This is the second in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
Around 1811, a young girl named Ellsey was born on a plantation in Montgomery County, Tennessee. She had brothers and sisters. Her mother died sometime before Ellsey turned 11 years old. Ellsey was not a healthy child. She was “much troubled from rumitisem (sic),” a disease marked by inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles. In 1822, Ellsey made a seven hundred mile journey from Montgomery County to the Greenwood Mills plantation in Frederick County, Virginia. For a young child suffering from rheumatism, it could not have been an easy trip. Why did she do it? Was it to seek medical attention for her illness? Did her family move to Virginia to start a new life? The answer is that Ellsey had no choice but to move to Virginia. Ellsey was a slave owned by John McAllister, a wealthy landowner and businessman. He brought young Ellsey from his Tennessee plantation to his Virginia plantation “for his own use.”
Soon after bringing Ellsey to Frederick County, McAllister was required by Virginia law to sign an oath in the local court stating that he did not bring … read more »
Divorces reveal much about the inner-workings of a family, usually much more than outsiders should ever discover. While processing the Arlington County chancery causes, I came across a divorce case that filled two whole boxes. That’s .90 cubic feet of possible scandal and mayhem! The case Nannie R. Shelley vs. William C. Shelley, 1907-055, was quite the interesting case featuring interracial relationships, mental institutions, and an overly dramatic, possibly unstable daughter.
In 1907, Nannie Shelley sued for divorce, alleging infidelity and physical and mental abuse. She claimed William Shelley treated her not as a wife but as if she were a “despised and hated slave.” He forbade her any social relations and made her religion a “matter of scorn and ridicule.” He choked her and dragged her across the floor and finally threatened to kill her saying he would “try the McCue act on her.” (At the time of this divorce case, former Charlottesville mayor J. Samuel McCue’s alleged murder of his wife and subsequent trial was much in the news.)
Nannie suffered a nervous condition, supposedly as a result of her husband’s cruel treatment, that William used as an excuse to incarcerate her for three months in a “private mad house.” Although not declared legally insane, three doctors examined her and determined she suffered from paranoia. Nannie believed she ought to have been … read more »
Posted in Chancery Court Blog Posts, Local Records Blog Posts
Also tagged in: African Americans, Arlington County, CCRP, chancery, Chancery Causes, circuit court records, Correspondence, divorce, mental health, women
Former Local Records archivist Catherine OBrion was given the task of processing the chancery causes of Arlington (formerly Alexandria) County. Perhaps the most interesting case that she discovered was a suit entitled Creed M. Fulton versus the Christmas Aeroplane Company, Inc. et al. The day after Christmas in 1910, Mr. Fulton, a lawyer from D.C., filed suit against the Christmas Aeroplane Company, the company’s founder William W. Christmas, and two other individuals—Lester C. McLeod and Thomas W. Buckey. In the bill for the suit, William W. Christmas is described as the inventor of a heavier-than-air machine for the purpose of aerial navigation. According to the document, Mr. Christmas informed the complainant that the aircraft “had been actually tried and was successful and that said machine had remained in the air for sometime.”
In need of money to procure a patent and to build a practical machine for the purpose of “demonstrating the values and practicability of said invention,” all parties entered into an agreement on October 26, 1909, in Washington, D.C that would create the Christmas Aeroplane Company. According to the agreement, money for the patent would be advanced and the others would aid William Christmas in raising funds to cover the actual cost of building a machine. After $1,200 was given for the patent, it became necessary for some of the parties to advance … read more »
Before the Civil War, Virginia did not have a comprehensive public school system. Lawmakers passed various measures to fund public schools, but these measures were directed primarily toward schools for a small segment of the population, the children of indigent white families. These schools were known as “free schools” or “charity schools,” and only the very poor attended. African Americans, free and enslaved, were excluded from these schools because it was illegal to teach them. With the end of the Civil War and ratification of a new state constitution in 1869, lawmakers established in 1870 Virginia’s first public school system for all children, in order to “prevent children growing up in ignorance, or becoming vagrants.”
As local officials complied with the new state law, they set about drawing school districts segregated by race. This could be a challenge, however. While cataloging Alexandria/Arlington County school records recently, I came upon this hand-drawn map of Jefferson Township (in what was then Alexandria County, part of present-day urban Arlington), which shows white and African American families living closely together. To create two districts segregated by race, the map-maker drew what looks like a badly gerrymandered voting district. The map was attached to an 1870 census of school-aged children in Jefferson Township. Each dwelling is designated W (“white”) or C (“colored”).
Jefferson Township was located near what is now Crystal City and the 14th Street Bridge connecting Virginia and the District of Columbia. The Jefferson Township Board … read more »