2014 has been a special year filled with special events for Stafford County. Celebrating its 350th anniversary, the county held numerous community-based historical celebrations to mark the occasion. On January 4, some 4,300 people kicked off the commemoration with an inaugural event—complete with an interactive history tent and a “live history timeline” enacted by elementary students. Founders Day festivities, held May 3-4, gathered together 59 groups with 655 participants to showcase different aspects of the county’s history—with a parade, history square, and county-wide school fine arts program. Close to 13,000 people turned out for this unique sesquarcentennial jubilee. The Local Records Services branch of the Library of Virginia was selected to participate and staff a table displaying mounted reproductions of county documents found in its archival collections.
Individuals researching Stafford County history know that it is a locality that has experienced a massive loss of its loose records and volumes. Helping provide a context for earlier surviving documents (see the Lost Localities Digital Collection) as well as adding to the county’s ongoing story, the digital images for the Stafford County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1866-1912, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site. Because these documents rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Elizabeth City County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1747-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website. Traditional wisdom has always held that not many pre-1865 chancery suits managed to survive the burnings of Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, and the great 1865 Richmond evacuation fire that consumed many locality records sent to the capital for safekeeping. While not all of the records that should have existed still survive, it is fortunate that 366 suits from Elizabeth City County dating 1865 and prior were discovered as part of this processing project allowing for a richer portrait of the locality to emerge.
The earliest surviving suit is that of John Hunt and wife vs. William Hunter, 1747-001, and concerns the estate of William Hunter. Hunt’s wife was one of Hunter’s children and as such the couple sued for their portion of her father’s estate, which consisted of four slaves: Moll, Diana, Jemmie, and an unnamed child. The suit, which commenced in 1744, was continued for several years until it was finally sent on to the General Court in Richmond in 1747. The General Court papers burned completely in Richmond in 1865 so the ultimate disposition of this … read more »
Prior to the abolishment of slavery, the idea of landownership was an impossible dream for most African Americans, but in the years following the Civil War, African American landowners began to appear in Virginia’s chancery records. Unfortunately, these new landowners most often came to court because they were in danger of losing ownership of their property, or they felt they had been cheated out of the true value of their lands. With little support to aid in their pursuit of landownership, many minorities lost their property in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Two such examples were found in the Patrick County chancery causes.
In 1872, Enoch Wilson, an African American, sold a parcel of land to Gabriel Hylton, a white man, at a price that was much lower than it was worth. Hylton, regarded as a shrewd man and apparently not averse to taking advantage of others, vowed to pay Wilson $1.25 per acre for 217 acres of land. The transaction even included an offer to allow Wilson to continue to reside on the property until his death. Unfortunately for Wilson, the agreement was simply verbal and no money or documentation was ever exchanged.
Wilson’s grandson lived with him and was unaware of the verbal agreement with Hylton. As the assumed heir to the property, he decided to grow and sell … read more »
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 »
Individuals today wishing to conduct research using Rockingham County court records may encounter a few stumbling blocks. Due to two major events in the locality’s history, Rockingham County is identified as one of Virginia’s Lost Record localities. The first loss of Rockingham records occurred in 1787 when a courthouse fire destroyed primarily wills and estate records. A second and even more devastating loss came during the Civil War.
In June 1864, with the threat of Union troops advancing into the valley, concerned citizens of the county wanted court records (mostly volumes) removed from the courthouse so that the records could not be destroyed. A judge granted permission for these records to be moved to a safer place east of the Blue Ridge. A teamster and wagon were hired to remove the records, but the wagon was left on the Port Republic-Forge road after a rim was lost and a tire came off. During this delay, Union troops spied the wagon and partially destroyed the records by setting fire to it. The mother of a Confederate soldier extinguished the fire by carrying water and smothering the fire with green hay just cut from a nearby field. She retrieved what was left of the records and took them to her home for safekeeping. The records remained at her home for quite some time, and because … 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 years following the Civil War, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly referred to as simply the Freedmen’s Bureau) provided assistance to former slaves still living in the South, helping them transition from a society based on slavery to one allowing freedom. Established as part of the War Department by an act of Congress on 3 March 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau, operational until 1872, helped introduce a system of free labor, provided food and clothing, helped locate families and legalize marriages, promoted education, supervised labor contracts, and provided legal representation.
One of the Bureau’s most important roles was to help safeguard the rights of African Americans and ensure they received justice from the court system. Following the Civil War, several southern states, including Virginia, enacted a series of laws commonly known as “black codes” that restricted the rights and legal status of freedmen. African Americans were often given harsh sentences for petty crimes and were sometimes unable to get their cases heard in the state courts. In September 1865, Freedmen’s Bureau courts were established to adjudicate cases involving freedmen. By February 1866, Virginia had amended her laws and the Bureau courts were discontinued by May of that same year, but because of the failure of many local court officials to administer equal justice, the Bureau courts were reestablished in certain areas … read more »