Category Archives: Private Papers Blog Posts

- There Are No Small Preventions, Only Smallpox

Before the Commonwealth of Virginia began officially recording vital statistics in 1853, many people recorded the births, deaths, and marriages in their families in the pages of their family bibles. The Library of Virginia has in its collection thousands of such bible records, which provide precious information, frequently recorded nowhere else, to researchers of family history.

The Needham family of York County recorded many births, deaths, and marriages in their family bible, including the births of seven children between 1774 and 1791. They chose, however, to include an unusual piece of medical information. Directly under the list of births there is a notation reading, “1792 November the above children wear anockerlated with the smallpox.” The inoculation of their six living children against smallpox– one of whom was less than a year old – was clearly of great importance to the Needhams. Having already lost an infant child, whose cause of death is not recorded, the Needhams likely wanted to protect their living children from at least one of the deadly diseases that killed so many in the 18th century.

Smallpox had long been a scourge in North America, from the epidemic in New England in the 1630s, which killed a significant percentage of the Native American population, to the continent-wide outbreak from 1775 to 1782. Smallpox, caused by the variola major virus, was likely … read more »

Also posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,
Leave a comment
Share |

- A ‘Salty’ take on survival

CERTIFICATE OF SURVIVAL, 2 May 1945, issued to Grayson Boyer upon the conclusion of the Battle of the South Atlantic. (Grayson B. Boyer Papers, 1937-1945, Accession 50238, Personal Papers Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond)

In cataloging the papers of Grayson B. Boyer (1915-1970) of Grayson County, Virginia, one cannot help but notice the dramatically-titled and cheekily-illustrated “Certificate of Survival” issued to Boyer upon completion of the Battle of the South Atlantic during World War II.  As well as being a unique marker of the end of a major wartime naval effort, the document also helps offset the Library of Virginia’s surprising scarcity of holdings featuring cartoon images of lusty, bare-chested mermaids.

Dated 2 May 1945 and given some semblance of credibility by the facsimiled signature of Admiral J.H. Ingram, commander of the South Atlantic forces, the document humorously celebrates the various achievements of Boyer and his fellow sailors. These range from spending months (19, in Boyer’s case) “in a state of moral indecision and physical peril,” to “enduring the rigors of Gin tonicas and Caçhaca.”  The mock-solemn text concludes by commending  Boyer’s “placing in sacrifice the best years of his life on the gilded altar of Pan-American Relations.”

The document’s light tone is further indicated by its comic drawings. The aforementioned mermaid and two similarly-clad women (who are given the courtesy of names–Maria and Inez–if not opaque bikini tops) are surrounded by fish, sea horses, and shells.  Still, the accompanying aircraft carrier, blimp, and seaplane remind the viewer that this is war, not merely a pleasure cruise.

Our hero the American sailor is featured triumphantly, flanked by his mermaid gal pal and … read more »

Tags: , ,
Share |

- “Nelson County in Hollywood”

Second revision of THE WALTONS Season 4 episode, The Fledgling. Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

The papers of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator and writer of the popular television series The Waltons, are now available for research at the Library of Virginia. One might wonder what the papers of a famous Hollywood figure are doing in Richmond.  Granted, Hamner was born in Schuyler, a small town in Nelson County, but he left Virginia in 1949.  His many accomplishments in film and television took place outside of his home state. But when Hamner left 65 years ago, it wasn’t as though he didn’t look back.

Much of Hamner’s inspiration and ideas grew out of the first 25 years of his life growing up in Nelson County and attending college at the University of Richmond.  Delivering the commencement address at his alma mater the University of Cincinnati in 2008, Hamner said, “What has inspired me has been the family and neighbors I grew up with in rural Virginia during the Great Depression.  They were a decent, God-fearing, patriotic people.  Like most Appalachian folk, they were frugal, proud, and self-reliant.  They were story tellers and I listened.” 

Stock photo of the cast of THE WALTONS, courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Found in Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

While a student at the University of Richmond just prior to World War II, Hamner was working on a short story which described the feelings of a boy when he joined his father for his first deer hunt.  As the story grew, Hamner realized the … read more »

Tags: , ,
Leave a comment
Share |

- A stone’s throw from madness

Image of a mad stone, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C., as displayed on the Old Farmer's Alamanac website (

“I send you two patients to the mad stone. They are natives of this place and had their children bitten today.”

-J. Reuben Richerson to R. L. Harrison, 26 June 1893

“1/3net receipts from mad stone since same was placed into hands of R. L. Harrison.”

-written on checks from Harrison to Richerson and Maria L. Motley, 14 March 1893

“Mad stone? What’s a mad stone?” I wondered out loud.

I’d stumbled across the R. L. Harrison Papers, 1893-1901 (Library of Virginia accession 26527), during the dog days of summer. This business records collection consisted of correspondence, checks, accounts, and receipts from Harrison, a druggist in Richmond during the 1890s-1910s, to J. Reuben Richerson, Nannie E. Richerson, and Maria L. Motley, all of Caroline County, concerning something called a mad stone (or madstone) and payments for its use. Piqued by this reference, I set out to answer my own question.

I learned from the Oxford English Dictionary that a mad stone is a “stone or similar object supposedly having the power to counteract the effect of the bite of a rabid or venomous animal.” Furthermore, thanks to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, I discovered that it was a “stony concretion (as a hair ball from the stomach of a deer).” In appearance, it looked like a small stone; according to various descriptions, it could be smooth or it could be rough. The … read more »

Tags: , , ,
Share |

- “Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why hast thou forgotten me!”

The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has been travelling around Virginia and scanning privately held Civil War-related manuscript documents for the past four years. Recently, as I was cataloging some of the scanned materials, I came across a letter, written 14 August 1864 by Ole R. Dahl of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company B. Dahl had been captured by Confederate forces and was imprisoned in Savannah, Georgia. Written to his son, Anton P. Dahl, the letter relates his suffering in prison, his concern for various family members, and his hopes for release. Dahl writes that if he knew “all the truble [sic] and suffering I since have been subject to I would rather be shott [sic] down on the spot before I would surrender.” What really caught my attention was the beautiful drawing at the top of the letter, assumedly done by Dahl. The drawing features two prisoners in camp washing and cooking, with areas labeled “the death line” and “guard line” surrounding the prison. Underneath the drawing was written ‘Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why has thou forgotten me!”

Detail view of drawing Lieutenant Ole R. Dahl, 15th Wisconsin infantry Regiment, Company B, included in his 14 August 1864 letter to son Anton P. Dahl while in a Confederate prison in Savannah, Georgia. Item scanned as part of the CW 150 Legacy Project. Original is privately owned.

According to information on the Wisconsin Historical Society website, Dahl enlisted on 9 October 1861 and was mustered into service on 13 February 1862 to serve with the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company H. In March 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant … read more »

- “There’s only one thing I don’t like about Combat–It Ain’t Safe!”

Recruitment poster for U. S. Army Air Corps. Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

When John Hager Randolph Jr. wrote to his parents in Richmond near the end of his Virginia Military Institute career in the spring of 1942, he had a few things on his mind. There were the girls he was interested in, the potential for a “bawling out” from Mom and Dad once they received his grades, and the average college student’s ever-present concern: money (“Please send me the money soon!” was his plaintive postscript to one letter).  But, while his life at this point resembled that of pretty much any other soon-to-be graduate, Randolph was on the verge of a new chapter of adventure and danger, thrown in the midst of one of history’s greatest conflicts. His service as a World War II bomber pilot is detailed in the letters he sent home, preserved in the John Hager Randolph Jr. Papers (Acc. 51038) at the Library of Virginia.

After VMI, Randolph entered the Army Air Corps, training stateside as a pilot with the war looming ever larger in his future. At the end of a prolonged period of uncertainty as to his eventual assignment, he found himself heading to the Pacific Theater in the spring of 1945. There, he would take part in an aerial battering of Japan that would test its resistance to surrender before the atomic bomb finally brought it down.

On … read more »

Tags: , , ,
1 Comment
Share |

- News of a tragedy

Alden Aaroe, in an undated photograph, shown broadcasting over the WRVA airwaves.  (WRVA Radio Collection, Accession 38210)

Most of us—whether we were alive at the time of the event or learned about it from parents and grandparents, books, magazine articles, documentaries, and movies—are familiar with the basic details of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas.  This week, reminders of the tragedy are ubiquitous, as the marking of 50 years since that day spurs historians, news outlets, conspiracy theorists, and others to again go over the sudden snuffing out of the “leader of the free world.”

One of my least-favorite terms as an archivist, only due to its extreme over-use, is “bringing the past to life.”  However, I can’t help but use that phrase to describe the sort of record that we are highlighting on the blog today.  Included as part of a sizable trove of news recordings in the WRVA Radio Collection (Accession 38210) is a special report which aired that very evening, just a few short hours after the death of the president.

Even in the early 1960s, the nation was able to hear important news almost as soon as it happened, and WRVA listeners were fed anxiety-producing bulletins (some provided by NBC News) from approximately ten minutes after the shooting until the heartbreaking confirmation of Kennedy’s death came over the station’s airwaves at 2:36 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.  This program, “The Death … read more »

Tags: , , , ,
Leave a comment
Share |

- Archives as art

A group of customer orders for goods from Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia. The orders are seen as they were originally kept by the store, attached to a piece of wire roughly in the order they were received and filled.  Easley, Holt and Company Records (LVA Accession 50951)

Discovered in a box of election records from the Secretary of the Commonwealth by a member of the Library of Virginia’s State Records staff, this distinctive-looking work of art came to us just as it had hung in Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia, operated by James Stone Easley (1802-1879). How and when it arrived is not clear, and it is a mystery how it ended up in a box of state records.  Since being transferred to the Library’s Private Papers collection, it forms part of the Easley, Holt and Company Records, Accession 50951.

The composition, now only preserved in the photograph on the right, consisted of customer orders for goods, created from 1837 to 1844.  The orders, of various shapes and sizes, were attached to a simple piece of wire, roughly in chronological order as they were received and filled.  The result, although dating from the 19th century, is a hanging paper sculpture that the viewer could imagine seeing today in a contemporary art gallery.

The hanging store orders are for clothing and material, dry goods, liquor, medicine, and other items. Some of the orders for cloth have a swatch of material attached, with instructions that it be matched by cloth that is in stock. Easley was also postmaster, so customers frequently added a request that their mail … read more »

Share |

- All’s Fair in…

Detail shot of blue ribbons won at the Virginia State Fair in 1914 and 1928 (see photo gallery in body of article to see ribbons in their entirety). Records of the State Fair of Virginia, Library of Virginia Accession 42808.

The smell of deep-fried pickles and cotton candy.  The sounds of music and laughter.  The sights of the midway.  For well over a century and a half, the State Fair of Virginia has been one of the sure signs that autumn has arrived, and this year is no exception.  Beginning last Friday and running through October 6, rides, exhibitions, and entertainment are drawing thousands to the fairgrounds for a good time.  Here at the Library of Virginia, the long history of the fair is documented in the State Fair of Virginia Records, 1927-2005 (Accession 42808)

Founded by the Virginia Agricultural Society to promote Virginia’s agriculture, the fair was established in 1854 near a horse race track at what is now Monroe Park in downtown Richmond.  The fair prospered during the 1850s, but, like much else, its annual observance was halted by the Civil War

After the Civil War, the fair relocated to a new site near the current home of the Science Museum of Virginia and continued to grow, but over-expansion led to debt which closed the fair in 1896. Ten years later, the Virginia State Fair Association restarted the fair, this time at the present home of the Diamond baseball park.  In 1920, the fair expanded its schedule to ten days.  In 1942, the Association purchased Strawberry Hill just outside Richmond, but World War II put … read more »

Leave a comment
Share |

- A Child is Waiting

An advertisement touting the success of WRVA's A CHILD IS WAITING documentary, produced on behalf  of the Children's Home Society of Virginia.

In 1964, the Children’s Home Society of Virginia (CHS) sought to make use of the power of radio, requesting some air time from WRVA to let the public know of a problem it faced. Taking this request several steps beyond the agency’s expectations, WRVA co-producers Harry Monroe and Brick Rider crafted a comprehensive documentary designed to illuminate “the problem of the unwanted child.”  As the program explained, the number of children available for adoption was greater than the number of families stepping forward to parent them.  The CHS hoped to alleviate this imbalance by detailing their services, debunking misconceptions about adoption, and making the public aware of the need for adoptive parents.  A transcript of “A Child Is Waiting,” the resulting documentary, is found in the Records of the Children’s Home Society of Virginia (Accession 44227)

Airing 23-27 November 1964, first individually as nine five-minute segments and then as one complete program, the documentary included interviews with CHS staff, boarding mothers (the women in whose care children were placed while awaiting placement), adoptive parents, and perhaps most poignantly, an unwed mother who had given her child up for adoption.  The issue was examined from all angles in a way that CHS Executive Director Lois Benedict described in a 9 March 1966 letter as “a deeply understanding presentation…avoiding the clichés and inaccurate dramatics that are … read more »