- Virginians in the Great War: Clarence A. Bryce, Jr. (1889-1918)


Photograph of Clarence A. Bryce, Jr. (1889-1918), Bryce Questionnaire.

This is the first entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I. United States Marine Private Clarence A. Bryce, Jr., the subject of this week’s post, died on 2 November 1918 after being hit by a German artillery shell during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.


Clarence A. Bryce (1889-1918) Questionnaire, Virginia War History Commission, Series I. Individual Service Records (Questionnaires), box 16, folder 15, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Clarence Archibald Bryce, Jr. was born on 17 August 1889 in Richmond, Virginia, to Clarence Archibald Bryce, Sr. (1849-1928), a physician, and Virginia Keene (1861-1935), an artist. Dr. Bryce was a prominent Richmond physician for over 50 years and a prolific writer on medical topics. Virginia Bryce studied art in Paris and ran an art school in Richmond. They had five children: Mildred Bryce (1886-1955), Virginia Bryce (1888-1974), Clarence Bryce, Jr. (1889-1918), Jeannette Bryce Staton (1892-1975), and Louise Bryce Pavay (1898-1985). When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Bryce was a self-employed auto mechanic in Richmond. He attempted to enlist in the Army but was rejected because of his low weight. Bryce successfully enlisted in the United States Marine Corp on 7 April 1918 at Paris Island, South Carolina.

After training at Fort Crockett, Texas and Quantico, Virginia, Bryce and his unit, Company B, 1st Training Battalion, left for France, arriving in Brest on 26 August 1918. After additional training for the front, Bryce joined 82nd Company, 6th … read more »

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- Over There and Over Here: Virginia, World War I, and the Records of the War History Commission

Editor’s note: This post was adapted from a talk given by Roger Christman, state records archivist.


Virginia in the War: Topical Outline for a City or County War History - Publication No. 3, Virginia War History Commission, Series IX Office Files, box 233, folder 3, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

A hundred years ago, on 6 April 1917, the United States officially entered World War I, declaring war on Germany almost three years after the conflict began in Europe. Virginia was a major participant in the United States’ war effort. Just over 100,000 Virginians served in World War I, with over 4,000 dying from disease, combat, and training accidents, and many more injured or disabled. Several areas in Virginia became essential centers for the war effort; these included Hampton Roads as a supply and deployment center, the naval base at Norfolk, the horse remount station in Front Royal, and the mobilization base now known as Fort Lee.

Virginia will commemorate the World War I centennial with a number of events and projects. The Virginia World War I and World War II Profiles of Honor Mobile Tour will provide an interactive exhibit to museums, libraries, and historic sites throughout Virginia. Visitors will be invited to bring their own World War I and II-related photographs to be scanned for inclusion in the Virginia Profiles of Honor project. The Library of Virginia will catalog these materials, and some will be featured on Transcribe along with materials from our other collections.


Photograph of Arthur Kyle Davis, Virginia War History Commission, Series XI. Office Files, 1917-1927, box 160, folder 1, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Efforts to document Virginia’s involvement in WWI are far from new, however.  In … read more »

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- Ibby Jane Smith: U.S. Pensioner

Ibby Jane Smith was born in January 1864 in Northampton County, Virginia, the daughter of Leah Smith, also called Leah Jacob, and Seth Smith, also known as Seth Scott. Ibby Jane’s father had served in Company C, 10th Infantry Regiment of the United States Colored Troops. Ibby received a pension from the United States government for her father’s service during the Civil War.  The information about Ibby Jane Smith, her parents, her grandparents, uncles and aunts is found in Northampton County Chancery Cause Harry Fitchett & wife, etc. VS admr. of Ibby Jane Smith (alias Ibbie Jane Smith) etc.1886-003.

The deposition of Jacob Fitchett, the acting Sergeant in charge of the Freedman’s Bureau at Town Fields (near present day Cheriton in Northampton County), tells how Ibby Jane’s mother, Leah, brought her to Town Fields in January 1864 when Ibby Jane was about two weeks old. Leah registered Ibby Jane as the legitimate child of Seth Smith, alias Seth Scott. Leah claimed Seth as her husband because they had lived together as husband and wife.

The deposition of John A. Nottingham, the son of James B. Nottingham, Leah’s former owner, stated that Leah and Seth began cohabiting in 1861 at Dr. George W. Smith’s farm. Dr. Smith, the son-in-law of James B. Nottingham, was the owner of Seth. While living at the Smith farm, Seth went off to … read more »

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- A Few of Our Favorite Things: Even More Letterhead in the Archive

As promised in a previous post, here’s another look at some of the plethora of letterheads and stationery found in our archives.  The original text by Vince Brooks is included here for context.

Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.

Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.

The primary role of these illustrations at the time of their use was publicity. The images showed bustling factories, busy street corners, and sturdy bank buildings–all portraying ideas of solidity, activity, and progress. Other types of symbolism can be found in commercial stationery, the most ubiquitous being “man’s best friend.” Dogs … read more »

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- “To the land of their fathers”: Emancipation and the Virginia Colonization Board

The American Colonization Society was founded in 1817 to promote the voluntary return of free African Americans in the United States to Africa. In 1822, the Society founded a colony on the west coast of Africa that would become the independent nation of Liberia in 1847. In total, over 3,700 Virginians left for Africa between 1820 and 1865. Many emigrated voluntary, hoping to create better lives for themselves and their families in a colony where they could live as free citizens with full rights; others left only as a requirement of their emancipation. Such was the case with the enslaved persons owned by Elizabeth Gordon of Orange County. In her will, recorded on 22 November 1852, she freed her slaves with instructions that they be sent to Liberia with assistance from Rev. John Royal, who worked with the Virginia Colonization Society.

The General Assembly created the Virginia Colonization Board in April 1853, replacing several earlier incarnations of the Board, in order to help fund the transportation, removal, and settlement of Virginia free persons of color to Liberia. The Virginia Colonization Society, a branch of the American Colonization Society, arranged for the actual passage to Africa and presented the required affidavits to the Colonization Board, proving that individuals were free as of 6 April 1853 and were residents of the state. The Colonization Board reimbursed the … read more »

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- Virginia’s CCRP Program Provides Preservation Grants


ccrplogo-2

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 18 January 2017 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. Six members– four circuit court clerks, appointed annually by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the State Archivist and the Deputy of Collections and Programs–comprise the board. Members meet twice a year to evaluate proposals. Clerks of the Circuit Courts apply for funds to conserve, secure, and increase access to circuit court records. A total of eighty applications were submitted from seventy-nine localities with requests totaling $1,746,149. After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved seventy-nine grant projects totaling over $250,000 (CCRP Grant Awards 2017A). Seventy-seven of the approved applications covered professional conservation treatment for items including deed books, will books, order books, surveyor books, minute books, birth and death registers, and plat books housed in circuit court clerks’ offices which had been damaged by use, age, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining two grants were for records reformatting projects and plat cabinets.

The following are a few of the items that received grant funding:

The CCRP is administrated as part of the Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division. Funded through $1.50 from the circuit court clerk’s … read more »

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- “Down in the shadow of the penitentiary:” the Closing of the Virginia Penitentiary


Photograph of Virginia Penitentiary, ca. 1991, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Warden Raymond M. Muncy, Box 481, Folder 2, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

On Friday, 24 February, a new historical highway marker will be unveiled at the site of the former Virginia Penitentiary at the intersection of Belvidere and Spring Streets in Richmond. The marker, sponsored by Richmond author Dale Brumfield, was approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on 30 June 2016. The Penitentiary closed on 14 December 1990. The Ethyl Corporation, which purchased the 16-acre property for $5 million in December 1987, demolished the Penitentiary in 1991-1992 to build their corporate headquarters on the site. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary at the Library of Virginia document the closing and demolition of the buildings.


Photograph of Cell Block,  Virginia Penitentiary, ca. 1991, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Warden Raymond M. Muncy, Box 481, Folder 2, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

After the state sold the site to Ethyl, the plan was to close the Penitentiary on 1 July 1990. By that time, two new correctional facilities being built in Buchanan and Greensville counties would be finished and operational. Construction delays pushed back the openings of these new prisons and the closing of the Penitentiary was rescheduled for December 1990. In April 1990, A Building, the oldest prison building built in 1904, was closed and the prisoners relocated to B Building. A Building was in terrible condition: rusted cells, peeling paint, and pigeon droppings on the floor. B Building, built in 1939 and opened in 1942, wasn’t much better. A July 1990 inspection by the American Civil Liberties Union … read more »

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- Virginia Untold: Petitions to Remain


Eastman Johnson,

As told in an earlier blog, James Dunlop of Petersburg emancipated his slave, John Brown, in April 1822 through a deed of manumission. One would imagine that Brown must revel in his freedom following a lifetime of bondage. However, his joy over being emancipated was surely tempered by the fact that his wife and children remained slaves. Worse, Virginia law required that slaves emancipated after May 1806 leave the Commonwealth within twelve months. One year after receiving his freedom, Brown would be forced to leave his family and reside in a free state where he knew no one.

Prior to emancipating Brown, Dunlop filed a petition with the General Assembly in December 1821 to permit Brown to remain in the Commonwealth following his emancipation. Dunlop asked the General Assembly “to suffer this faithful slave to spend the remainder of his days, in the enjoyment of freedom, and in the bosom of his family.” Dunlop had nearly one hundred white citizens of Petersburg sign the petition. They acknowledged Brown as worthy of emancipation and deserving of the opportunity to remain in Virginia. The committee in the General Assembly found the petition “reasonable,” drew up and reported a bill, however, the full legislature never acted on the bill.

Brown then had to apply to the local court for permission to remain in Petersburg. Before applying, Brown … read more »

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- It’s A Virginia Thing: Helping One Native Colleague at a Time

Back in 2010 when I was processing the Nelson County chancery suits, I found a remarkable genealogical chart of the prominent Carter family. From that discovery, I wrote my first Out of the Box blog—A Tree Grows In…Chancery! Now, I am here to testify that not only does lightning strike twice, but in the same place as well. Mary Dean Carter, an archival assistant at the Library of Virginia since 2007, was thrilled about my first revelation related to her father’s lineage.

While helping process the Halifax County chancery in 2014, it was my second discovery though that really hit home for Mary Dean. In the beginning of the project Mary Dean had a simple request, let me know if you come across any suits with these last names: Long, Woodall, Land, Burton, Hudson, or VanHook. These surnames belong to her known relatives residing in Halifax County. In a rather lengthy chancery suit from 1869, Heirs of Jesse (Jessee) Ballow v. Exr of Jesse (Jessee) Ballow, etc., 1869-021, I uncovered relatives on her mother’s side of the family.

With the discovery of another well-preserved genealogical chart, Mary Dean determined that her third great grandfather, Hyram Hudson, was a direct descendant of Jesse Ballow’s sister, Anne. A color coded key is provided for reading the chart. Jesse Ballow died in Cumberland County and … read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday: Michael Bertone, No. 18654 and No. 21579


Photograph of Michael Bertone, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 419, Folder 5, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Michael Bertone, the subject of this week’s post, was a member of a gang of yeggmen who robbed the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield in 1921.


Virginian Pilot, 8 February 1921, page 15.

Early on Sunday, 6 February 1921, four men entered the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield through a window. At about 2 AM, an explosion blew off the door to the vault. The bank robbers looted approximately $30,000 worth of Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps from the safety deposit boxes. They left by the back door and drove off in a stolen car. The vehicle, along with $1,800 of Liberty Bonds, was recovered in Petersburg the next day. The police had no witnesses or suspects.

The first break in the case occurred in July 1921. Harry Young, James Powers, alias “Hooligan Joe,” John Hall alias “Jingle Jerry,” and Mike Benton alias Michael Bertone, were arrested near Clarksburg, West Virginia. The four were charged with attempted train robbery. The thieves had removed the switch lights in an attempt to wreck the train and rob the express car. In November 1921, United States Post Office inspectors connected the four to the Wakefield Bank robbery. During their January 1922 term, the Sussex County grand jury … read more »