Category Archives: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

- Higher Aim: Guns, Safety and Healing in the Era of Mass Shootings



Release of Virginia Tech Panel Report, Patrick Henry Building, Richmond, Virginia, 30 August 2007, Office of the Governor.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, sponsored four residential fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Tom Kapsidelis, an independent author and former editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, spent the spring semester researching and writing Higher Aim: Guns, Safety and Healing in the Era of Mass Shootings.

On one of the last days of my fellowship at the Library in July 2017, I peeked at a lock of John Randolph’s hair, read a letter from Ida Tarbell to Joseph Bryan about the aftermath of the Civil War, and delved further into Kaine administration archives and records on the 16 April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. It was the collection of the Governor Timothy M. Kaine records that attracted me to the library as part of my yearlong fellowship with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH), the first semester in Charlottesville and the second here at the Library. The VFH has supported my continuing work on a book that examines some of the issues in the decade after the shootings, primarily through the experiences of survivors and others in the community who were deeply affected.

Over the past seven months I’ve peppered my office neighbors Brent Tarter, John Deal and Mari Julienne with questions about … read more »

- Jailing the Jerkers



Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, Rockbridge County, National Register Nomination, Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Rockbridge/TimberRidgePresChurch_photo.htm, accessed 20 June 2017.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, sponsored four residential fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Doug Winiarski, Religious Studies professor at the University of Richmond, spent the spring semester researching and writing Shakers, Jerkers & the Shawnee Prophet: Religious Encounters on the Early American Frontier, 1805-1815.

Samuel Houston probably scoffed at the legal proceedings against him as he stood before the bar in the Lexington, Virginia, courthouse on 6 August 1805. How could his peers on the grand jury take this case of assault and battery seriously? After all, he was one of the most prominent men in the Rockbridge County: a decorated Revolutionary War officer, a wealthy planter, and a slaveholder. Most important, Houston was a devoted member and patron of the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, the handsome stone edifice that stood only a few yards from his imposing log house.

The charges against Houston stemmed from a bizarre new religious phenomenon known as “the jerks”: involuntary convulsions, in which the subjects’ heads lashed violently backward and forward in quick succession like a “flail in the hands of a thresher.” The strange bodily fits erupted unexpectedly during the Great Revival (1799–1805), the powerful succession of Presbyterian sacramental festivals and Methodist camp meetings that … read more »

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- “A Frolicsome Freak of Boyhood”



Jacket of Application for Pardon of James Gibson, Charles Tosh, John Lyle, James Allen, Rufus Percival, and David Austin. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers, 1876, June 20-September 1876, Box 48, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, sponsored four residential fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Catherine Jones, associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spent the fall semester researching and writing, Child Prisoners and the Limits of Citizenship in the New South.

On 22 September 1876, Governor James L. Kemper issued a conditional pardon to six inmates housed at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. He explained his action by noting that all but one was “under seventeen years of age.” Further, he characterized the boys’ actions—stealing and consuming food from a hotel dining room—as an “impulsive and frolicsome freak of boyhood.”  Kemper’s pardon and the appeals that prompted it, shed light on a tricky question— what did age mean to Virginians in the nineteenth century, particularly as it related to criminal responsibility?


Entry for James Gibson, John Lyle, Rufus Percival, James Allen, and David Austin, 11 May 1876, Prisoner Register No. 5, 1876-1884, page 59, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Subseries A. Registers, Miscellaneous Reel 5990, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, LIbrary of Virginia (part one).

The Virginians pardoned by the Governor—James Gibson, Charles Tosh, John Lyle, Rufus Percival, James Allen, and David Austin—were committed to the penitentiary on 11 May 1876. The Wythe County Court had sentenced the youths to five years in the penitentiary for burglary and theft of food valued at under $9. These six young prisoners became part of a penitentiary population that grew rapidly between the end of the … read more »

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