This is the first in a series of four blog posts related to the “To Be Sold” exhibit which opens on October 27 at the Library of Virginia. Each post will be based on court cases found in LVA’s Local Records collection and involving slave traders. These suits provide insight into the motivation of individuals to get into the slave trading business, as well as details on how they carried out their operations. Even more remarkably, these records document stories of enslaved individuals purchased in Virginia and taken hundreds of miles away by sea and by land to be sold in the Deep South. The following narrative comes from Norfolk County Chancery Cause 1853-008, Thomas Williams vs. William N. Ivy, etc.
In 1838, Thomas Williams and William N. Ivy formed a partnership “for the purchase of slaves to be sent to Louisiana.” Their plan was to first hire out the slaves for about a year to local businesses, then to divide between them the wages earned by the slaves and a free African American they employed as an apprentice. Once the hiring-out period ended, the slaves would be sold, or “disposed of” as Williams called it, for a profit. To finance their venture, Williams and Ivy received a loan of $5,000 from the Exchange Bank of Virginia at Norfolk. Ivy left for Louisiana to … read more »
Business letterhead can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. A striking example appeared in the Rockingham County chancery causes recently. In the case of Ridgemont Cement & Manufacturing Company vs. Manly Manufacturing Company, 1900, there is a piece of Manly Manufacturing Company letterhead dated 1 March 1895 featuring an image of stereotypical 19th-century African American caricature behind bars. Shocking to our 21st-century sensibilities, this type of advertising was very common beginning in the Victorian era. Caricatured images of African Americans and other minorities were commonly used to sell products because they capitalized on existing beliefs and, ultimately, reinforced existing prejudices.
Manly Manufacturing Company billed itself as “The First and Only Steel Jail Works in THE SOUTH.” Headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, the firm was originally Manly & Cooper, a foundry responsible for casting, amongst other items, the ornamental fence surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s gravesite in Charlottesville. Relocating from Philadelphia to Dalton in 1887, the company developed “Manly Portable Convict Cages,” horse-drawn, steel-wheeled cages to house prisoners working on outdoor projects. The cages became one of its best selling products.
A quick Internet search revealed that Manly Manufacturing is still in business today, 121 years later, as Manly Steel.
The Rockingham County chancery collection contains 534 Hollinger boxes or about 250 cubic feet of records. It is currently being processed … read more »
In July 1814, entrepreneur William Weaver made a chance investment in the Virginia iron industry along with his new partner, Thomas Mayberry. Weaver and Mayberry purchased Union Forge (later renamed Buffalo Forge), located in Rockbridge County, and two blast furnaces, Etna Furnace and Retreat Furnace, in neighboring Botetourt County. Later, Weaver would become a prominent and successful ironmaster in Virginia and one of the largest slaveholders in Rockbridge County.
Initially, Weaver staffed his furnaces with a mixture of white laborers and hired slaves, but in October 1815 he purchased 11 slaves. Weaver would use this group of slaves, which included a valuable ironworker named Tooler, to form the basis of his large crew of skilled ironworkers.
In 1825, Weaver filed a chancery suit in the Augusta County courts to dissolve his partnership with Mayberry. It was a rather acrimonious dissolution, with contention over who owned the slaves purchased in 1815. In a cagey move, Weaver had the bill of sale for the slaves made out to himself, rather than to the partnership of Weaver & Mayberry, claiming that Mayberry was against slave ownership. While examining volumes found at the Augusta County Courthouse, I discovered nine volumes belonging to Weaver and his iron interests, which had been used as exhibits in the case.
The volumes cover a variety of topics and document the purchases Weaver and … read more »
The fate of the Richmond Coliseum has been in question recently, with the city soliciting input from business leaders, local officials, and a consulting firm to determine what comes next for the much-maligned structure. Should the city continue to keep it limping along with costly repairs as needed, do a large-scale renovation, or demolish it in hopes of building a flashier replacement? Which of these options is best for Richmond, and where will the money come from? Alas, the Out of the Box bloggers can’t answer these questions for you. We can only lament on behalf of the near-40-year-old Coliseum, “What a drag it is getting old!”
Here at the Library of Virginia, however, there are reminders of how it all began, when the 13,500-capacity arena was the pride and joy of Richmond native and architect Ben R. Johns, Jr. (1922-2006). In 1968, Johns was tapped as the primary architect to work with the Philadelphia firm of Vincent G. Kling and Associates on the Coliseum project. While today the building has its share of detractors, back then it had at least a few admirers. As a result of the Coliseum design, Johns was recognized by the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1974 and the Richmond Planning Commission in 1975.
In 2007, the year after Johns’ death, a collection of his business records was donated to the LVA. Chiefly … read more »