- “Lafayette, we are here!”


Twenty years ago, a small group of businessmen and former diplomats conceived a plan to build an authentic replica of the French frigate Hermione, the ship that carried Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, to America in 1780 with the news of French support for the American Revolution.  The group hoped that this project would rekindle close ties between France and the United States, create a lasting educational legacy, and bring life to both Lafayette’s memory and the spirit of liberty that he embodied.  The reconstructed Hermione is now a reality and the tall ship is currently en route to the United States, where it will visit twelve ports along the Eastern Seaboard over the course of the summer.  Hermione will be docked at Yorktown from 5-7 June, and Alexandria from 10-12 June, and the public are invited to the festivities.  A schedule of tours and events can be found at http://hermione2015.com/voyage2015/.

Marquis de LaFayette

Lafayette played a crucial role in American and Virginia history.  Without his dedication to the cause of independence and his ability to persuade others to provide much needed financial and military resources, the outcome of the American Revolution might have been very different.  “The moment I heard of America, I lov’d her,” Lafayette recalled in 1778, a year after he set sail from France to … read more »

- The Conscientious Objector: Desmond T. Doss

President Harry S. Truman presents the Congressional Medal of Honor to Cpl. Desmond T. Doss, 12 October 1945, U.S. Army Photo, Records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous Material, Box 1a, Folder 5, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

In keeping with Out of the Box’s recent anniversary theme, today’s post spotlights Lynchburg native Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on Okinawa in May 1945.  Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, objected to killing and refused to carry a weapon.  He served as an Army medical corpsman, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Medical Detachment, 77th Infantry Division.  Doss is credited with saving the lives of at least 75 wounded soldiers.  His Medal of Honor Citation states:

[Doss] was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun [sic] fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly

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- From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come): Five Years of Out of the Box

Anniversaries have been a theme in recent entries on Out of the Box. Today’s post is no exception.  May 14 is the 5th anniversary of our blog!  Our first post spotlighted a Where History Begins workshop held for Virginia’s local historical societies at the Library.  Three hundred eighty-seven posts later we are still going strong.

Out of the Box wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the work of former LVA Local Records Archivist Dale Dulaney.  Dale’s enthusiasm and determination, with a big assist from Jason Roma, the Library’s web developer, turned his idea into reality.

In his second blog post, Dale encouraged our readers to “visit often.”  Visit you have!  The numbers speak for themselves.

Fiscal Year (July to June)



FY 2010



FY 2011



FY 2012



FY 2013



FY 2014



FY 2015 (thru March)



Dale also asked our readers to “make comments” and “share your stories.”  One great example of reader participation is the response to Jessica Tyree’s post on the Leona Robbins Fitchett Collection (Acc. 50068).  Fitchett donated her childhood letters received from pen-pals from Carbrooke Junior School in Thetford, Norfolk, England.  Jessica’s post brought together Fitchett with the son of her World War II pen-pal and forged new friendships.

The editors … read more »


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- Artists for Victory

No. 23 of the First Series of 50 War Poster Labels sponsored by Artists for Victory, Inc..  Artist - Duane Bryers, 1943, Records of the World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous Records, Box 1b, Folder 100, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), marking the end of World War II in Europe.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to spotlight the Artists for Victory war stamps found in the records of Virginia’s World War II History Commission.

Formed during World War II, Artists for Victory, Inc. was a non-profit organization of more than ten thousand artists, united to serve the United States to the full extent of their various talents.  In the fall of 1942, Artists for Victory, Council for Democracy and the Museum of Modern Art sponsored the National War Poster Competition.  Over 2,000 poster entries were submitted focusing on eight war themes:  Production, War Bonds, The Nature of the Enemy, Loose Talk, Slave World or Free World?, The People are on the March, and Deliver Us From Evil.  Artists for Victory selected 50 of the most stimulating and had them reproduced as “war poster labels to carry their vital messages to every person throughout” the country.  Below are some examples of these stamps.

The Virginia World War II History Commission Records, 1941-1950, Accession 27544, are open to researchers.

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivists

 … read more »

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- The Sinking of the Lusitania: 100 Years Later

Today marks the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, usually acknowledged as the first step towards the United States’ entry into World War I. The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. The death toll included 128 Americans, sparking outrage throughout the nation.

One of the survivors was Richmond native Charles Hill, who was 38 at the time of the sinking. Hill, who worked for the British-American Tobacco Company, had been living in England with his family for almost fifteen years. He returned periodically to Richmond to visit his father, C. Emmett Hill. In April, Hill, his wife Eva, and their children returned to the U.S. for the sake of her health, travelling on the Lusitania. On 1 May, Hill reboarded the Lusitania in New York, bound for Liverpool with almost two thousand other passengers and crew members.

Hill was on the starboard promenade deck of the Lusitania when it was struck, and saw both the periscope of German submarine U-20 and the wake of the torpedo. After rushing below decks in an unsuccessful attempt to find several friends, Hill returned deck and made it into lifeboat number 14, which over the course of the afternoon capsized six times. Hill clung to the lifeboat with several other … read more »

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- What’s Cookin’

The Harmony Grove Cookbook. South Hill, Va. : Peebles Inc., 1994.

The Library of Virginia cookbook collection documents hundreds of churches, clubs, special interest groups, school groups, families, chef specialties, and, of course, regional cuisine. Currently the collection numbers over two thousand individual titles. Cookbooks represent local history at a real grassroots level. Frequently, cookbooks are the sole source of information on a church, club, or organization. They record contributor names, relationships, and community involvement.  In this sense, they are primary sources for local history as well as genealogical resources.

The cookbook collection also preserves the history of food culture and cooking styles in Virginia from the 18th into the 21st century. The recipes, illustrations, photographs, and sometimes personal stories document the evolution of food production and preparation. We see first-hand how food has gone from being primarily homegrown to brand name; how cooks adapted to war time economies; and, how ethnically diverse our state and eating habits have become. Cookbooks are produced with a great deal of pride in family and community traditions, and sometimes with a great deal of humor as seen in clever titles or funny illustrations. The Library is committed to collecting and preserving the rich cultural heritage represented by Virginia cookbooks. Current cataloging practice includes geographic subject headings to facilitate research using cookbooks.

Shown here is a selection of diverse types of cookbooks from a recent donation. Most of … read more »

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- The Vietnam War and Virginia

Photograph of General Westmoreland Davis, Vietnam Wing Dedication, Virginia War Memorial, 20 November 1981, Records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission, Box 1, Folder 13, Accession 33938, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.  On 30 April 1975, Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, fell to the North Vietnamese Army.  The few U.S. Marines stationed at the American Embassy were evacuated by helicopter.  Between 1961 and 1975 over 58,000 U.S. service members died in Vietnam.  According to the Library’s Virginia Military Dead Database 1,490 Virginians were killed in the Vietnam conflict.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to highlight items from the state records collection related to Virginia’s role in the war.

The records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission (Accession 33938) contain items related to the construction and dedication of the Vietnam wing.  Included are blueprints, construction records, photographs of the dedication ceremony, program from the 20 November 1981 dedication, Vietnamese money, and a South Vietnamese flag.

Photograph of Bernard Allen Sowder from www.findagrave.com.  Photograph added to site  by Robert Libby on 21 January 2009.

The Department of Treasury’s Division of Unclaimed Property records contain two very personal collections.  The Papers of Carol A.S. Amos (Accession 43250, Lot 1192872) include correspondence notifying her of the death of her husband, Bernard Allen Sowder, in Vietnam on 4 January 1970.  Sowder was born on 4 October 1947 in Longbranch, West Virginia.  He married Carol Ann Cassell on 9 April 1969 in Amarillo, Texas.  He started his tour in Vietnam on 24 November 1969 and served in the 167th Signal … read more »

- The Long Wait for Freedom: A Montgomery County Freedom Suit

This is part two of a two part post on a fascinating freedom suit discovered during the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Project. Part one of the story was published last week.

Wanted ad, 6 August 1842, Connecticut Courant, p. 6.

Flora continued to live with the Charltons, eventually moving to the Seven Mile Tree home built by James Charlton. While there is no further evidence that Flora was able to pursue a freedom suit prior to her death, her narrative served as the basis for suits filed by her daughters and their children. James Charlton’s death in 1825 probably served as the trigger for this series of chancery suits, as Cena and Unis contemplated the possibility that their own families might be broken up and sold away. An 1825 appraisement of James Charlton’s estate indicates that he claimed twenty-one slaves, at least twelve of whom petitioned for freedom. The size and value of Flora’s family had increased since her 1784 arrival in Virginia; by 1825 they were worth over $3,000 dollars.

The series of freedom suits initiated in 1826 would not be resolved until 1853. Cena and Unis sued for their own freedom and by extension that of their children and grandchildren: Andrew, Reuben, Julius, William, Helen, Mary, Tarlton, Matilda, James, and Flora. All of these individuals were designated paupers and represented by counsel. In addition to claiming that their Flora had … read more »


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- Spotsylvania County Chancery Causes Online

Spotsylvania County seal

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Spotsylvania County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1812-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website. Chancery cases are useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions. They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history.

Following are a few suits of interest found in the Spotsylvania County chancery collection. Fortune Coleman etc., vs Gdn. of Henry Coleman etc., 1900-016 is a dispute over land and mineral rights of a “colored” family.  In the Petition of Thomas M. Henry, 1906-047, this is a request to access land for development of a multi-county transit system.  Mary Ella Gray vs. James Oliver B. Gray, 1913-006, is a divorce case with an illustrative biblical certificate used as a legal as proof of marriage.

The processing and scanning of the Spotsylvania County chancery causes were made possible through the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program between the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association (VCCA), which seeks to preserve the historic records found in Virginia’s circuit courts.

–Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist… read more »

- Flora’s Plight: A Montgomery County Freedom Suit

This is part one of a two part post on a fascinating freedom suit discovered during the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Project. Part two of the story will be published next week.

Slave Sale At Christiansburg (Va) by Lewis Miller.

Women had more to lose in the system of slavery. Saying this is not in any way meant to downplay the pernicious effects of slavery on the lives of men. However, at least in the slave system of the U.S. South, women ensnared within slavery saw their children and, if they lived long enough, their grandchildren caught in a chain of matrilineal descent predicated on the bondage status of the mother. Conversely, if one could prove that a woman was unjustly or illegally forced into slavery, she and her descendants had much to gain. The story of Flora and her daughters, Cena and Unis, makes public the double bind experienced by female slaves in the antebellum South. Their story also reveals the ongoing claims to freedom made by Flora and her family over sixty years, across three states, and throughout multiple counties in Virginia.

Flora, an African American later held as a slave in Montgomery County, Virginia, was born in the late 1750s in either Massachusetts or Connecticut. In the late 1770s Flora married “Exeter, a Negro man of Southwick” [MA], a marriage recorded by Reverend John Theodore Graham on 26 … read more »