- 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


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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 »

- “Let Jews, Mehometans, and Christians of every Denomination Enjoy Religious Liberty”


Daniel Chodowiecki, Die aufgeklärte Weisheit als Minerva schützt die Gläubigen aller Religionen [translation: Minerva as a symbol of enlightened wisdom protects the believers of all religions], 1791. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Religious liberty is a hot button issue during this year’s presidential campaign. Should a religious test be applied for the purpose of denying Muslims entrance to our country? Can an elected government official deny a marriage license to a couple because their lifestyle is contrary to the official’s religious beliefs? The debate concerning religious liberty is hardly new. It goes back to America’s colonial period. And just like today, there were passionate voices on both sides of the debate.

During the colonial era, only one religious denomination was recognized by the British government– the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. There were other denominations in Virginia, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Mennonites, but the British government and the Anglican Church labelled them collectively as Dissenters. As a result of this differentiation, the followers of Dissenter churches, as well as Roman Catholics, did not enjoy the same civil and religious rights as Anglicans. Marriages performed by Baptist or Mennonite clergy were not recognized as legitimate by the Anglican Church. A religious test was used for the express purpose of denying Roman Catholics the right to hold public office. And everyone in Virginia, to the chagrin of Dissenters and Catholics, had to pay a tax to support the Anglican Church.

Growing sentiment for political independence from Great Britain also promoted the pursuit of religious … read more »

- “United to the Countryside:” Recent Rare Book Acquisitions


Garden gate, Agecroft Hall, undated. Charles F. Gillette Papers, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

You never know what might turn up when someone calls, emails or comes in with “old books,” and so with each contact, the adventure begins anew. Several months ago three such instances led to the discovery of several rare gardening and architectural books which will enhance the LVA collections. It’s perfect timing, as we begin to plan our spring gardens, anticipate those spring plant sales, and buy tickets for Historic Garden Week tours.

 

 

 

 

The recently acquired treasures are:

                La theorie et la pratique du jardinage, by Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville, Paris, 1747.

                A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, by A. J. Downing, New York, 1854.

                The gentleman’s house, by Robert Kerr, London, 1865.

                Thoroughbred seeds, Geo. Tait & Sons, Norfolk, Va., 1911.

                Garden design, by Marjorie Sewell Cautley, New York, 1935.


La theorie et la pratique du jardinage

Dezallier d’Argenville first published this book containing his theory and practice of gardening in 1709. Second and third editions followed in 1713 and 1722. The Library copy is the fourth edition from 1747, which included many additions. Dezallier d’Argenville’s monumental work predates most English-language treatises on gardening and landscape architecture.

Although there is no record of Thomas Jefferson owning an edition, he must have known of the works. Dezallier … read more »

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- A Modern Day Soap Opera in the 19th Century




Some things in life never change.  Seasons, hunger, sleep, and calamity are constants which prove that the world repeats itself. Relationships are no different. For centuries, married couples have promised to remain faithful while one or both secretly desire the affections of another. In the 19th century, the marriage of Mary and William Cox served as an example of infidelity not unlike a modern-day soap opera.

An 1873 bill to the court indicates that the marriage of Mary and William Cox was in distress because of an adulterous lifestyle. Despite three years of marital bliss, Mary accused William of being unfaithful with several women because he no longer wanted to provide for his family. Mary’s accusation also implied that William molested her and the children, abandoned them, and later forced her to rent a place to stay. To satisfy her expenses, Mary works for the landlord before deciding to ask the courts to require William to answer for his actions.

Two court depositions are documented. The first, from George W. Clark, responded to the question of whether he was aware of William Cox’s unfaithfulness. Clark confirmed that he had known the couple since their marriage and that, as a practicing physician, he had discovered that Mary Cox contracted gonorrhea from her husband. Clark even testified that he actually heard William say that he had … read more »

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- A Collection Within A Collection: Bounty Warrants Found In Chancery Causes


Encampment of the convention army at Charlotte Ville in Virginia. Etching from 1789. Library of Congress.

Military bounty land warrants, given by individual states or the Federal Government to reward military service or encourage enlistment, have long been a useful resource for the genealogist, providing proof of service and establishing a person’s whereabouts during a particular time. The Library of Virginia’s chancery causes offer a little known but excellent avenue of exploration on this topic. By providing additional context, the chancery suits concerning bounty land create a broader understanding of the subject. Causes fall into three categories:  contract disputes, estate disputes, and debt.

The interested parties were prominently mentioned in any disagreements where the land rights of the claimant were assigned, or sold. Heirs of the claimant were principal figures in chancery actions when the original claimant died and his heirs filed suit in Virginia for a fair distribution of the claimant’s real property. Much like causes involving debt, these suits resulted in the sale of the disputed property. Examples of both federal and state lands are noted—stretching well beyond the years of the original warrants—in Augusta, Fluvanna, Greensville, Halifax, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Prince Edward counties. Warrants include lands granted during the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812.  In order to acquire the land, the federal warrant had to be surrendered for a patent—usually at a federal land office. With the establishment of a state … read more »