When Mary Walker Cabell died in 1862, a series of chancery suits were filed in Nelson County by her numerous descendants in an attempt to settle her estate. Such complicated cases could not be remedied by courts of law and were usually decided according to fairness by courts of equity, called chancery courts in Virginia.
In 1863 this hand-drawn family tree was entered into the case to note the lineage on Cabell’s father’s side. Cabell was the paternal granddaughter of Charles Hill Carter (1733-1802) of Shirley Plantation. Charles Hill Carter was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter (1663-1732) one of the richest men in 17th century colonial America. His parents, John Carter and Elizabeth Hill, built Shirley Plantation in 1723. The home, a private residence in Charles City County, remains in the family today.
This family tree serves as a reminder that chancery court cases are often invaluable to genealogical researchers because courts frequently sought to determine heirs and family connections. Though this example is of the powerful Carter family, most suits concerned ordinary Virginians and some even document the lineage of the enslaved.
This large chancery cause, Executor of Mary Walker Cabell, etc. vs. Peyton H. Skipwith, etc. & Representative of Charles Carter Lee, etc. vs. Executor of Mary Walker Cabell, etc., 1882, is part of the Nelson County Chancery Collection and … read more »
Genealogists researching enslaved African Americans face serious challenges. Records that exist for the free population do not exist for the enslaved since slaves were considered property and were prohibited from reading, writing, owning land, or even legally marrying. This is why Virginia’s few surviving cohabitation registers are so important.
The Library of Virginia recently conserved the Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866 at the request of John Graham, Smyth County Clerk of the Circuit Court. It is one of only twenty one cohabitation registers known to exist and is included in the Library’s cohabitation register digitization project. This project aims to digitize, transcribe, and make available via the Virginia Memory website the images of all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit.
Prior to the Civil War, Virginia law provided no legal recognition for slave marriages. What is certain and what documents like the cohabitation registers reveal is that slaves did marry and consider themselves to be married in spite of the lack of legal protection and recognition. In 1865, Commissioner Oliver Otis Howard of the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau) directed the assistant commissioners of the states to order the county clerks to … read more »