sournin at work as a cartographer, undated. (Lura Royall and Vladimir Sournin Correspondence, 1904-1925, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.)

Lura Royall was a Lunenburg County girl. Her relatives remember her as a pretty woman who never married—a retired school teacher full of life well into old age. But there was a part of her life that remained a secret from her living relatives. It was a secret recently revealed in 97 letters and postcards, written across a span of 21 years, to her from a Russian émigré, Vladimir Sournin, her fiancé.

These letters, part of several cubic feet of papers left in the old courthouse by former Lunenburg County clerk John L. Yates, were stashed among bills, statements, and personal business correspondence. How the letters ended up in Yates’ file cabinets is uncertain, but they reveal an on-again-off-again relationship between Vladimir and Lura that started in 1898 and lasted until at least 1925.

Vladimir Sournin’s life is a little known historical footnote now, but he was no ordinary man. Ambitious and talented, his career and interests led him to three continents where his path intersected with major world events and some of the most well-known people of his day.  His letters reveal him to be supremely confident in his abilities and fearless in attempts to achieve his goals. This same persistence is evident in his effort to woo Lura Royall.

Sournin was born in 1875 into a military family in Mstislavl, Russia. In St. … read more »

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- Southside Burning!: Reformatted Recordings Preserve Historic Testimony

Editor’s Note:  On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests.  This blog post originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter.  This entry has been slightly edited.

The fortieth anniversary of the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations passed earlier this year [2003] with merely a brief mention in the press.  In the summer of 1963, violence erupted in Danville, Virginia, as the Danville establishment led by Police Chief Eugene G. McCain struggled to keep Jim Crow order during a series of civil rights demonstrations led by local and national black leaders.  Of the 45 demonstrators arrested in front of the city jail on 10 June, nearly all required medical attention at the hospital for injuries that some defendants testified were the result of being pistol-whipped or struck with nightsticks.  As evidenced in the Civil Rights Demonstrations Cases legal files on microfilm and audio compact discs at the Library of Virginia, sporadic demonstrations continued until late August 1963 despite the violence.

In the late summer of 1999, the Danville Circuit Clerk of Court transferred the legal files of the Civil Rights Demonstration Cases to … read more »

- Violence in Danville: Preservation of a Civil Rights Legacy

Editor’s Note:  On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests.  This blog post originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter.  This entry has been slightly edited.


Protesters block traffic to protest segregation.1963 Danville (Va.) Civil Rights Case Files, 1963-1973. Accession 38099, Local Government Records Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In August 1999, the city of Danville’s Circuit Court Clerk approached Glenn Smith, Grants Administrator of the Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, with a dilemma.  The city possessed a box of heavily used materials relating to the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  Concerned about both the preservation and security of the collection due to high volume usage, the clerk agreed to have the material transferred to LVA for processing and organization so that it could be microfilmed.  Though a local records collection, I was assigned the task of processing the material because of my past research on John W. Carter, a former Danville city councilman who aided the Commonwealth’s Attorney in prosecuting the civil rights demonstrators.  I interviewed Carter for my thesis on the Virginia Conservative Party on several occasions.  This was a segregationist third political party formed in 1965 to oppose Mills Godwin’s campaign for governor.  Godwin had angered many by supporting Lyndon … read more »

- Commonwealth of Virginia versus Abolitionism


Bill of indictment, September 1849, found in the Commonwealth of Virginia versus Jarvis C. Bacon, 1849. Local government records collection, Grayson County Court Records, The Library of Virginia.

During the 1820s and 1830s, northern antislavery groups that demanded the immediate abolition of slavery began to emerge. Led by abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur Tappan, and Theodore Weld, they instituted an aggressive print campaign against slavery. Abolitionist societies published newspapers and pamphlets that bitterly condemned slavery and called for its extinction. Needless to say, abolitionist literature was not well-received in slaveholding states, including Virginia.

In 1835, a Frederick County, Virginia, grand jury issued a criminal presentment against the Abolition Society of New York. In a lengthy and strongly worded indictment, the grand jury referred to the antislavery organization as an “evil of great magnitude” and accused it of disturbing the peace of the commonwealth and threatening the lives of its citizens by inciting slaves to rebel. The grand jury encouraged local law enforcement agencies throughout Virginia to adopt “increasing vigilance … in the detection of all fanatical emissaries, and in the suppression of their nefarious schemes and publications.” Furthermore, it called on the General Assembly to enforce present laws and enact stricter legislation against written or printed material that encouraged slave insurrection. The presentment also named Arthur Tappan, whom the grand jury considered to be the “prime mover” in the society. Tappan helped found the Abolition Society of New York in 1831, which two years later evolved into the American Anti-Slavery Societyread more »

- All I Want For Christmas Is…


Cover of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, 12 December 1907. (Image used courtesy Library of Virginia Special Collections.)


Children mailing Santa Claus letters from the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce Collection, circa 1930s. (Image used courtesy Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

On 16 December 1895, 12-year-old Mamie M. Yates wrote a letter to Santa Claus. It read:

Dear Santa Claus,

I will write to you to tell you what I want you to bring me. I want a sled and Robinson Crusoe and a pair of nice gloves and some ribbon for my hair and a writing tablet and some candy, oranges, nuts, raisins, banannas [sic] and caramels and apples and a cap for my doll.

Your little girl,

Mamie M. Yates

The letter did not make it to the North Pole. It somehow ended up in the Lunenburg County courthouse filed in the clerk’s records and became part of the Lunenburg County (Va.) Clerk’s Records of John L. Yates, 1878-1934 circa (Barcode 1046171). John L. Yates, Mamie’s father, was the circuit court clerk for Lunenburg County at the time the letter was written. Although the letter did not reach its destination, I’m sure Santa had a good idea about what to bring Mamie for Christmas.

-Greg Crawford, Local Records Coordinator… read more »

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- You Have No Right: Jane Webb’s Story


Slave Woman and Child, undated. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

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 »

- #election1860


Abraham Lincoln campaign banner for the 1860 presidential election. (Imaged used courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

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

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- “And the piano, it sounds like a carnival”


Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Co. Piano Catalog, H. W. Gray vs. Bettie L. Payne, 1884, Frederick County Circuit Court Ended Causes (Barcode 1141828).

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 »