Dr. Paul J. Parker ruled on 11 June 1935, that “James A. Branch came to his death of gun shot wound while gun was in hands of Lewis Smith at No 4 Curry St Phoebus Va [sic].” However, five months later he modified his ruling when he wrote, “James Branch came to his death by a gun shot wound just below the lobe of the left ear, this occurred at the corner of Curry and County Streets, Phoebus, Va.” Lack of an explanation for this momentous change amplified the intrigue and portended a unique case in the otherwise straightforward files of Dr. Parker.
As the medical examiner for Elizabeth City County, later the City of Hampton, Dr. Parker was tasked with conducting coroner’s inquiries into any sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious deaths, or any death which occurred without medical attendance. These inquiries included conducting depositions to determine how the victim came to his or her death and, if so warranted, forwarding his findings to the Elizabeth City County Circuit Court for grand jury consideration.
In the case of James Branch, Dr. Parker, after deposing eleven witnesses, found that Lewis Smith had held the gun that fired the fatal shot. Included in this group of witnesses was Mr. Smith, whom Dr. Parker advised had been charged with murder. Interestingly Dr. Parker then did what … read more »
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. John Henry Ellis, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking and grand larceny. His temper got him in trouble several times while incarcerated.
John Henry Ellis was convicted in March 1932 in Richmond Hustings Court for housebreaking and sentenced to three years in the Penitentiary. Ellis was sent to work on State Convict Road Force Camp 19 in Wythe County where he immediately clashed with the guards. “Ellis has been saucy and impudent with the guard and foreman here,” reported Camp Sgt. M.C. Russell to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell on 19 October 1932. His work was unsatisfactory as well. “The [State Highway Department] foreman called him out without any results,” Russell wrote. “Finally he threatened to stand him on the bank and Ellis told him he didn’t give a damn what he did with him.” Russell punished him on 5 October 1932 by making him “stand in cuffs from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. taking him down only for meals and to use the bucket.”
Ellis turned violent on 17 October 1932. While a group of prisoners worked in a quarry, one of them broke wind. Another prisoner, Robert Coleman, said to … read more »
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. Clinton Kirby, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking, shot while trying to escape from the Medical College of Virginia, and diagnosed as psychotic.
On 19 August 1932, Clinton Kirby, a convicted felon serving a ten-year sentence for robbery, was brought from the State Farm in Goochland County to the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) in Richmond. Kirby was at MCV to have his arm x-rayed. He broke it in 1931 and it had caused him discomfort ever since. Within minutes of arriving at the Dispensary Building, Kirby rushed out the front door and ran north on 11th Street trying to escape. H.H. Bowles, the guard who accompanied Kirby to MCV, raced after him firing two warning shots in the air. “But after wasting two good bullets that way,” reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bowles fired two shots directly at Kirby. The first shot missed. The second shot hit Kirby in his left arm just after he crossed Leigh Street in front of the city dump. Bowles apprehended him within seconds. Kirby returned to the hospital by ambulance and surgeons removed the slug from his arm.
Kirby was convicted in July 1930 … read more »
Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by two variants of a virus—variola major and variola minor. Since smallpox was certified as eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1979, it has managed to make its way back into the news. Vaccination has become a hot button topic among parents. As a nation, free from epidemics and pandemics, we have become suspicious—sometimes with the perceived risks of vaccination outweighing the advantages. Without a large-scale and successful vaccination program, however, smallpox would still be claiming lives. During the 20th century alone, an estimated 300-500 million people worldwide were victims of this deadly disease.
Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the concerns about using lethal viruses, like smallpox, as weapons of bioterrorism have become all too real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traveled to New Mexico and the College of Santa Fe’s Fogelson Library in 2004 and the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond in 2010 to remove and study smallpox scabs found in their collections. Smallpox scabs could contain the live virus. In these cases, the virus was no longer live but the scraps of DNA found allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of the evolutionary history of the smallpox virus. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, a new policy to make the vaccine available to every American was instituted. As the scientific community … read more »
The varied experience of the African American residents of Montgomery County, Virginia, reveals itself in many documentary sources, but perhaps none as unexpected to some researchers as in the chancery causes. As a preview of the upcoming workshop “Researching Your African American Ancestors: Genealogy to 1870” scheduled to be held at the Christiansburg Public Library on 19 July 2014, here follow five examples from the Montgomery County chancery causes highlighting different facets of African American life over the span of 100 years.
Whether as slaves or free persons of color, African Americans arrived in the western parts of Virginia as soon as the area began to be settled by easterners. The earliest chancery suit with an identified free person is suit 1819-016, Lewis Garner vs. Peter Hance. Peter Hance executed a bond to Garner, “a man of color” for $49.75 in 1813. Garner then lost the note and Hance refused to honor the debt. Garner filed suit against Hance to clarify the circumstances of the debt, the loss of the note, and to collect what he was owed. The suit was dismissed at the request of the plaintiff in 1819.
Slaves appear throughout the chancery suits in many different situations, most commonly in an estate settlement suit when the slaves are divided among heirs or sold to pay debts. Chancery cause 1847-015, Ann Trigg, … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the final batch of digital images of legislative petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776-1865, is now available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes present-day West Virginia and Kentucky counties and numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities. With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available online number over 24,000.
Legislative petitions are one the few primary source documents that provide valuable insight concerning the plight of Native Americans during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In reading them, one will discover the depth of poverty and disease Native Americans experienced in Virginia. An example can be found in a petition filed in October 1786 by Simon and John Turner of Southampton County asking the General Assembly for an act appointing trustees to join them in the conveyance of land owned by the Nansemond Indian tribe located on the north side of the Nottoway River. They introduced themselves as the “only surviving men of the Nansemond Indians.” Proceeds from the sale would be used to bring relief from “bodily infirmities” and oppressive poverty for the last of the Nansemond tribe, the two petitioners and three women, who currently resided with their friend and neighbors in the Nottoway tribe. The … read more »
On 6 June 1944, soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history. Thirty soldiers from Bedford, Virginia, members of Company A of the 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach. “By day’s end,” according to the National D-Day Memorial, “nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses.” The Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead, part of the records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, documents the sacrifice of 15 of the 19 Bedford soldiers.
The Virginia World War II History Commission was established by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly approved on 8 March 1944. The commission was a policy-making body comprised of twelve non-salaried citizens appointed by the Governor. Its purpose was “to collect, assemble, edit, and publish. . . information and material with respect to the contribution to World War II made by Virginia and Virginians.” One of the most important records created by the Commission were the Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s Dead, a questionnaire completed by the next-of-kin of Virginians killed during … read more »
Here at the Library of Virginia, we love seeing patrons locate records that answer a long-held question, fill in branches of the family tree, or otherwise connect the present to the past. We recently began collecting such stories from patrons eager to share their discoveries, gathering them as part of our “My Big Find” project. You’ll see these stories popping up in various LVA outreach outlets, including here at Out of the Box in an occasional segment, beginning today, which we are calling “Big Find Friday.”
It’s fairly common for someone to say that something–a work of art or literature, a photograph, or perhaps an archival record like the ones we preserve here—“speaks to” him or her. In one of our latest “My Big Find” submissions, a patron found that expression to be particularly appropriate. With a little help from Archives Reference Coordinator Minor Weisiger, patron Jennie Howe discovered a record of the 1800 naturalization of her third great-grandfather, weaver Robert Nisbet (1746-1812). As she studied the document, she noticed that Nisbet’s birthplace of Ayr, Scotland, had been recorded as “the County of Ier in Scotland.” Howe explains that “I felt as if the over 200-year-old paper literally spoke to me, as the clerk recorded the ‘Ier’ he heard for the ‘Ayr’ that Nisbet said with his Gaelic accent.”
Has the past “spoken” to you … read more »