Virginia’s agricultural production, as well as its economy, was dominated by tobacco for over three centuries, ever since John Rolfe sent his first shipment of tobacco to England in 1614. Growth of the Virginia colony and extension into the interior meant more soil and larger crops of tobacco. Despite the continuous growth in production, the tobacco trade was plagued by falling prices and decreased quality. By the 1720s, tobacco exports included large quantities of inferior product that even included shipments of “trash” tobacco—shipments that diluted tobacco leaves with foreign substances such as household sweepings. Consequently the price of tobacco sank so low that many planters struggled to recover production costs.
In 1723 Virginia’s General Assembly passed the first of its Tobacco Acts that attempted to control the quantity and quality of tobacco grown in the colony because it was believed that “most of the ffrauds [sic] and mischiefs which have been complained of in the Tobacco Trade” had arisen from the “planting on land not proper for producing good Tobacco” and the production of “greater Crops than the persons employed therein are able duly to tend.” The 1723 act established limits on the number of plants that certain classes of persons could grow with slave owners being allowed fewer plants. Each vestry of every parish had to appoint two people every year to count the … read more »
Individuals today wishing to conduct research using Rockingham County court records may encounter a few stumbling blocks. Due to two major events in the locality’s history, Rockingham County is identified as one of Virginia’s Lost Record localities. The first loss of Rockingham records occurred in 1787 when a courthouse fire destroyed primarily wills and estate records. A second and even more devastating loss came during the Civil War.
In June 1864, with the threat of Union troops advancing into the valley, concerned citizens of the county wanted court records (mostly volumes) removed from the courthouse so that the records could not be destroyed. A judge granted permission for these records to be moved to a safer place east of the Blue Ridge. A teamster and wagon were hired to remove the records, but the wagon was left on the Port Republic-Forge road after a rim was lost and a tire came off. During this delay, Union troops spied the wagon and partially destroyed the records by setting fire to it. The mother of a Confederate soldier extinguished the fire by carrying water and smothering the fire with green hay just cut from a nearby field. She retrieved what was left of the records and took them to her home for safekeeping. The records remained at her home for quite some time, and because the … read more »
Public improvements, military claims, divorce, manumission of slaves, division of counties, incorporation of towns, religious freedom, and taxation are just some of the concerns expressed in the Library of Virginia’s collection of Legislative Petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776 to 1865. In late 2012, the Library partnered with Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to digitize the collection straight from the microfilm which was created in-house in 2002. Work has now begun to take the 150,000 digital images, unite them with the database entries constructed on the Library’s searchable website (Legislative Petition Online Database), and make them accessible through Digitool – the Library’s digital asset management system. Thus far, the counties from Accomack through Amelia and Appomattox through Barbour are available (Legislative Petitions on Digitool). Besides the images, these entries in Digitool provide the same information previously available on the Legislative Petition Online Database including the petitioner, date, description, and subjects. The petitions often contain hundreds of signatures and are a useful tool in genealogical research. Frequently, the petitions contain supplementary support documents useful in research including maps, wills, naturalizations, deeds, resolutions, affidavits, judgments, and other items.
There are many noteworthy and valuable documents among the over 1,000 petitions currently digitized. Accomack County alone includes several appeals of freed slaves for permission to remain in the state following their emancipation as required … read more »
While examining the James City County/Williamsburg court records recently, I came across a civil suit titled Gatewood vs. Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company that contained two oversize exhibits. The first was a plat, which is not unusual since plats are commonly found in court records; however, the second oversize exhibit was unusual. It was an illustration of the engine boiler of a steam locomotive. The sketch included numerous tiny arrows showing the direction of air flow in the boiler. The exhibit piqued my curiosity so I read the suit to determine its purpose.
The plaintiff, R. E. Gatewood, filed a civil suit against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company in James City County Circuit Court on 3 November 1884. In his statement to the court, Gatewood blamed C&O Railway for a fire that caused extensive damage to his property on 14 October 1884. Greenwood claimed that a C&O steam locomotive passing through his property did not have a spark arrestor or, if it did, the spark arrestor was not working properly. (A spark arrestor was a wire netting designed to prevent sparks or other tiny flaming debris from escaping the locomotive’s “balloon stack.”) As a result of the “careless negligence” of the defendant, the plaintiff’s property was set on fire by sparks emitted from the steam locomotive. Valuable timber including oak, chestnut, walnut, and pine … read more »
Among the vast array of resources available for genealogical research at the Library of Virginia, it may be easy to overlook one potential treasure trove of information – funeral home records. One such collection, the L. T. Christian Funeral Home Records, 1912-1986 (Acc. 34483) holds a wealth of information on generations of Richmonders, making it potentially useful to genealogists, scholars of local history and Richmond personalities, and perhaps even students of race relations.
Langdon Taylor Christian (1853–1935) began life as the son of a Charles City County farmer who emphasized field work and not education. Christian had acquired only an elementary education when he decided to leave his family at the age of 18 to seek work in Richmond. After laboring for a time in a tobacco factory, Christian entered employment with John A. Belvin in 1872 in the leading furniture and undertaking establishment in Richmond. Christian applied himself in this endeavor as a fine finisher, varnisher, and cabinet and casket maker. When Belvin died in 1880, Christian succeeded him, reorganizing the business under his own name.
The files kept by the L. T. Christian Funeral Home contain a mass of biographical data relative to nearly every client of the … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the first digital images from the Rockingham County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. This initial addition covers the time period from 1781 to 1893.
Following are a few suits of interest found in this first group of digital images. Rockingham County Chancery Cause 1850-002 offers a reflection on the sectional division over slavery within the national Methodist Episcopal Church on the local church level. The suit includes numerous depositions given by pastors and members that present a vivid description of the bitter division within the congregation. Rockingham County Chancery Causes 1874-051 and 1884-126 are estate disputes that have their origins in the Civil War. In the first suit, former slaves sued for their share of their former master’s estate left to them in his will. The latter suit includes exhibits detailing the destruction done to the estate of Edward H. Smith by Federal troops. A divorce suit, 1885-206, contains letters from the husband’s paramour along with a photograph of her wearing a ring belonging to his estranged wife.
Check back as more Rockingham County chancery images will be added in the future.
-Greg Crawford, Local Records Coordinator… read more »
Interested in commercial fishing techniques used in Virginia’s Northern Neck around the turn of the 20th century? Take a look through the Northumberland County circuit court records.
Around 1895, Earnest Krentz and Lanius B. Williams entered into a partnership to harvest fish from the Potomac River near Hack Creek using fish traps or weirs. Krentz supplied the equipment and Williams constructed and managed the traps. Following Krentz’s death in 1900, his widow, Dolly, contracted with another person to use the equipment, and conflict arose between her and Williams over who controlled the sites that had been used while Earnest lived. She claimed that the two sites were owned by the partnership and should be divided between them. Williams countered that he alone was entitled to both locations. In the spring of 1901, Dolly sued Williams (Northumberland County Chancery Cause 1902-010, Dolly Krentz, widow, etc. vs. Lanius B. Williams) on the chancery side of the Northumberland County circuit court to prevent him from interfering with her use of the most profitable spot. After hearing from both sides and reviewing the evidence, the judge ultimately sided with Williams and dismissed Dolly’s suit.
Out of the testimony and exhibits in this suit, a detailed depiction emerges of the equipment, terms, construction designs, and customs surrounding the use of fish traps in this area. For instance, when … read more »
On 17 April 1875, Anna Williams of 313 Canal Street in Richmond heard a noise and went outside to investigate only to discover a plank pulled off of her hen house and a man “breaking chicken necks.” Emmet W. Ruffin, a neighbor enlisted to assist her, later testified as to what happened next., “I jumped back and drew my knife and waited for him to come out…. Just then the man jumped out of the chicken house and threw a handful of sand or dirt in my eyes…. As soon as I got the sand out of my eyes, I went after him… and struck him with the knife as he was going over the fence.” The thief dropped some of the chickens inside the yard, but Ruffin continued to follow him. Shortly, a chase ensued, with people joining in and crying “murder” and “thief.” Some members of the group began throwing stones. One struck the thief on the side of his head knocking him to the ground. The chicken thief, later identified as Robert Bland, never got back up.
The Richmond coroner’s statement reveals that the chicken thief came to his death from a stab wound, inflicted by Emmet W. Ruffin, received while engaged in stealing chickens. The jury was of the opinion that Ruffin “[deserved] the thanks of the community for his action … read more »
Even during wartime, soldiers managed to have a sense of humor …
“War of 1861 John Boyer Company B 10 Virginia
Was Born in the State of New York and inlisted in the State of Virginia in the County of Stafford the town of Brensville to sirve for the term of three years & is here by discharged from the sirves of the Confederates this 4th day of April one thousand eight hundred and sixty three on account of wounds reseved in battle. Said John Boyer has Read eyes white hair is nine feet 11 inches hie and by confetion when enroled a dog rober. He is never to enter the Military Sirves again under eney consideration and eney Mustering or recruting oficer that is knowen to inlist said John Boyer will sufer death or such punishment as ma be disided on by a General Coart Martial By order of Major General Robert E. Lee.
Signed Jefferson Davis President of the Confederate States of America
Given at Richmond Virginia this first day of April one thousand eight hundred and sixty three.
Thats a fact. So it is if you dont believe it you ma find out beter.”
(Editor’s Note: This April Fools’ prank is part of the Caroline County Military and Pension Records, 1864. This document has been transcribed as it was originally … read more »
While watching the February 2012 episode of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? featuring actor and Petersburg native Blair Underwood investigating his family history, Library of Virginia staff could not help but notice that one of the original volumes displayed on the show was not in great shape. The Amherst County Register of Free Negroes, 1822-1864, was used on the show to prove that one of Underwood’s ancestors had been a free person prior to the Civil War. The front and back covers of the volume had become detached from the spine, pages were loose, and overall it did not look like the book could withstand much handling without sustaining further damage to its fragile pages. This led to a reevaluation of the existing conservation priority for the 30 free Negro registers in the Library’s holdings. Previously it was thought that since all of the free Negro registers were microfilmed, the original volumes would not be handled by the public any longer, thus conservation money would be better spent on other items. However, the resurgence of interest in African American genealogy, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and related issues, and interest in the registers for display in exhibits clearly indicated that a change was necessary. A conservation inventory was done for all of the volumes and the ones that require treatment will … read more »