- Be Our Guest: French’s Tavern in Powhatan County

Barroom Dancing, c. 1820, by John Lewis Krimmel (Image courtesy of Library of Congress).

French’s Tavern, located in Powhatan County, was a prominent 19th century inn and ordinary that served travelers on the Old Buckingham Road, an important thoroughfare linking Richmond with the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley. The tavern, which still stands today, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. An 1843 Powhatan Chancery cause, Meriwether Goodman & wife vs. Lucy S. French, etc., 1843-008, provides more details about French’s Tavern including a plat containing a sketch of the tavern and its location.

According to the National Register nomination, parts of French’s Tavern were built in the early 1730s by Col. Francis Eppes, who patented 2,300 acres in the area in 1730. Thomas Jefferson inherited the land and buildings when he married Eppes’s granddaughter Martha Wayles in 1772. In 1777, the property passed into the hands of Henry Skipwith, who was married to Martha’s half-sister, Ann.  Additions and modifications to the building gradually transformed it from an eighteenth century plantation manor house to a nineteenth century tavern.

Hugh French came to Powhatan County from Loudoun County, “friendless and penniless,” according to an 1842 obituary. French worked as an ordinary keeper in a neighborhood store owned by Francis Eppes Harris, a cousin of Martha Jefferson who bought a portion of Skipwith’s property in 1798. In 1807, French bought the property from Harris, … read more »

- Painting the Town “Light Drab”

Image /WF/12/02/023 from the 1939 World's Fair Virginia Room Photograph Collection

While processing Governor E. Lee Trinkle’s Executive Papers, 1922-1926, I came across several folders relating to the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Virginia. One folder held several paint samples that were likely used to decorate the mansion. One sample of cream paint is marked “Entrance all,” while another color, light drab, is marked “State reception room.” It is worth noting that on 4 January 1926, Governor E. Lee Trinkle’s 5 year old son, Billy, accidently set a Christmas tree alight with a sparkler and caused a fire at the mansion. It is unknown if these color samples were used to repaint the Mansion after the fire or if they were used to repaint the mansion when the family first moved in after Trinkle’s inauguration in 1922. Either way it is interesting to see what colors were chosen to paint the mansion during Governor Trinkle’s term.

-Renee Savits, State Records Archivist… read more »

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- Old Plats of Pocahontas

Taber Andrew Bain from Richmond, VA, USA - Pocahontas Island (Source: WikiCommons)

Pocahontas Island is a peninsula in the Appomattox River incorporated as part of the City of Petersburg in 1784. The small town became home to a large free African American population following the Revolutionary War. The Petersburg chancery causes contain plats showing lots of land in the Town of Pocahontas. The plats show changes to the town during the early 1800s, as the early African American community developed.

A 1993 tornado had a significant impact on the historic fabric of Pocahontas. However, archeology, historical research, and oral history projects continue to uncover information about this unique community. Plats and documents from the Petersburg chancery causes contribute to that documentation.

Other plats and maps can be found in the Chancery Records Index for Petersburg showing other parts of city, as well as plats for land in Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, and Prince George Counties.

–Louise Jones, Local Records Archivist… read more »

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- Library Makes New Batch of Emails from Governor Timothy M. Kaine Administration Available Online

Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall (2002-2010)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the release of 6,745 emails from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine (2006-2010). This latest batch comprises emails from individuals in Kaine’s Secretary of Public Safety office. Included are the email boxes of John Marshall, Clyde Cristman, Marilyn Harris, Dawn Smith and Erin Bryant.  Since January 2014, the Library has made 145,605 emails from the Kaine administration freely available online to the public.

Follow up, 2009-12-28 21:38, KaineLibjmarshall.pst, Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

The Office of the Secretary of Public Safety focused on a variety of subjects including: tracking legislation; stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the 16 April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech; the creation of a public safety memorial; minority procurement; the work of the Governor’s Office for Substance Abuse Prevention (GOSAP); and planning for Queen Elizabeth II’s 2007 visit to Virginia.  For the complete picture, you will need to jump into the collection and start digging.

The Library of Virginia’s Kaine Email Project makes the email records from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine, Virginia’s 70th governor (2006–2010), accessible online. Users can search and view email records from the Governor’s Office and his cabinet secretaries; learn about other public records from the Kaine Administration; go behind the scenes to see how the Library of Virginia made the email records available; and read what read more »

- Willis M. Carter Journal and Research Collection Donated to the Library of Virginia

Title Page, A Sketch of My Life and Our Family Record, Willis M. Carter Collection, ca. 1896-2016. Accession 51546. Personal papers collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Author and researcher Deborah Harding recently donated to the Library of Virginia a rare, firsthand account of slavery and its aftermath written by Willis M. Carter, a once influential but now little known 19th century civil rights pioneer. “A Sketch of My Life and Our Family Record” was acquired by African American historian Cuesta Benberry in the mid-seventies and entrusted to Harding to research and authenticate in 2005. It is the centerpiece of a larger collection of material on Carter compiled over ten years of research on his life and work. The Willis M. Carter Collection, ca. 1894-2016 (accession 51546), also includes the only surviving copy of Carter’s newspaper, the Staunton Tribune dated 1 September 1894 (donated by Jennifer Vickers of Staunton, VA); a handwritten memorial tribute written at Carter’s death by his fellow teachers in Staunton; 18 boxes of supporting research that include depositions from the family that once owned Carter and their views on the Civil War, as well as additional material on slavery, education, and early civil rights in Virginia; a cross referenced manuscript by Harding summarizing Carter’s life and work; and a companion finding aid. The journal, newspaper and memorial tribute have been digitized and are available to researchers online.

Willis McGlascoe Carter was born into slavery in 1852 in Albemarle County, Virginia. He achieved a formal education at … read more »

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- May the 4th Be With You

Even government officials have to let loose sometimes. Happy Star Wars Day from your Out of the Box editors and the Kaine email project!


FW: Presidential Ask, 2008-10-30 18:25, KaineLibjcorbin.pst, Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), State Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va. (cropped)

FW: Presidential Ask, 2008-10-30 19:06, KaineLibjcorbin.pst, Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), State Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va. (cropped) read more »

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- First Freedom: The Great Sabbath Debate, Part 2

Arrest Warrant, Charles Bibbins, 1909, Commonwealth v. A. Berson, et. als., Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Court Records, Criminal Papers, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In last week’s blog post, we learned about the efforts of two Richmond businessmen who lobbied to add an exception for non-Christians to Virginia’s Sabbath breaking law. An early 20th century criminal cause found in the Norfolk County (Chesapeake) court records illustrates that even this exception did not fully clarify the crime of violating the Sabbath.

Charles Bibbins and 27 other Norfolk County men employed by the Eustis Smelting Works were found guilty by a justice of the peace for violation of the Sabbath (Commonwealth v. A. Berson, et. als.). They appealed their convictions to the Norfolk County circuit court. The defendants were not being accused of “laboring at [their] own, or any other trade, or calling” on a Sunday, as Messrs. Levy and Ezekiel were in 1837. Rather they were convicted of being “engaged in business as merchandise merchants […] after sunset on Saturday and during the day commonly known as Sunday.” In essence, they were accused of violating “the exemption as to the Jews” by resuming their work on Saturday night rather than waiting for Sunday.

The case resulted in a ten-page opinion from the ironically named Judge J. T. Lawless, written in the form of an abbreviated dissertation on the history of the Sabbath. His Honor contended that prior to the enactment of the 1779 law by the General Assembly, “[a]t … read more »

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- First Freedom: The Great Sabbath Debate, Part 1

 Broadside, Sabbath Breakers, London, William Miller, 1671. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Source: WikiCommons.

The passage of the Statute for Religious Freedom by the General Assembly in 1786 guaranteed religious freedom to people of all faiths. However, Quakers, Mennonites, Jews, and other religious minorities continued to have concerns about worshiping freely. Their religious beliefs and practices did not conform to the mainstream Protestant beliefs and cultural customs of the day. They felt it necessary to file petitions with the General Assembly in an attempt to safeguard their religious practices.

The topic of the petitions could be something seemingly mundane as with one filed by Quakers from Surry County seeking permission to keep their hats on when greeting another person. They believed the custom of removing one’s hat to greet someone “originated in pride and superstition and that it [hat removal] is a mark of honor due only to the Supreme Being.” Other petitions were more controversial such as ones filed by a group of Quakers, Mennonites, Dunkards, and Tunkers asking to be exempted from military duty on religious grounds.

Some petitions filed by religious minorities were more easily accommodated than others. One religious tenet that proved difficult to accommodate was observance of the Sabbath. On 26 December 1792, the General Assembly passed a law entitled “An act for the effectual suppression of vice, and punishing the disturbers of religious worship, and Sabbath Breakers.” The portion of the act related … read more »

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- First Freedom: Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom


The official enrolled parchment of 16 January 1786, An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, is one of the most important archival records preserved in the Library of Virginia. The text begins partway down one side of the parchment (a specially prepared animal skin) and concludes partway down the other side. The use of parchment developed in England hundreds of years ago for preserving official texts of laws. All the laws of a session of Parliament or a session of the General Assembly were copied onto parchments, signed, and then rolled up like a large scroll; hence, the title ‘Enrolled Bills’ for the official signed texts of these laws. No other version of the text, not even the text of the laws printed by order of the assembly after it adjourned, was considered as authoritative as the enrolled copy. To authenticate the text, the clerks and Speakers of the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia all signed the document. In 1786, governors of Virginia had no veto power, and bills passed by the assembly passed automatically became law without the governor needing to sign them.

By 2013, the Statute had suffered fading and surface abrasion because of improper storage and handling in the decades following its enactment. This led the Virginia Association of Museums to name the Statute one of the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts … read more »

- Sneak Peek: April 16 Voorhees Lecture

The 2016 Alan M. and Nathalie Voorhees Lecture on the History of Cartography will be held at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 16 April 2016. This year’s lecture, Virginia’s District of Columbia, features two guest speakers: Don Hawkins and Dennis Gurtz. Hawkins will present “An Unappreciated Gift,” illustrating the story of Alexandria’s inclusion in 1791 and departure in 1846 from the District of Columbia with contemporary maps and his own cartographic reconstruction of the time period 1791-1846. Gurtz will discuss several maps of the District in his presentation “The Evolving District of Columbia.” The lectures begin at 1:00 PM.  An exhibition of maps related to Washington, D.C. from the collections of Gurtz and the Library of Virginia will be on display from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Today’s Out of the Box post presents a sneak preview of two maps from the Library’s collection that will be on display.

Plan of the Town of Alexandria, D.C., issued by Thomas Sinclair, 1845

“Plan of the Town of Alexandria, D.C.” was issued by Thomas Sinclair in 1845, shortly before the town was retro-ceded to Virginia. Surveyor Maskell C. Ewing had drawn surveys of planned extensions to Hunting Creek and the Alexandria Canal. The map shows the topographical detail of streets, turnpikes, canals, and a race course, property owners, and many place names. A handwritten note above the remarks section indicates that the lots circled in ink were the … read more »