Two types of immigrants came to America without paying their own passage—indentured servants and redemptioners. Indentured servants would sign a contract, called an indenture, before they sailed agreeing to serve for a period of years in exchange for passage to America. The term of service was typically between four to seven years. Redemptioners were a similar type of immigrant; however they made their agreement with the shipping merchant to be transported without paid passage. Upon landing in America, they were given a short period of time to find family or friends willing to pay all or part of their passage. If funds could not be secured, they then signed on as servants and their indentures could be sold in order to satisfy the debt.
The practice of buying and selling redemptioners and indentured servants can be found in Augusta County Chancery Cause James Kelzo, etc. vs. Samuel McChesney, 1796-008. James Kelzo (spelled frequently as Kelso) and James Wilson of Augusta County and Samuel McChesney of Culpeper County formed a partnership to purchase and sell indentured servants. Wilson and McChesney were to make the arrangements for selling the servants, and the partners agreed to divide the net profits equally among them.
With three men responsible for reporting accounts and divvying up profits, it wasn’t long before accusations of withholding funds landed the business partnership … read more »
The final images from the Augusta County chancery causes are now available on the Library of Virginia’s Chancery Records Index. With this addition, all Augusta County chancery causes covering the time period from 1746 to 1912 can be viewed online—a total of 10,268 suits and 878,490 images. The collection is one of the most significant collections of historic legal records in the nation. From 1745 to 1770, the boundaries of Augusta County encompassed most of western Virginia and what became the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio, and parts of present-day Pennsylvania as far north as Pittsburgh. The Augusta County chancery causes are the most voluminous of any locality in Virginia and are one of the longest and most complete continuous collections of chancery records of any locality in the country. Cases are also included from the Staunton Superior Court of Chancery, with a jurisdiction of over 28 localities, from 1802 to 1831.
Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition of Augusta County’s equity suits. Augusta County Chancery Cause 1818-099 is a dispute over the estate of John Edmondson that included numerous slaves. The suit contains a chart documenting the hiring out of slaves owned by Edmondson. Administrator of Andrew Moore vs. Representatives of John Stuart, etc., 1845-015, gives some perspective on the ways in … read more »
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 »
“It was a hot summer day on August 5, 1865, when George Kiner and Diana Bumgardner arrived at the courthouse in Augusta County, Virginia, to apply for a marriage license. They brought with them an order from Capt. John Collins, Provost Marshall, directing the court to issue the license as ‘they being in all respects entitled to such license.’ While there were other couples that day applying for marriage licenses, George and Diana were the only couple with such an order. This was indeed a historical event as they were the first African American couple to be issued a marriage license in Augusta County.”
-African American Marriage Index 1865-1899, Augusta County, Virginia
At first glance the story of George Kiner and Diana Bumgardner is one of love triumphing over the tragedies of slavery and war. But documents found in the Augusta County Chancery Causes reveal not a lovely wedding born of true love, but a shotgun affair with a groom forced to the altar at gunpoint. In his bill for divorce filed in the Augusta County courts in February 1866, George Coiner (the predominant spelling in court documents was Coiner, but Kiner and Koiner were also used) painted a less than idealistic picture of his wedding day. George Coiner, a former slave, was working in a field when two armed soldiers, one white and the … read more »
“In the time worn and musty old folios long since filed away in our public offices, there is many a fact recorded that has occured [sic] under the personal observation of no one now living; and which if placed within the reach of the public, would go farther to give us a knowledge of the manners, customs, and character of the pioneers of Augusta County than all the histories that have been written on our native state.”
These words were written by a young lawyer who was researching court records filed in the Augusta County courthouse in the early 1830’s. He was amazed by the amount of history found in the old court papers. He discovered stories about the first settlers of western Virginia and the many obstacles they encountered in their efforts to start a new life in an untamed wilderness. He read about events that happened during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. The young lawyer came across suits in which the litigants talked about their migration down the Shenandoah Valley from western Pennsylvania to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mesmerized by what he was reading, the young lawyer wanted to make his discoveries in the court records available to the public, and so, he wrote a letter to the editor of an unidentified newspaper requesting a weekly column in which he … read more »
The latest images from the Augusta County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. This latest addition of Augusta County chancery causes covering the time period from 1896 through 1902 joins the 1867-1895 causes already available online. Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition.
In 1898, Betty E. Arey proclaimed that a cemetery would not be built in her backyard when she and her husband brought suit against the Town of Waynesboro in R. E. Arey and wife vs. Town of Waynesboro etc., 1898-004. The Areys attempted to halt the construction of a cemetery behind their property and brought as evidence a plat showing the proximity of graves to their house, garden, and well.
In her bill for divorce, Annie B. Black wrote that she was persuaded to elope by John B. Black who later “willfully deserted and abandoned her at the youthful age of thirteen” after having only been married for two months. In Annie B. Black vs. John B. Black, 1900-054, Annie Black claimed that her husband obtained their marriage license without her presence and falsely represented her as being twenty when she was actually not yet thirteen at the time of their marriage.
The latest images from the Augusta County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. With this addition, fifty boxes of Augusta County chancery covering the time period from 1879 through 1895 may be viewed online.
Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition. Augusta County Chancery Cause 1880-119 is a contract dispute that centered on the construction of an addition to Wesleyan Female Institute in Staunton. The case includes numerous exhibits such as the 1877-1878 school bulletin (image# 134-159), receipts for building materials (image# 195, 200) and two drawings of the addition (image# 213, 215). Augusta County Chancery Causes 1884-057 and 1895-023 are property disputes in which the plaintiffs accuse the defendants of doing harm to the value of their property. In the first suit, the plaintiff argues that heat and fumes from the defendant’s brick kiln adversely affected the value of his property (image# 41). In the second suit, the defendant built a slaughterhouse and stockyard near the plaintiff’s house (image# 491) polluting a stream and causing insufferable smells and noises all of which depreciated the value of the plaintiff’s property. Most notably, this portion of the Augusta County Chancery Causes includes suits that have their origins in the real estate boom and bust period of 1890s western Virginia. Many of the suits contain plats of … read more »
In June 1936 in the Augusta County Circuit Court, Sylvia Elwood Huffman was convicted of first degree murder in the death of W.H. Riddle, an Annex merchant. Huffman shot and killed Riddle in a botched robbery attempt that netted him less than $5. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 7 August 1936. Governor George C. Peery granted Huffman four respites during his two appeals to the Virginia Supreme Court. On 27 December 1937 Governor Peery commuted Huffman’s death sentence to life in prison after receiving a report from the Board of Mental Hygiene that stated Huffman was not sane. Huffman had been a patient at Western State Hospital on two separate occasions (January-June 1924 and December 1931-June 1935) and Huffman’s defense attorneys unsuccessfully presented an insanity defense.
Huffman’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he had aged in prison. I was curious why there were two negatives, one from 1937 and a second one dated 3 March 1959. Huffman’s entry in Prison Book No. 2 noted that he had been returned to the Penitentiary in 1959 for violating his 1957 conditional pardon. Governor J. Lindsay Almond, … read more »
The latest images from the Augusta County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. With this addition, one hundred boxes of Augusta County chancery covering the time period from 1867 to 1879 can be viewed online.
Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition. Augusta County Chancery Cause 1876-058 includes a letter (image# 252-253) written by one of the plaintiffs when he was a soldier in the 25th Virginia Infantry during the Civil War. In Augusta County Chancery Cause 1876-072 (image# 20), a liquor manufacturer sued the city of Staunton claiming the city had no right to tax its liquor. Augusta County Chancery Cause 1877-029 (image #11-15) involves a dispute between a group of former slaves and the executor of the estate of their former master. A genealogical chart of the Dull family can be found in Augusta County Chancery Cause 1879-042 (image#1765).
These cases are representative of the over ten thousand found in the Augusta County Chancery Causes collection that document the rich heritage of Augusta County and western Virginia. This project is made possible by a partnership betweeen the LVA’s Circuit Court Records Preservation Program and Augusta County Circuit … read more »
The first images from the Augusta County chancery scanning project have been posted to the Library’s Chancery Records Index (CRI). This initial posting represents the first 35 scanned boxes and includes over 550 case files ranging from 1867-001 to 1874-039. The cases can be viewed by accessing the CRI, selecting “Augusta” from the drop down menu and entering “1867” and “1874” into the two “Year of Case” fields.
The scanning portion of this 2-year project began in February 2011 with grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
All scanned documents undergo a vigorous review process to ensure image quality and that proper file-naming conventions are followed. The Library’s Imaging Services Section, a part of the Local Records Services Branch, completes a variety of quality control processes prior to the images being posted.
This will be the first of many announcements of Augusta images being posted to the CRI – we will continue to keep you informed as we add new content. In the meantime, please post a message and let us know what you think so far!
-Carl Childs Local Records Director… read more »