Tag Archives: circuit court records

- Henry Co. Cohabitation Register and African-American Naming Practices


This visual representation of the names of the mothers found in the Henry Cohabitation Register illustrate the frequency of use by the size of the name.(Word images created using wordle.net)

The Library of Virginia has completed the digitization and transcription of the last of the cohabitation registers in its possession, the Henry County Cohabitation Register, 1866. Others have already been transcribed and are available in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory. For African-American genealogical researchers, the names contained herein provide priceless clues to retracing their ancestors. Cohabitation registers imparted legal legitimacy to African-American marriages and children. This was also the first time many of these individuals would appear in public record under their own names.

Naming under the practice of slavery was fraught with power dynamics. The enslavers often gave names to the enslaved. The amount of input the family of the child would have in his or her name varied, but journals of slave-holders indicate they specifically assigned names to slave children on a regular basis.[1] Newly enslaved Africans were often issued a new name by their captors, causing their identities to become yet another site of colonization. Naming was a powerful tool for enforcing cultural assimilation and denigrating African cultural identity.[2]

When viewed simply as data, the set of names used for slaves seems to have been larger and more varied than the set of names used for free people. Slave names tended to fit within five categories: diminutive versions of English names (Jim, Bess), place names … read more »

- Early Warwick Co. Records Added to Lost Records Digital Collection


Picture frame once containing a writ taken from the Warwick County courthouse by Union soldier George H. Sterling. The writ is believed to have been Simson vs. Hubbard, 1725. Inscribed on the frame back: This Writ was taken from Warwick Court House, Warwick Co. Virginia by Geo. H. Sterling.

Warwick County records that date from 1650 to 1840 have recently been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory. The types of records found in this addition include wills, deeds, court suits, estate records, jail reports, a docket book, a complete order book, and pages torn from order books. Many of these documents were removed from the Warwick County courthouse during the Civil War by Union soldiers as spoils of war. Over the course of the last century, they made their way back to Virginia.

A page from a 17th century order book, removed by John Hart of the 29th Massachusetts Regiment in 1862, ended up in the hands of LaRoy Sunderland of Boston, Massachusetts, who donated it to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The society discovered the torn order book page while in the process of moving to a new location in 1964 and returned it to Virginia. Other documents were returned to Virginia after being discovered amongst family papers. E. Russell Jones of Pennsylvania and Charles Fitchorn of Missouri both discovered Warwick County records taken during the Civil War among the belongings of their deceased relatives. In 1914, James P. Williams returned Warwick County records he received from a friend named Edward G. Wood whose grandfather was a collector of relics. In a letter … read more »

- We Raise Our Glasses to Carl Childs


Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Erica Williams, Local Records Services director Carl Childs, Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney, and Local Records Program Manager Greg Crawford, Montgomery County Courthouse, 22 July 2013.

The editors of Out of the Box would like to give a belated good-bye to Carl Childs, the Library of Virginia’s former Local Records Services director.  Last month, Carl started his new job as Director of Archives and Records for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  When former local records archivist Dale Dulaney first proposed our little blog five years ago, Carl’s support, encouragement, and leadership helped Dale’s idea become a reality.  The result:  the Out of the Box blog may be the most successful outreach tool used by the Library of Virginia.  For the fiscal year ending 30 June 2013, Out of the Box had 435,859 page views, 221,667 visitors, and 369,123 visits.

Out of the Box is one of many innovative projects that Carl has been a part of at the Library.  In a 20-year career at the agency, Carl moved into increasingly responsible positions, from his first job as a front desk attendant, to state records archivist and then local records archivist and, beginning in 2005, Local Records Services director.  Carl brought enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things to every position.  Accordingly, in his tenure overseeing the Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) grants program, Carl helped strengthen the application and oversight process, resulting in a more efficient and beneficial program to care for historic records in Virginia’s circuit courts.  Similarly, … read more »

- The Women of Smithfield


Portrait of Susanna Smith Preston by Jeremiah Deus at Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Processing of the Montgomery County chancery began in August 2013, and one of the early finds was Chancery Cause 1848-016, Letitia Floyd vs. Executors of Elizabeth Madison, which involved two locally well-known Virginia families, the Prestons and Floyds.  While much of the history of these families revolves around the military, economic, and political exploits of the men, this particular suit reveals great politicking among the females as well. Additionally, this case permits researchers to evaluate changes in women’s economic and social status over several generations.

William Preston, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Virginia in 1737, moved to western Virginia and became a surveyor in Augusta and Botetourt Counties.  He fought in the French and Indian War, became an officer in the colonial militia, and eventually served in the House of Burgesses and as a sheriff and surveyor in Fincastle County. In 1775, he signed the Fincastle Resolutions and helped to recruit soldiers for the militia, ultimately serving as a colonel in the newly-created regiment mustered from Montgomery County.  Preston and his friend and fellow surveyor, John Floyd, (among others) advanced land claims for prominent Virginians by surveying tracts (legally and illegally) in Kentucky.

Numerous local and area histories celebrate adventurers and pioneers but few of these accounts consider the experiences of the women who carved out a home for their families in the … read more »

- 12 Years a Slave

The release of the film 12 Years a Slave had us talking here at Out of the Box. Discussions on slavery are a common occurrence at the Library of Virginia, but it is an entirely different experience to see the brutality and violence of slavery on screen. Based on the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free African American living in Saratoga Springs, New York, kidnapped in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in Louisiana, the film offers an unflinching portrayal of slavery in the United States.

12 Years a Slave never pulls back from the brutality of its subject matter, and most importantly the film gives a human face to slavery—a system characterized by its dehumanization. So many of the records here at the LVA do the same, putting a name to those who suffered, and telling their stories. In addition to an original 1857 edition of Northup’s narrative, the experiences of slaves can be found in the state, local, and private records held at the LVA. Some of those stories have already been recounted here on Out of the Box. Unfortunately many of these stories end as tragically as they began.

After 12 long years, Northup managed to escape slavery, but for a young woman wrongfully enslaved in Alexandria, Virginia, that would not be the case. The details appear in the … read more »

- Kicking Up A Stink In Virginia Beach


Map of Virginia Beach Owned by the Norfolk and Virginia Beach Railroad and Improvement Company, Portsmouth City Chancery Cause 1911-015, A. Johnson Ackiss for etc. vs. E. H. Morrison.

Here at Out of the Box we’re still celebrating Archives Month 2013, and while getting ready for the Library of Virginia’s 30 October event “Homegrown: Celebrating Virginia’s Cultural Heritage in its Archives and Special Collections,” we’ve had many conversations about local food movements and urban farming.  Some issues that came up included land use and neighborhood development—especially when it comes to animals. Some people just don’t want a rooster or goat living next door. Livestock in the city limits is certainly not a strictly modern issue. In fact, we uncovered an early 20th-century Portsmouth City chancery cause in which a horse was causing problems in the summer resort town of Virginia Beach.

The Norfolk and Virginia Beach Railroad and Improvement Company purchased land in Princess Anne County in 1883 to create a “high order summer resort” called Virginia Beach.   The company hoped to attract refined and cultured people to purchase land to build cottages and residences. The original deeds sold by the company included seven covenants that were to be followed for the construction of buildings and use of the property.  One of the covenants forbade the building of public or private stables on the lots.   According to B. P. Holland, a real estate agent, the covenants were made “to have a high order of summer resorts and to do away with … read more »

- Georgia on my Mind

 

Marriage certificate published by N. Currier, circa 1848. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

One day in 1898, A.M. Scales definitely did not have Georgia on his mind.

While processing the Patrick County chancery records, I discovered a divorce case, Georgia L. Scales, by etc. vs. A. M. Scales, in which Georgia, a white woman, caught her husband, A. M. Scales, committing adultery with their African American cook.  The chancery case describes Georgia as a loving wife who faithfully served her family—a stark contrast to Mr. Scales.

Throughout their ten years of marriage, according to the suit, A. M. Scales lived a carefree life filled with riotous living and degrading insults for Georgia.  He even asked merchants to not provide Georgia with credit for food and supplies leaving Georgia to despairingly provide for herself and her four children.  After doling out years of abuse, Mr. Scales was determined that Georgia wouldn’t amount to anything, so he decided to separate from her and their children on 24 September 1897.

Georgia was fine with the separation because, despite a lack of proof, she always suspected that her husband had an affair.  One day, Georgia’s suspicions proved true when she returned home from a prayer meeting and found her husband in the kitchen committing adultery with her cook.  After being caught in the act, Mr. Scales decided to contain his adulterous affairs to the privacy of a hotel.

Shortly thereafter, an African … read more »

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- Anatomy of a Marriage


Residence of Nannie and William Shelley, circa 1900s, Arlington County Chancery Cause Nannie R. Shelley vs. William C. Shelley, 1907-055.

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 »

- Buying and Selling Servants


Indenture between Patrick Larkin and Thomas Blood, 17 August 1766, Virginia Miscellany Legal Papers, 1657-1791, Private Papers Collection, Library of Virginia (Accession 24715).

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 »

- Stories of Surry Co.


Surry County (Image used courtesy of Historical Markers Database and Laura Troy.)

The Surry County Chancery Causes, 1785-1922 (bulk 1806-1917), contain valuable biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens of Surry County—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.

Chancery Cause 1830-037, Mary Pettway, etc. vs. Admr. of John Pettway Judkins, etc. is an estate settlement suit. John Pettway Judkins died without a will; therefore, the court had to determine who all was related to Judkins in order to ensure they received their fair share of his estate, including slaves. The suit contains a list of Judkins’ relatives showing how they were related to him.

Chancery Cause 1869-002, Enna (or Rosenna) Rowena Messersmith by etc. vs. Joseph M. Messersmith is a divorce suit that had its origins in the Civil War. Joseph served in a local Surry County unit attached to the 13th Virginia Regiment. He and Enna were married on 23 September 1862 in Surry County while Joseph was on a short furlough. Emma rarely saw her husband over the next two years. Enna informed the court that she last saw her husband in January 1864 in Petersburg. She learned from someone who served with Joseph that in the spring of 1864 Joseph went AWOL and was believed to have fled to western Virginia. Enna told … read more »