The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Lee County Chancery Causes, 1857-1912, are now available on the Chancery Records Index. Because they rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information and are especially useful when researching local, state, social, and legal history. The Lee County chancery collection offers a glimpse of life in Lee County during the 19th and early-20th centuries by documenting the African American experience, women’s history, Southern business and labor history, and the impact the railroad’s arrival had on a region. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.
Lee County chancery causes contain several suits illustrating the experiences of women in the westernmost part of the commonwealth. In Mary V. Pennington by etc. vs. M. C. Parsons, etc., 1887-019, Mary Pennington sought to gain control over land gifted to her by her father. The land was being sold by her husband, William Pennington, who had become “indebted and greatly embarrassed.” In 1907, Elizabeth Smith faced a similar dilemma. Elizabeth R. Smith vs. J. K. P. Legg, etc., 1907-045, protested the sale of Smith’s land sold for a set of blacksmith tools. Elizabeth Smith did not agree to the sale, but her husband, Samuel L. Smith, “commenced … read more »
A small slip of paper on display in the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition You Have No Right: Law and Justice in Virginia, running 24 September 2012-18 May 2013, was of immense importance to twelve people. It discloses, even though it does not state the fact in so many words, that on 2 May 1772 they gained their freedom after being held in slavery since each of them was born. The piece of paper and the fates of those Virginians illuminates a disturbing and little-known part of Virginia’s history, the enslavement of American Indians.
The paper came into the possession of the Library of Virginia in 1988 when it acquired a copy of volume two of John Tracy Atkyns, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery in the Time of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke . . . (London, 1765–1768) that had once been in the library of the colonial government in Williamsburg. One of the librarians in the cataloguing section showed it to me, knowing of my interest in that library. When she lifted it from her desk to hand it to me, a piece of paper that had been slipped between leaves in the middle of the volume fell out and fluttered to the floor. We were surprised, and I was even more surprised when I saw what it … read more »
The Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Part of the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services branch, the program was created in 1992 to address the preservation needs of some of the most important records in the state – the records of Virginia’s 120 circuit courts. The CCRP continues to not only preserve, digitize, and microfilm historic records from around the commonwealth but also to reach out to circuit court clerks in each locality, offering them consultative services and financial assistance through its grant program. Since its creation twenty years ago, the program has awarded over 1100 grants, totaling nearly $16 million, to Virginia circuit court clerks to help address the preservation needs of records stored in their localities.
Twenty years later, access to Virginia’s historic court records has never been wider with more than 7 million digital chancery court images from fifty-seven counties and cities now available online through the Chancery Records Index (CRI), created to increase access to Virginia’s historic equity cases. In celebration of this important milestone, we’ve created this video celebrating the twenty year history of this innovative program that has helped ensure the preservation and accessibility of records that are a treasure trove of state and local history.
-Bari Helms, Local Records Archivist
“Jugglery, slight of hand [sic], comic concerts, and songs” brought the congregation of Centenary Methodist Church and members of the Sons of Temperance, Pendleton Division No. 22, to the Lynchburg courts in 1881. In Peleg Seabury, etc. vs. E. A. Emerson, etc., 1881-030, the plaintiffs and defendants argued over the proper use of Halcombe Hall. Congregation members complained that the hall was rented out and “filled up for a public exhibition house, for theatricals, and concerts,” but the Sons of Temperance deny any intention of allowing it to be used for a “demoralizing tendency.”
The church purchased Halcombe Hall to promote the “cause of temperance” and objected to its use for such entertainments – especially the play, East Lynne, performed there by the Fay Templeton Star Alliance. The Sons of Temperance countered that East Lynne had “frequently been performed in said hall before the intelligent people of this city who have never pronounced it demoralizing” and that the “performance is of an elevating and refining tendency, and will not injure the morals of any, not even of those whose morals are unhealthy and have a natural demoralizing tendency.”
“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 Prince George County chancery causes are filled with numerous divorce cases involving cheating spouses and adulterous affairs, but in the case of Thomas P. Kelly vs. Josephine Kelly, 1893-001, there is also a bit of baby daddy drama. The divorce suit involves Norfolk native Thomas Kelly, who had been for many years enlisted as a machinist in the United States Navy. During the year 1888, Thomas Kelly was stationed on board the monitor fleet lying at anchor at City Point in Prince George County. There he met Josephine Hodges, who was sixteen years of age. As Kelly would later testify in the chancery cause, their relationship began as a friendship and culminated in intimacy. Kelly confessed that he had sexual intercourse with her on or about the 17th day of June 1888 and also with more or less frequency from that date until he was transferred with the fleet to Richmond in October of the same year.
About the first of January 1889, Thomas was informed that Josephine was pregnant and that her condition was attributed to him. Her friends and her mother’s friends, including the pastor of her church, made repeated and urgent endeavors to have Thomas agree to marry her, but as there had been no promise of marriage and no undue advantage taken by him, he refused to comply … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the completion of the Petersburg chancery causes digital project. The scanning project was funded by the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program along with a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The collection has been digitized from 1787 through 1912 and the images added to the Chancery Records Index. The most recently added suits cover the years 1889-1912.
The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly added Petersburg chancery digital images.
In chancery cause 1907-055, George E. Fisher, for, etc. vs. Virginia Passenger & Power Company, etc., the plaintiffs ask the court to take over the floundering Virginia Passenger & Power Company in order to protect their financial stake in the business. The suit contains numerous exhibits including plats (images 616, 2030, 2032), minutes from board of directors’ and stockholders’ meetings (images 1878 and 1673). In 1908-034, John F. Crowder, etc. vs. Eli Tartt, etc., the suit stems from the unhappiness of the First Baptist (Colored) Church members with their pastor Eli Tartt. The plaintiffs wanted the court to remove Tartt as pastor of the church and their bill of complaint gives an account of a church meeting that became so uncontrollable that local police had to be called in to restore order (image 7). Crowder, … read more »
All eyes in the horse world may be directed towards Churchill Downs this week for this year’s Kentucky Derby, but Kentucky isn’t the only state with a rich horse history. Horses have played an important role in Virginia history ever since the first horse arrived in Jamestown. Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner and arguably the greatest horse to ever race, was born on Meadow Farm in Doswell, Virginia. Genuine Risk, one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby, called Virginia home. Robert E. Lee rode the well-known Traveller into battle. And, Misty of Chincoteague is one of the most beloved horses in children’s literature.
Here in Local Records the horses we find aren’t always as famous or majestic. Horses are left in wills and deeds, argued over to settle debts, objects of theft in criminal cases, and even causes of death in coroners’ inquisitions. Two instances of horses being caught up in matters of debt were found in the Fredrick County Judgments and Frederick County Chancery Causes. The judgment, Colmes vs. Ford, 1858, contains a broadside advertising the stud services of Young Dread, a “celebrated young Stallion” said to be the “noblest specimen of the horse kind ever known.” A beautiful blood bay in color said to have excellent movement and an exceedingly gentle temper, Young Dread, with the English … read more »
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. A conflict associated with the War of 1812 was the Creek War, fought mainly in Alabama which at the time was part of the Mississippi Territory. Recently, I came across a letter dated 9 April 1814 used as an exhibit in Lynchburg Chancery Cause 1815-002, Peter Detto vs. Heirs of Caleb Tait, etc. It referenced the last and most famous battle of the Creek War, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, fought only a couple of weeks before the letter was written. Waddy Tate, a recent Virginia emigrant to the Mississippi Territory, wrote the letter to his uncle Caleb Tate to clarify a misunderstanding concerning a deed to a lot of land in Lynchburg that was the source of the dispute in the chancery cause. Caleb believed his nephew had recorded the deed but Waddy informed his uncle that he had not because “our Judicial proceedings were all for a time suspended” because of the “Indian War.” But now that the “brave Genl. [Andrew] Jackson” had arrived, the courts were back in session and he would be sure to record the deed soon. Waddy concluded his letter by describing in a florid style General Andrew Jackson’s victory over the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend:
“General Jackson on the 27th last
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the first digital images, covering the years 1816-1857, from the Scott County chancery causes digitization project have been added to the Chancery Records Index. The Scott County chancery index covers the years 1816 through 1942 (bulk 1816-1912). The records will be scanned through 1912.
The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly added Scott County chancery digital images. In suits 1828-001, Madison Hill vs. Heirs of Joseph Johnson, and 1830-017, Joseph Jones & wife vs. Thomas M. Carter, one will find references to confrontations between Native Americans and the early settlers of Scott County. Chancery causes 1831-009, 1832-009, 1837-001, and 1852-004 concern a free African American mother’s determined effort to liberate her two children from slavery.
Additional Scott County chancery images will be available in the coming months. Stay tuned for future Out of the Box posts on this valuable and interesting collection of historic Virginia court records.
The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), funded through a $1.50 of the clerk’s recordation fee, is committed to efforts, like the Scott County chancery causes digitization project, that preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court records. Unfortunately, the downturn in the real estate market and the General Assembly’s diversion of CCRP funds have negatively impacted … read more »