What does it mean to be free? Some might define freedom as having no obligations to a particular thing or person. A free person cannot be owned by anyone, or forced to do anything they do not want to do. However, in Patrick County, Virginia, amid the conclusion of the Civil War, freedom had an entirely different meaning.
The dispute in the chancery cause William A. Burwell vs. Adms. of Richard Pilson, 1871-011, concerns two slaves in Patrick County who were sold as part of the estate of the late Richard Pilson. The purchaser, William A. Burwell, used an estimated $2,800 secure bond to purchase the slaves at a public auction in June 1865. The bond signified a promise to pay before the end of a 12-month period. Burwell’s transaction was not uncommon. Slaves were often bought and sold as part of estates, even throughout the Civil War. However, the interesting part of this transaction was that the war was quickly coming to an end.
Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union forces in April 1865—two months before Burwell’s purchase. This surrender afforded enslaved men and women the right to freedom under President Lincoln’s historic Emancipation Proclamation and the document known as the “Alexandria Constitution,” which governed Virginia during the early years of military occupation. These actions had … read more »
As a holiday, Thanksgiving has a long history in Virginia. Arguably the first Day of Thanksgiving intended to serve as an annual holiday was celebrated at the Berkeley Hundred plantation on 4 December 1619, although thanksgiving services were a commonality in all areas settled by Europeans. George Washington issued the first proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving under the new national government in 1789, following up with a second Thanksgiving proclamation in 1795. It was under President Abraham Lincoln that the day became a true federal holiday; Lincoln was prompted by a series of editorials and letters written by Sarah Josepha Hale to proclaim the final Thursday in November 1863 as the national Thanksgiving Day.
In the years following 1863, presidents followed Lincoln’s example and proclaimed the final Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. State governors would also issue Thanksgiving proclamations for their individual states. The Library of Virginia has several examples of proclamation issued by Governors McKinney, O’Ferrall, and Tyler between 1893 and 1898. In these proclamations, governors encouraged citizens to gather with their friends and families, do “some good deed,” and to help those less fortunate by “brining comfort and happiness to homes and hearts that have been darkened by adversity.” The governors reference national events such as the Spanish-American War and the Panic of 1896, praising the “wonderful courage and firmness” of … read more »
In observance of Veteran’s Day, Out of the Box would like to spotlight the Virginia World War II Separation Notices (accession 23573). Part of the records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, the collection contains approximately 250,000 notices for World War II veterans discharged between 1942 and 1950 (with the bulk between 1944 and 1946) who sought employment in Virginia. Most of the notices are for military personnel who were born or raised in Virginia prior to the war and returned to Virginia after their discharge from service. While not a complete military service record, the separation notices provide a glimpse into the combat and wartime experiences, background, and post-war lives of Virginia World War II veterans.
The one page separation notice packs in a wealth of information including date and place of birth, physical description, race, marital status, and civilian occupation for each individual. Also included is rank, military organization, date of induction or enlistment, place of entry into service, military occupation, battles and campaigns, decorations and citations, wounds received in action, service outside the continental United States, prior service, total lengthy of service, and reason for separation. Naval records also list training schools attended and places of service (ships and naval stations). In addition to the separation notice, many of the army records also contain a qualification record documenting the … read more »
The Library of Virginia (LVA) recently completed the reformatting of the Auditor of Public Accounts, Receipts and Disbursements Journals, 1778-1797, (Accession APA 45). These twenty-one volumes are now available in our Reading Room as Miscellaneous Reels 6251-6262. Funding for this project was made possible in part through the sponsorship of the Virginia State Society, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).
These volumes are comprised of daily entries of revenues and expenditures, many of which document payments for Revolutionary War service and public service contributions. Entries include payments for military service in the militia and Continental Line and for other military services rendered, relief payments to disabled soldiers and widows, interest paid on military certificates, and reimbursement for impressed property, as well as payments to individuals for civil services and to members of the General Assembly.
Typical examples from this time period include the warrant on 27 April 1782 for Elizabeth Jones, the poor widow of soldier Richard Jones who was killed at Sewell’s Point in 1777; the authorization on 15 December 1778 to pay Thomas Jefferson for provisions furnished to the Albemarle Militia; a warrant from 4 February 1779 to James Nichols for lodging three prisoners belonging to the British warship Swift; a payment authorization from 27 April 1782 for George Rogers Clark, for building boats to be used on the western … read more »
It’s often repeated that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’m starting to think I misunderstood that quote. It seems to be less about the literal repetition of an act, as I once believed, and more about repetition of evaluation. In other words, we react as if it were the first time every time. Winston Churchill warned that this would usher in “the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views.”
While processing different types of records, archivists often come across something that ties the past a bit closer to the present. It might be a graphic description of an adulterous affair in a nineteenth century court document that would make Perez Hilton blush, or a rant on bureaucratic red tape from early twentieth century governor’s correspondence that still rings true today. It is both surprising and oddly reassuring to read a historical document with subject matter that could have been pulled from today’s headlines. The story of the Payne family is just such a tale.
Joseph E. Payne, a prosperous Frederick County farmer, and his wife, Sarah, had eight daughters. The Paynes were one of the oldest families in the area and, according to some newspaper accounts, well respected. Joseph’s death in 1864 and the post-war economy struck a financial blow to the family. While … read more »
Tags: Berkeley County, Chancery Causes, custody, Frederick County, gender, habeas corpus, Judgments, marriage, medical, Payne, Winchester
As a non-librarian at the Library of Virginia, I am constantly grateful for both the depth of our collections and the knowledge of our archival and reference staff. My job is to help look after Virginia’s State Art Collection, which consists of artworks owned by the Commonwealth on display in public buildings in the Capitol Square area. As part of my job, I do research on state art objects in response to inquiries from the public and in order to flesh out catalog files.
The works in the State Art Collection are mostly what you would expect – portraits of public officials, statues and busts of presidents, and the occasional scenic Virginia landscape. Paintings of private individuals have also become part of the collection over the years, either through association with a notable Virginian, or as a gift to the state. In some instances, as with this portrait of a World War I era soldier, the identity of the subject and the way the piece was acquired have been forgotten, and we are left with a mystery.
As with any piece of material culture, the best place to start is the object itself. There are a few clues in the painting: the signature indicates that it was painted in 1920 by local artist John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), and the uniform insignia shows that our … read more »
It’s that glorious time of year again when the air is cooler, leaves are donning their autumnal colors, and archives and special collections are on everyone’s mind. That’s right, friends, it’s Archives Month in Virginia. Though we’re a bit late sharing archival greetings from the Out of the Box blog, that in no way indicates a diminished enthusiasm!
This year’s theme is “Archival Treasures: Find Your Hidden Gem.” Nineteen institutions from around Virginia submitted images for handsomely designed 2015 poster. A downloadable poster image, information about Archives Month events, and other relevant information can be found on the Virginia Archives Month web page.
So as you go hunt for you hidden gem, give a thought to the devoted men and women who make archival materials available for public access and the institutions that collect tomorrow’s history today. And before October ends, hug an archivist (but ask permission first)!… read more »
In 1999, the horror film The Sixth Sense introduced the iconic phrase, “I see dead people,” into pop culture. The film followed the progression from a young boy’s ability to see the deceased to also hearing what they had to say. In the first decade of the 20th century, this unusual talent would have helped resolve a dispute over the last will and testament of a wealthy estate owner.
In 1906, the estate of Richard R. Rakes was the center of attention for two sets of heirs. The first were the children of Rakes’ first wife, Sarah D. Turner, who passed away several years before. To their dismay, Rakes did not leave them an inheritance because he believed they were already well cared for before his demise. The second set of heirs, however, received a much better report.
The surviving widow, Mary Rakes, and her children were the sole beneficiaries of the estate, which included several hundred acres of property, horses, county bonds, evidence of debts, and other assets worth thousands of dollars. The desires of Richard Rakes seemed fairly straight-forward, if it were not for the betrayal of C. P. Nolen—the executor of the estate.
Nolen decided to partner with the children from Rakes’ first marriage to fool the widow Mary into thinking that a different plan existed. Their efforts were successful and resulted … read more »
Working with state records often means finding the most interesting things in the most unexpected places. For example, I never thought that going through Land Office records would lead me to a piece of Richmond’s lost history.
The records in question were among the papers of the Superintendent of Weights and Measures, whose duties were transferred to the register of the Land office by a legislative act in 1867. The superintendent retained a series of advertising circulars, printed materials sent by various companies promoting their products—including various hotels advertising their amenities and rates. Although most of the hotels that sent their pamphlets to the superintendent were located in Washington, D. C., one local hotel was also represented—Murphy’s Hotel, which stood directly across from the Library of Virginia’s current location, at the corner of 8th & Broad St. The building, which shares the block with St. Peter’s Church and the former Hotel Richmond, was torn down in 2007. The original plan was to replace the hotel with a modern high-rise that would house offices for the Commonwealth of Virginia; however, this has not yet occurred.
Murphy’s Hotel began life as oyster shack owned by John Murphy, who immigrated to Virginia from Ireland at the age of six. Murphy joined the Confederate Army when he was 20, serving at different times in both the artillery and … read more »