Category Archives: Private Papers Blog Posts

- A surveyor’s view of wartime Virginia

Sketch, entitled "Fredericksburg," from B. Lewis Blackford Sketchbook (Acc. 22177c) 

In May 1863, a team of Confederate topographical engineers surveying and mapping Louisa County were surprised by Union cavalry.  All but one of the team were captured.  B. Lewis Blackford managed to escape, despite losing everything except his horse.  “Among his losses,” his brother Charles Minor Blackford later stated, “was his note book, in which he kept copies of poems and other clever things he had written to various girls, all of which were published in full subsequently in the New York Herald, to whom they were furnished by their captor.  His note book was very handsomely illustrated also, as he was a good sketcher and drew exquisite caricatures.”

Seemingly undaunted by the loss of his notebook, Blackford in June 1863 began a new sketchbook, which eventually found its way into the Personal Papers Collection at the Library of Virginia (Accession 22177c).  The small (4”x 6 ½”) book contains 20 pencil and ink sketches.  Some are outlines and rough sketches of people and landscapes, while others are more polished. The finished sketches of members of Blackford’s company catch their personalities.  Blackford also captured the poignancy of war in his sketches titled “Fredericksburg” and “Chancellorsville.”  The first simply depicts a skull and bone and the second the ruins at the tiny crossroads.

Benjamin Lewis Blackford was born 5 August 1835 in Fredericksburg, to William Mathews Blackford (1801-1864) and Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford (1802-1896), … read more »

- We can’t all age gracefully

 Architectural model of the Richmond Coliseum

The fate of the Richmond Coliseum has been in question recently, with the city soliciting input from business leaders, local officials, and a consulting firm to determine what comes next for the much-maligned structure.  Should the city continue to keep it limping along with costly repairs as needed, do a large-scale renovation, or demolish it in hopes of building a flashier replacement?  Which of these options is best for Richmond, and where will the money come from?  Alas, the Out of the Box bloggers can’t answer these questions for you.  We can only lament on behalf of the near-40-year-old Coliseum, “What a drag it is getting old!” 

Here at the Library of Virginia, however, there are reminders of how it all began, when the 13,500-capacity arena was the pride and joy of Richmond native and architect Ben R. Johns, Jr. (1922-2006).  In 1968, Johns was tapped as the primary architect to work with the Philadelphia firm of Vincent G. Kling and Associates on the Coliseum project.  While today the building has its share of detractors, back then it had at least a few admirers.  As a result of the Coliseum design, Johns was recognized by the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1974 and the Richmond Planning Commission in 1975.

In 2007, the year after Johns’ death, a collection of his business records was donated to the LVA.  Chiefly … read more »

- Sulphur, scams, and sketches

 A cropped view of one of Duralde's sketches.

“My health is so very bad that I do not know whether I will ever reach New Orleans or Cuba again.”

     –  Martin Duralde, Jr., to Henry Clay Duralde, 8 August 1846

“My cards are laying with the cock-roaches on the shelf.”

     - Martin Duralde, Jr., to Allen Jones, 12 August 1846

Wracked by tuberculosis (or consumption as it was then called), 23 year-old Martin Duralde spent a month and a half during the summer of 1846 at several Virginia springs in a futile attempt to recover his health.  As Duralde, the grandson of the legendary Henry Clay of Kentucky, traveled to the Blue, Red, and White Sulphur Springs of Greenbrier and Monroe Counties, (West) Virginia, he kept a letterbook that is now part of the LVA’s collection (Accession 22281).   

Duralde’s companion for part of this trip was a man named L. H. Coulter, called “Old C.” in the letters.  Travelling up the Kanawha River towards the springs, the two men stopped in a small town where they had heard that “there was a great superfluity of money.”  While running a card game there, Old C. was caught dealing two cards off the deck and “ruined a fine prospect” of the two winning between several hundred and two thousand dollars.  Their prospects didn’t pan out at either the Blue or … read more »

- Blame It On Rio

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Transcript of document shown above.

As I was inventorying a collection of federal records housed at the Library, I stumbled upon a box of papers that did not seem to fit with the rest of the collection. I pulled the box, searched our catalog, and found an entry for the microfilm copy of the collection (Henry A. Wise Papers, Accession 36084, Miscellaneous Reel 421). I then decided to read through the papers to see if I could enhance the existing catalog record with more complete information. What I found was a very interesting piece of United States and South American history.

Henry A. Wise (1806-1876) was born in Accomack County, Virginia, to Major John Wise (d. 1812) and Sarah Corbin Cropper Wise (d. 1813). A lawyer who trained under Henry St. George Tucker and practiced in Tennessee and Virginia, he served for 11 years in the United States House of Representatives. In 1844 he was appointed by President John Tyler as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to Brazil. During his time in this position, his somewhat overzealous and improper dealings with Brazil offended Emperor Pedro II and led to his being recalled in 1847.

By reading the notes and letters in this collection one can trace the escalating tensions between Wise and his Brazilian … read more »

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- “I’m not sure that I ought to say all these things…”

Image Transcripts

Founded in 1928, the original intent of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was to promote positive relations among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Over the ensuing decades, the group had to figure out whether its stated focus on “the brotherhood of mankind under the fatherhood of God” also encompassed racial unity. Dissent and confusion within the organization led to a lack of clarity in the public eye as to its mission.

On 15 September 1956, Richmond Times-Dispatch editor Virginius Dabney (1901-1995) forwarded to longtime NCCJ Virginia Region Director Peter Mellette (1920-1993) this draft of a letter to NCCJ President Everett Clinchy. In it, Dabney pointed out the ambiguous implications of the word “brotherhood,” and cautioned Clinchy that the organization’s endorsement of racially-focused literature “can not fail to embarrass those of us in the South who are trying to work with you.”

Dabney was labeled a Southern liberal early in his career, partly because of his progressive views on race issues. By the mid-1950s, his interest in equality for African Americans was intact, but he favored a gradual approach. Interestingly, even as he advised the NCCJ to reconsider its message, Dabney himself was about to be limited in the full expression of his own views.

In 1956, Virginia embarked on the path of “Massive Resistance,” the state’s notorious attempt to thwart school desegregation. Although … read more »

- Reuse, recycle…

One of the receipts removed from the account book.

During the Civil War, the scarcity and high cost of writing paper often led people to reuse it. They wrote new letters across existing ones, made account books from old ciphering books, and turned ledgers into scrapbooks. In cases such as these, it is not unusual for archivists to find records that are more than what they appear at first glance.

One such example exists in the Henkel Family Business Records (Acc. 28040), a collection of 137 volumes related to the family’s general store, farm, and mill businesses in New Market, Virginia. While processing the collection, I came across an L.P. Henkel and Brothers account book, 1869–1872, containing business receipts pasted over handwritten text.

The Library of Virginia’s conservation lab removed each receipt, conserving both the receipts and the ledger pages beneath. This process uncovered a Civil War-era register, 1863–1865, listing conscripts from the 10th Virginia Congressional District (Clarke, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Prince William, and Warren Counties), with entries for name, age, occupation, physical description, date and place of enrollment, and company assigned. Also included were special orders regarding enlistment and assignments written from headquarters in New Market and Winchester, Virginia. Thanks to careful conservation, these formerly inaccessible records may help researchers uncover more about their own ancestors’ stories.

The original account book and receipts remain with the Henkel Family Business Records. The … read more »

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