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Category Archives: Virginia Humanities

- A Virginian, a Tomahawk, & the American Revolution in the Old West

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Gregory D. Smithers, Professor of History and Eminent Scholar (2019–2024) in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, spent the spring researching and writing for a book project entitled The Riverkeepers: The Cherokees, Their Neighbors, and the Rivers that Made America. 

 


Print showing Linn brothers in hand-to-hand combat in a Native American village, Kentucky, ca. 1785. Illustration from Augustus Lynch Mason, The Romance and Tragedy of Pioneer Life, 1883, p. 413. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Like many eighteenth-century militiamen, Joseph Bowman was interested in more than warfare. Bowman’s enlistment in Virginia’s militia during the Revolutionary War also served the modus operandi for thousands of colonial Americans by the latter half of the century: the business of doing business. In a letter dated 14 June 1779, Bowman provided a rich description of the economic opportunities available to Virginians who were willing to try their luck throughout Anglo-America’s western frontiers. From New Orleans to the Ohio Valley, Bowman surveyed a diverse land rich in financial possibilities.

Joseph Bowman was born in Frederick County, Virginia, on 8 March 1752. The grandson of German immigrants, the family made the decision at some point during the eighteenth century to anglicize their surname name from “Baumann” to “Bowman.” Bowman’s forebears saw the western frontiers of Virginia as a space where they might prosper. As such, the family joined the first Europeans to settle in … read more »

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- Vestiges of Vietnam: Gathering Stories of the Refugee Experience

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. An independent scholar from Arlington, Kim O’Connell spent the spring working on a forthcoming project The Saving Grace of Spring Rolls: A Story of Food, Place, and Family.


The author's parents on their wedding day. Courtesy of Kim O'Connell.

“No single story can capture the diaspora’s experiences,” wrote the Vietnamese author and Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, speaking of the mass exodus from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. This is one reason that, as a Virginia Humanities fellow, I’ve been gathering a range of stories about the Vietnamese immigrant and refugee experience here in Virginia.

Another reason involves my family. My mother, Huong, was born in Vietnam and met my father Dennis during the war. She had been hired by the U.S. Army to teach Vietnamese to American soldiers, and my father, then working in Army Intelligence with the U.S. Special Forces, was in her class. After a short courtship, they married on the military base in Okinawa, Japan, and he brought her back to America, where I was born. Immigrating via marriage, my mother was not a refugee, but in her own way she was driven by war from one life into another. By telling her story, I hope to better … read more »

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- “Irrespective of race or color:” African Americans and the Making of a New Virginia Constitution


The State Convention at Richmond, Va., in Session, with Willis A. Hodges in the center front, published in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, February 15, 1868.

On 17 April 1868, exactly seven years after a Virginia convention had voted to secede from the United States, another Virginia convention voted to approve a new constitution. For the first time in Virginia’s history, African American men participated in framing the state’s governing principles and laws.

The Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography has recently completed a project to document the lives of these African American members of the convention, and their biographies are published online with our digital partner, Encyclopedia Virginia. These biographies (and many others) can be accessed through the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page or through Encyclopedia Virginia.

In 1867 Congress had required states of the former Confederacy (except Tennessee) to write

First Vote, from the cover of Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867.

new constitutions before their senators and representatives could take their seats in Congress. On 22 October 1867, African American men voted for the first time in Virginia. In the election conducted by U.S. Army officers, voters answered two questions: whether to hold a convention to write a new constitution, and, if the convention referendum passed, who would represent them. Army officers recorded votes of white and black men separately, and some or all localities required voters to place their ballots in separate ballot boxes. Many white Virginians refused to participate in the election or were ineligible because they were former Confederates who had not taken an … read more »

- The Remarkable Hodges Family of Princess Anne County and Norfolk


Caricature of Willis A. Hodges published in Richmond Southern Opinion, December 21, 1867.

During the night of 23 April 1829, six African American men made a daring escape from the Norfolk County jail. One of them was William Johnson Hodges, a free man suspected of forging free papers and passes for enslaved Virginians. In this case, he had been convicted of changing the amount owed on a bill for another man and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He fled to Canada and later settled in Brooklyn.

 The Hodges family of Princess Anne County and Norfolk played an important role in Virginia’s postbellum political landscape. Four members of the family are included as part of the Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography project in collaboration with Encyclopedia Virginia to document the lives of African American legislators and members of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868.

William Johnson Hodges was the eldest son of Charles Augustus Hodges and his second wife, Julia Nelson Willis Hodges, free African Americans of mixed-race ancestry. Julia’s father was a white man who reportedly served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The family was one of the more prosperous of the free black families in Princess Anne County. Charles Hodges purchased three farms and his own father’s freedom, and arranged for his children’s education. At some point, almost every member of the family moved to New York to avoid the discrimination and … read more »

- History in Your Hands: The Smartest Way to Explore 400 Years of History


Virginia History Trails promo

Love history? Love to travel? The Virginia History Trails app is for you! Developed by the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, in collaboration with the Library of Virginia and Virginia Humanities, the Virginia History Trails app is one of many endeavors commemorating 400 years of Virginia history and culture centering on themes of democracy, diversity, and opportunity.

The Virginia History Trails app contains more than 400 stories highlighting important people, places, and events that shaped the state and the nation. Included in the stories are more than 200 historic sites, museums, and markers awaiting discovery. Each story contains an image, short description, and links to more information, as well as mapped directions from your location. You can find these stories with the keyword search function or by finding what is nearby with the app’s GPS option. If you are not sure where to start, there are 20 preloaded trails to explore:

  • African American
  • American Revolution
  • Citizenship
  • Civil Rights
  • Civil War
  • Conflicts
  • Culture
  • Education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Exploration
  • Immigration
  • Innovation
  • Military
  • Preservation
  • Presidents
  • Religious Liberty
  • Representative Government
  • Resistance
  • Virginia Indians
  • Women

Through these trails you can learn more about historical figures and events you know (or think you know) and discover other items of interest. Let’s say you know about Maggie Walker, the civil rights activist and pioneer businesswoman. The app shows the location of her home … read more »

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