- 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 »

- Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography


In his debut novel, Forsaken, Ross Howell Jr. tells the story of an uneducated African American servant, Virginia Christian, who was tried for killing her white employer in 1912. She died in the electric chair one day after her 17th birthday, the only female juvenile executed in Virginia since 1908. Howell researched the case using a variety of documents and images related to Christian’s execution found in the Library of Virginia’s collections.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce a new digital exhibition, Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography, which spotlights the court records and newspaper stories used and referenced in the novel. Included are:  the coroner’s inquest for Ida V. Belote; Virginia Christian’s trial, appeal, and clemency records; and newspaper coverage of these events from the Newport News Times-Herald and Daily Press.

As noted at the beginning of the novel, Forsaken is a work of fiction, but many of the characters were real people. Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography includes brief biographical sketches and documents related to these individuals. Also included is additional background material on other historic events referenced in the text, such as Nat Turner’s Rebellion and the “Allen Gang.” The epilogue focuses on what happened to the real-life main characters: Charles Mears, Harriet and Sadie Belote, Charles Pace, and others.

While by no means comprehensive (and very much … read more »

- A Few of Our Favorite Things: 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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- Studies of Economy and Efficiency in Government Are Not New

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in The Library of Virginia Official Newsletter, May/June 2001.  It has been edited slightly.

Efficiency in government. Responsible spending. Eliminate waste in government. These phrases are often tossed about, especially during political campaigns. Calls for responsible government spending and efficiency are not new, and probably will remain a constant theme in our political process.

One early attempt at governmental reform was the State Commission on Economy and Efficiency, which functioned from 1916 until 1918. The papers of this Commission were part of an accession of miscellaneous papers from the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. The General Assembly created the Commission in 1916 to make a “careful and detailed study of the organization and methods of the State and local governments” within Virginia. The five members of the Commission—P. H. Drewry, George L. Browning, J. Calvin Moss, Richard Evelyn Byrd, and LeRoy Hodges—made a detailed study of state government, presented their findings, and made recommendations to the General Assembly in 1918. Many of these recommendations were implemented and still influence the way state government operates today.

The creation of Virginia’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency was in part due to a national trend in budget reform. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, concerns about the integrity and accountability of political leaders was read more »

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- Over $900,000 in Grant Funds Awarded to Circuit Court Clerks

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 14 December 2015 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. The board is comprised of 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, the State Archivist and the Deputy of Collections and Programs. The board meets twice a year to evaluate proposals. This cycle’s grant applications requested funds for processing, conserving, securing, and increasing access to circuit court records. A total of sixty-nine applications were submitted from sixty-one localities with requests reaching nearly one and a half million dollars. After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved sixty-one grant projects totaling over $900 thousand. Sixty of the approved applications were for funding to perform professional conservation treatment, deemed a priority by the board members, on volumes housed in circuit court clerks’ offices that had been damaged by use, age, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining grants were for security systems, storage cabinets, and reformatting projects.

The CCRP is a part of the Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division. Funded through $1.50 from the circuit court clerk’s recordation fee, the CCRP provides resources to help preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court … read more »

- Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative Digital Collection

In 1820, Rachel Findley won freedom for herself and more than 35 of her descendants in a Powhatan County court in a law suit dating back to 1773. Hester Jane Carr, a free African American, was tricked into leaving her home in New York City in 1836 and sold as a slave in Petersburg. In 1860, Dennis Holt, a free African American living in Campbell County, petitioned to be re-enslaved so that he could remain with his enslaved wife. The stories of these lives and many more can be found within historic Virginia documents.

Researchers have long lamented the scarcity of primary sources for information about the pre–Civil War lives of African Americans. Noted historian and host of the PBS genealogy series Finding Your Roots, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., referred to the Civil War as “a roadblock for many when researching their African American heritage.” Documents recording the pre–Civil War experiences of African Americans, enslaved or free, either do not exist or have been mostly inaccessible.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the initiative Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, a new digital collection of records that will help the public break through the “roadblock” that has long impeded African American history research. The project will bring to light the pre–Civil War experiences of African Americans documented in the Library’s … read more »