In 1820, Rachel Findley won freedom for herself and more than 35 of her descendants in a Powhatan County court in a law suit dating back to 1773. Hester Jane Carr, a free African American, was tricked into leaving her home in New York City in 1836 and sold as a slave in Petersburg. In 1860, Dennis Holt, a free African American living in Campbell County, petitioned to be re-enslaved so that he could remain with his enslaved wife. The stories of these lives and many more can be found within historic Virginia documents.
Researchers have long lamented the scarcity of primary sources for information about the pre–Civil War lives of African Americans. Noted historian and host of the PBS genealogy series Finding Your Roots, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., referred to the Civil War as “a roadblock for many when researching their African American heritage.” Documents recording the pre–Civil War experiences of African Americans, enslaved or free, either do not exist or have been mostly inaccessible.
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the initiative Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, a new digital collection of records that will help the public break through the “roadblock” that has long impeded African American history research. The project will bring to light the pre–Civil War experiences of African Americans documented in the Library’s … read more »
Also posted in What's New in the Archives
Tags: African Americans, Digital Projects, Emancipation, Free African Americans, freedom, Local Records, manumission, petitions, Primary Sources, slavery, VaUntold
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
The Petersburg Deeds of Manumission from April 1822 relate the tale of James Dunlop and his slave, John Brown. Dunlop, suffering from an unspecified illness, traveled between Virginia’s resort towns seeking treatment. Many considered the natural springs in Hot Springs and Lexington, among others, sources of healing for numerous maladies. Dunlop decided to free or “manumit” his slave John for “John’s great and unusual attention to me while under a very severe illness.” While the pair was visiting Lexington, the local doctor was absent for some days in the country. Dunlop experienced a spell “brought on by exposure to the rain while on a trip to the Natural Bridge, after visiting Hot Springs and using freely the hot baths.” He felt that his life “was in imminent danger.” The only person Dunlop knew in Lexington was John Brown. During Dunlop’s illness, Brown took care of him. Recalling this experience years later, Dunlop wrote:
“[without Brown’s] close and extraordinary attention in watching over my disease, administering medicines and nourishment to me, agreeable to the best of his skill night and day, it is more than probable I
… read more »
This is the third in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
During the Civil War, Virginia enacted legislation to force African Americans, both slave and free, into “public service” supporting the Confederacy. Their primary responsibility would be to erect “batteries, entrenchments or other necessities of the military service,” which could include working in mines and factories, preparing meals and washing clothes for Confederate soldiers, or driving supply wagons.
Legislation to impress free African Americans was passed shortly after Virginia’s secession from the Union. In July 1861, the state convention that had approved secession passed an ordinance “to provide for the enrollment and employment of free Negroes in the public service.” This ordinance was amended and re-enacted by the General Assembly in February 1862. The legislation authorized local courts to enroll for “public use” all able-bodied male free African Americans between the ages of eighteen and fifty. They would not serve more than 180 days and would be fairly compensated for their services.
When a commanding officer of the Confederate Army had need of the services of free African Americans, a local board would select from the list of free African Americans “such number of laborers as in … read more »
This is the second in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
Around 1811, a young girl named Ellsey was born on a plantation in Montgomery County, Tennessee. She had brothers and sisters. Her mother died sometime before Ellsey turned 11 years old. Ellsey was not a healthy child. She was “much troubled from rumitisem (sic),” a disease marked by inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles. In 1822, Ellsey made a seven hundred mile journey from Montgomery County to the Greenwood Mills plantation in Frederick County, Virginia. For a young child suffering from rheumatism, it could not have been an easy trip. Why did she do it? Was it to seek medical attention for her illness? Did her family move to Virginia to start a new life? The answer is that Ellsey had no choice but to move to Virginia. Ellsey was a slave owned by John McAllister, a wealthy landowner and businessman. He brought young Ellsey from his Tennessee plantation to his Virginia plantation “for his own use.”
Soon after bringing Ellsey to Frederick County, McAllister was required by Virginia law to sign an oath in the local court stating that he did not bring … read more »
This is the first in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
Enslaved African Americans in antebellum Virginia attempted to secure their freedom in many ways. The violent, armed uprisings led by Nat Turner and Gabriel loom large in historical memory, and the historical record is littered with stories of runaway slaves stealing off in the night to seek freedom with the help of the Underground Railroad. However, the narratives of enslaved individuals who used the law to secure their freedom are frequently missing from this dialogue. The Library of Virginia’s collection of freedom suits helps to illuminate these stories.
Enslaved Virginians could petition the court for their freedom “forma pauperis” based on a few different claims. Since free or enslaved status in antebellum Virginia was based on the status of the mother, petitioners often sued on the basis that they were born of a free woman. In many cases these suits involve individuals claiming descent from a Native American. After 1788, slaveholders who brought slaves to Virginia when resettling from another state were required to register their slaves with the county court and sign an oath stating that they had not brought them for the purpose of … read more »
We’re happy to announce that Making History: Transcribe is now live! This site will enable users to transcribe documents in the Library of Virginia collections in a collaborative online work space that will host 5-10 projects at a time. The goal is to generate transcriptions to allow full-text searchability in Digitool or other future delivery platforms and increase ease of use. We hope to engage the public in deciphering some of the most interesting items in the Library of Virginia Collections and, with everyone’s help, build a more searchable and useful way to access Virginia history.
The need for transcription vastly outstrips library staff time, both here at the LVA and globally. What better way to solve this dilemma than to engage the public around areas of interest? Developments in open source transcription tools, such as the Scripto for Omeka, are making it possible for users to assist cultural institutions in improving access to and understanding of our resources. Our transcription site is closely modeled after the University of Iowa’s DIY History site, in which they further developed the Omeka Scripto plugin used for crowdsourcing the transcription of documents. UI-Libraries also provided the Scribe theme which dictates the look and experience of the project. The Library of Virginia made only minor changes to UI-Libraries solution, all of which can be found within one of … read more »
The Lost Records Localities Digital Collection consists of copies of records from counties or incorporated cities that have suffered significant record loss due to intense military activity (predominantly during the Civil War), courthouse fires, theft, vandalism, water damage, pest damage, and/or natural disasters. Copies are made from surviving records such as wills and deeds found in the court records of other localities as part of chancery and other circuit court records processing projects. The “lost” documents are digitally scanned and the images and pertinent information are added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory.
The Lost Records Localities project has been an ongoing one for the Library of Virginia for decades. During the mid-1910’s, Virginia’s first state archivist Morgan P. Robinson sent a letter to all clerks inquiring about the state of the records in their courthouses. Many responded saying the records were destroyed during the American Revolution, Civil War, courthouse fire, etc. The coming of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program in the early 1990’s continued this project and enabled the hiring of additional archival staff to process circuit court records, mainly chancery causes. While processing chancery, archivists identify documents from localities that suffered loss of records–a Will of Matthew Koon, 1731, recorded in Stafford County and used as an exhibit in a Fauquier County chancery cause or … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images from the Prince George County chancery causes digitization project are now available on the Chancery Records Index. Both the images and the index cover the years 1809-1917 and are available to researchers on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.
The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly available Prince George County chancery digital images. Richard W. Backus vs. Admr. of John B. Williams, etc., 1837-003, references the postponement of the sale of a slave named Ursa because she was ill. Divorce suit 1875-001, David Harrison vs. Eliza A. Harrison, includes a letter from the court clerk referencing the destruction of a marriage license by the “Raiders” during the Civil War. Another divorce suit, Bettie Hays vs. William Hays, 1908-003 provides detailed testimony given by the plaintiff of spousal abuse by her husband. (These divorce cases join one already mentioned here on Out of the Box – a divorce in which the husband claimed that the child his wife gave birth to could not possibly be his.) In chancery cause 1916-023, Cubit Stith vs. Lucy Jackson, etc., Cubit Stith describes himself as an uneducated colored man who was born a slave. He and his daughter, Lucy Jackson, were in a bitter dispute for control … read more »
With 2011 marking the 70th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War II, the Library of Virginia undertook a concerted effort to collect the papers of the war’s veterans. Members of the “Greatest Generation” or their families donated a wealth of extraordinary materials consisting of letters, diaries, photographs, reminiscences, military records, and other items. These collections document the contribution of Virginians to the war effort both at the front and at home. One of the most interesting items was lent to the library for copying by Clinton Davis of Staunton—a yearbook of one of World War II’s most legendary outfits, the Tuskegee Airmen. His father, Ralph H. Davis, served at the Tuskegee Airfield throughout World War II as a mechanic.
The senior Davis, born 5 February 1915 in Providence, Rhode Island, often did odd jobs and ran errands for pilots and airport personnel at the original Providence airport near his uncle’s farm. Payment or reward for his work would often come in the form of airplane rides, which Davis would turn into lessons. He soon earned his private pilot’s license, and on a list issued by the Commerce Department in January 1939, Davis was the only African American pilot from Rhode Island. World War II began in Europe later that year, and in 1940 the United States began preparing for involvement by establishing a draft. … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of Surry County to the cohabitation register digitization project. This project, via the Virginia Memory website, aims to index, digitize, transcribe, and provide access to all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit.
The Surry County register contains some of the most delightful names that one may have had the opportunity to run across in a historical document. Could one of these fine folks be an ancestor of yours?
- Champion Blizzard
- Mike Blow and his wife Anarchy
- Champion Bird
- Squire Charity
- Nancy Drew
- Cherry Birdsong
- Jim Beets
- Queen Anne Gray
- Sharper Falcon
- Sam Wisdom
- Harry Honeycatt
- Sucky Blue
- Nancy Pooten
- Jupiter Cheeseman
- Indiana Charity
- Robin Wren and his wife Amy Falcon
- Cheeseman Smith
- Moses Twine
- Dolphin Morris
- Harry Falcon and his wife Susan Hasty
Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the oftentimes murky past to their enslaved ancestors. The registers date from 1866 and provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover. Cohabitation registers were the legal vehicles by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information … read more »