Category Archives: Private Papers Blog Posts

- Blame It On Rio

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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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 … read more »

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

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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 gradualistic 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 … 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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