Tag Archives: African Americans

- The Petition of Araminta Frances

Petition of Araminta Frances, Lunenburg County Chancery Cause 1856-042.

In court documents from Lunenburg County Chancery Cause 1856-042, the petition of Araminta Frances reveals an interesting and life-changing request.  On 10 March 1856 Araminta Frances, a free woman of color, petitioned the court asking to be enslaved.

Araminta was once the slave (along with at least two others) of James G. Richardson.  Richardson’s last will and testament, probated 9 December 1850, left the majority of his estate, including finances, property, and slaves, to his daughter, Sarah A. Richardson, two nephews, and friend John L. Coleman.  The provisions for the slaves were clearly spelled out. One negro male slave, Cezar, was to go to James G. Richardson’s nephew, James R. Walker, and John L. Coleman “to be taken care of by them and to be paid to him [Cezar] yearly by them the full amount of his yearly value.” Richardson also stipulated that “my negro child Virginia and Minty’s [presumably Araminta] child yet unborn” should be emancipated and receive the sum of $500 each or $1,000 if his daughter Sarah should die without issue. Minty (or Araminta) would be emancipated should his daughter, Sarah, die without having married. A copy of James G. Richardson’s will was included with the petition as supporting documentation for Araminta’s case.

Also included in the case was a bill passed by the General Assembly on 20 December 1855 allowing Araminta … read more »

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- Washington and Scott Co. Cohabitation Registers Now Online

Washington County (Va.) Register of Colored Persons Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife, 1866, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of Scott County and Washington County to the cohabitation register digitization project.  This project, via the Virginia Memory website, aims to index, digitize, transcribe, and provide access to all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit. The Scott and Washington registers are cohabitation registers only.  To date, their registers of children have not come to light.

Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the oftentimes murky past to their enslaved ancestors. The registers date from 1866 and provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover. Cohabitation registers were the legal vehicles by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information about an individual person contained in a cohabitation register is literally priceless as it is often the first time that a former slave appeared officially in the public record and because of the extensive kinds of information that the register recorded.

The registers, transcriptions, and searchable index are available online along with the other registers from Virginia localities in the Cohabitation Register Digital Collection in Virginia Memory. To find it … read more »

- History Restored: Free Negro Registers Conserved

Amelia County Free Negro Register, 1855-1865, with original boards. Volume also contains Freedmen's Marriage License Book, 1865-1869 (Barcode number 1138338).

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 »

- Wills, Slavery, and Freedom in Augusta Co.

Map of Franklin County and Columbus, Ohio, 1872. (Image used courtesy of Historic Map Works.)

In November of 1860, executor William F. Smith was in a pickle.  Charged with settling the estate of Elizabeth P. Via of Augusta County, he had recently been a defendant in both a chancery and a judgment suit from seven of Via’s heirs that challenged the validity of her will.  The heirs objected to the provisions that Via made for her slaves, namely that they all be emancipated.  Additionally, she left $4,000 to transport them to a free state and set them up in homes there.  The remainder of her estate was to be distributed amongst Via’s heirs who were not pleased by this and thought it in their best interest to have the will invalidated so that they could get everything, including the slaves that were left at Via’s death.  The will was upheld, however, and then it was time for executor Smith to get on with the business of carrying out Via’s wishes.  But there were some questions that he struggled to answer about his job as executor.

At issue were several points.  Did children born since Via’s death have an interest in the money left to the slaves?  What should happen to the residue of the $4,000 after the will’s provisions were carried out?  How should title to any house or land purchased for the emancipated slaves be done?  The slaves had … read more »

- Prince George Co. Chancery Now Online!

History at Prince George Courthouse Historical Marker. (Image, taken 7 April 2009, used courtesy of Historical Marker Database and Bernard Fisher.)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images from the Prince George County chancery causes digitization project are now available on the Chancery Records Index. Both the images and the index cover the years 1809-1917 and are available to researchers on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site. 

The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly available Prince George County chancery digital images.  Richard W. Backus vs. Admr. of John B. Williams, etc., 1837-003, references the postponement of the sale of a slave named Ursa because she was ill. Divorce suit 1875-001, David Harrison vs. Eliza A. Harrison, includes a letter from the court clerk referencing the destruction of a marriage license by the “Raiders” during the Civil War. Another divorce suit, Bettie Hays vs. William Hays, 1908-003 provides detailed testimony given by the plaintiff of spousal abuse by her husband. (These divorce cases join one already mentioned here on Out of the Box – a divorce in which the husband claimed that the child his wife gave birth to could not possibly be his.) In chancery cause 1916-023, Cubit Stith vs. Lucy Jackson, etc., Cubit Stith describes himself as an uneducated colored man who was born a slave. He and his daughter, Lucy Jackson, were in a bitter dispute for control … read more »

- Southside Burning!: Reformatted Recordings Preserve Historic Testimony

Editor’s Note:  On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests.  This blog post originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter.  This entry has been slightly edited.

The fortieth anniversary of the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations passed earlier this year [2003] with merely a brief mention in the press.  In the summer of 1963, violence erupted in Danville, Virginia, as the Danville establishment led by Police Chief Eugene G. McCain struggled to keep Jim Crow order during a series of civil rights demonstrations led by local and national black leaders.  Of the 45 demonstrators arrested in front of the city jail on 10 June, nearly all required medical attention at the hospital for injuries that some defendants testified were the result of being pistol-whipped or struck with nightsticks.  As evidenced in the Civil Rights Demonstrations Cases legal files on microfilm and audio compact discs at the Library of Virginia, sporadic demonstrations continued until late August 1963 despite the violence.

In the late summer of 1999, the Danville Circuit Clerk of Court transferred the legal files of the Civil Rights Demonstration Cases to … read more »

- Violence in Danville: Preservation of a Civil Rights Legacy

Editor’s Note:  On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests.  This blog post originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter.  This entry has been slightly edited.

Protesters block traffic to protest segregation.1963 Danville (Va.) Civil Rights Case Files, 1963-1973. Accession 38099, Local Government Records Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In August 1999, the city of Danville’s Circuit Court Clerk approached Glenn Smith, Grants Administrator of the Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, with a dilemma.  The city possessed a box of heavily used materials relating to the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations.  Concerned about both the preservation and security of the collection due to high volume usage, the clerk agreed to have the material transferred to LVA for processing and organization so that it could be microfilmed.  Though a local records collection, I was assigned the task of processing the material because of my past research on John W. Carter, a former Danville city councilman who aided the Commonwealth’s Attorney in prosecuting the civil rights demonstrators.  I interviewed Carter for my thesis on the Virginia Conservative Party on several occasions.  This was a segregationist third political party formed in 1965 to oppose Mills Godwin’s campaign for governor.  Godwin had angered many by supporting Lyndon … read more »

- Commonwealth of Virginia versus Abolitionism

Bill of indictment, September 1849, found in the Commonwealth of Virginia versus Jarvis C. Bacon, 1849. Local government records collection, Grayson County Court Records, The Library of Virginia.

During the 1820s and 1830s, northern antislavery groups that demanded the immediate abolition of slavery began to emerge. Led by abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur Tappan, and Theodore Weld, they instituted an aggressive print campaign against slavery. Abolitionist societies published newspapers and pamphlets that bitterly condemned slavery and called for its extinction. Needless to say, abolitionist literature was not well-received in slaveholding states, including Virginia.

In 1835, a Frederick County, Virginia, grand jury issued a criminal presentment against the Abolition Society of New York. In a lengthy and strongly worded indictment, the grand jury referred to the antislavery organization as an “evil of great magnitude” and accused it of disturbing the peace of the commonwealth and threatening the lives of its citizens by inciting slaves to rebel. The grand jury encouraged local law enforcement agencies throughout Virginia to adopt “increasing vigilance … in the detection of all fanatical emissaries, and in the suppression of their nefarious schemes and publications.” Furthermore, it called on the General Assembly to enforce present laws and enact stricter legislation against written or printed material that encouraged slave insurrection. The presentment also named Arthur Tappan, whom the grand jury considered to be the “prime mover” in the society. Tappan helped found the Abolition Society of New York in 1831, which two years later evolved into the American Anti-Slavery Society.… read more »

- Following a Northern Star: Exploring Abolitionist Materials with Mapping Technologies

Here in Virginia, there are some pretty strong views on history.  It isn’t merely in the past, it is occurring in the present as well.  This can easily perpetuate the stereotype that Southerners are still fighting the Civil War, or as it is known to some of my relatives, the War of Northern Aggression.  However, this view of history in the present tense can be put to good use to dismantle assumptions, rethink the past, and keep cultural institutions relevant.

Still from The Abolitionists on PBS, A Powerful Partnership scene depicting the first meeting of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison in Nantucket. Garrison asked Douglass, How did you first realize you were a slave?

The most recent episode of The Abolitionists on PBS focused heavily on Frederick Douglass.  Reading his 1845 memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in school years ago was my first encounter with the realities of slavery, as I imagine it may be for many people. Somehow, seeing the scene in which William Lloyd Garrison, a prominent abolitionist, and Frederick Douglass first meet brought to mind again how wonderful it is to see these events and documents geographically located on the Abolitionist Map of America.  Zoom in on Nantucket, Massachusetts, and you can view the video clip from the series as well as contemporary photographs and documents. Somehow, plotting things on a map makes them more concrete, more believable, not just backstory.

The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper by William Lloyd Garrison, published in Boston. Virginia General Assembly, House of Delegates, Speaker, Executive communications, Correspondence and publications submitted by Governor John Floyd, 1831 Dec. 6. Accession 36912, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia.

As we continue this project, we are still uncovering relevant abolitionist materials at the Library … read more »

- Mapping John Brown: How one man’s failed rebellion expanded the abolitionist cause

This photograph shows a rather more dapper John Brown than the later images and drawings, in which he appears disheveled and heavily bearded. He moved his large family ten times between 1825 and 1855, during which he was a devoted abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad. As a failed businessman, Brown worked odd jobs while advocating for the end of slavery. Photograph of John Brown, circa 1850. Portraits Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Virginia.

In some cases, failing extravagantly can work in favor of your cause.  Go big or go home, as it were.  John Brown was an American abolitionist who supported the use of violence to end slavery.  A descendant of 17th century Puritans, Brown’s strong Calvinist beliefs would provide the moral inspiration for his battle against slavery.  As we saw on The Abolitionists on PBS last Tuesday, Brown made a pledge in 1837 that would steer his actions in the coming decades: “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”

Unlike most white, well-educated, religiously-motivated abolitionists, Brown did not believe in solely non-violent means to end slavery.  After the Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850, Brown founded a militant anti-slavery brigade with the Biblically-inspired name “League of Gileadites.”  Their mission was to prevent the recapture of escaped slaves by any means necessary.  Rising tensions in Kansas compelled Brown to go to the aid of the anti-slavery settlers there, including five of his adult sons.  Pro-slavery forces known as “Border Ruffians” interfered with voting, imprisoned abolitionists, harassed free settlers, and eventually seized the town of Lawrence.  On 24 May 1856, Brown led a small group of armed men against their pro-slavery neighbors at Pottawatomie Creek, killing five.  This catalyzed a civil war … read more »