In his debut novel, Forsaken, Ross Howell Jr. tells the story of an uneducated African American servant, Virginia Christian, who was tried for killing her white employer in 1912. She died in the electric chair one day after her 17th birthday, the only female juvenile executed in Virginia since 1908. Howell researched the case using a variety of documents and images related to Christian’s execution found in the Library of Virginia’s collections.
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce a new digital exhibition, Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography, which spotlights the court records and newspaper stories used and referenced in the novel. Included are: the coroner’s inquest for Ida V. Belote; Virginia Christian’s trial, appeal, and clemency records; and newspaper coverage of these events from the Newport News Times-Herald and Daily Press.
As noted at the beginning of the novel, Forsaken is a work of fiction, but many of the characters were real people. Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography includes brief biographical sketches and documents related to these individuals. Also included is additional background material on other historic events referenced in the text, such as Nat Turner’s Rebellion and the “Allen Gang.” The epilogue focuses on what happened to the real-life main characters: Charles Mears, Harriet and Sadie Belote, Charles Pace, and others.
While by no means comprehensive (and very much … read more »
Posted in State Records Blog Posts, What's New in the Archives
Also tagged in: African Americans, capital punishment, Charles Mears, Charles Pace, Charlotte Christian, coroners' inquisitions, E.E. Montague, execution files, George Fields, Harriet Christian, Henry Christian, Ida Belote, J. Thomas Newsome, J.B. Wood, Lewter F. Hobbs, murder, state records, Virginia Christian
Dr. Paul Parker, medical examiner of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, wrapped up a 19 April 1935 coroner’s inquest by ruling that “Dorothy McGaha Reeves came to her death on April 15th, 1935, of general peritonitis and perforated uterus as a direct result of a criminal abortion performed by Dr. N[elson]. F[rederick]. McNorton, of York County (Yorktown), Virginia, on the 9thday of April, 1935. Death occurred at the Dixie Hospital, Hampton, Virginia, on April 15th, 1935, about 12:20, A. M.”
Dr. McNorton was arrested on 15 April but charges were not disclosed. Authorities were led to him based on a deathbed statement given by Reeves, as well as Dr. Parker’s inquest findings. The Danville Bee reported that Reeves purportedly went to Dr. McNorton’s office for the illegal operation on the evening of 9 April in the company of Nellie Frye. Five days later, without ever having returned to work, Reeves was taken to the hospital where she died the following morning. In addition to Dr. McNorton’s arrest, later revealed to be on charges of second-degree murder and performing an illegal operation, Frye was also arrested. She was held as a material witness and also on the charge of being an accessory to the illegal operation.
Dr. McNorton belonged to a noted and influential African American family in Yorktown. His father, … 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 »
Posted in Chancery Court Blog Posts, Local Records Blog Posts
Also tagged in: Chancery Causes, Civil War, Elizabeth City County, Fort Monroe, Free Negro Register, Free Negroes, Hampton Institute, Hampton University, slavery, slaves
Dr. Paul J. Parker ruled on 11 June 1935, that “James A. Branch came to his death of gun shot wound while gun was in hands of Lewis Smith at No 4 Curry St Phoebus Va [sic].” However, five months later he modified his ruling when he wrote, “James Branch came to his death by a gun shot wound just below the lobe of the left ear, this occurred at the corner of Curry and County Streets, Phoebus, Va.” Lack of an explanation for this momentous change amplified the intrigue and portended a unique case in the otherwise straightforward files of Dr. Parker.
As the medical examiner for Elizabeth City County, later the City of Hampton, Dr. Parker was tasked with conducting coroner’s inquiries into any sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious deaths, or any death which occurred without medical attendance. These inquiries included conducting depositions to determine how the victim came to his or her death and, if so warranted, forwarding his findings to the Elizabeth City County Circuit Court for grand jury consideration.
In the case of James Branch, Dr. Parker, after deposing eleven witnesses, found that Lewis Smith had held the gun that fired the fatal shot. Included in this group of witnesses was Mr. Smith, whom Dr. Parker advised had been charged with murder. Interestingly Dr. Parker then did what … read more »
16 August 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the execution of Virginia Christian for the brutal murder of Ida V. Belote in Hampton, Virginia, on 18 March 1912. Out of the Box featured select documents from the Christian case in September 2010. The 23 September 2010 execution of Teresa Lewis for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis, sparked new interest in Virginia Christian, who up to that time was the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908.
Often in high-profile criminal cases, the victim and victim’s family are an afterthought. To mark this infamous anniversary, I decided to write a post on Ida V. Belote. Who was she? What happened to her eight children? Two of her young daughters discovered their mother’s body and testified at the coroner’s inquisition. What became of them? My search for answers led me to the Belote coroner’s inquisition, newspaper articles, and Ancestry.com. What follows is a fragmentary picture of Ida Belote and her family.
Ida Virginia Hobbs, the daughter of James and Harriette Hobbs, was born in March 1861 in North Carolina. Hobbs married James Edward Wadsworth Belote (17 February 1846-6 June 1911) on 5 November 1879 in Northampton County, North Carolina. By 1880 the … read more »
On Tuesday June 14, a team of archivists were in Hampton to assist circuit court clerk Linda Batchelor Smith in completing a records inventory of the court’s record room and to transfer selected archival records to the Library of Virginia (LVA) Archive. This visit is but one part of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program’s (CCRP) effort to assist clerks and records officers statewide in managing their records more efficiently.
A records inventory is a tool employed by archivists and records managers to gain intellectual control over a group of records and to help institute more efficient records-keeping practices. Once an inventory is completed, a records analyst will apply relevant records retention and disposition schedules – documents that inform record keepers how long they must keep and maintain certain types of records.
The LVA is charged by the Virginia Public Records Act (PRA) with publishing these records retention and disposition schedules . The PRA also authorizes the LVA’s role in ensuring that public records are maintained and available throughout their life cycle. The Library presents workshops, monitors the disposal of non-permanent records, and assists with the transfer of permanent records to the Archives.
Besides helping to better identify hundreds of years of records, the consultation in Hampton also resulted in the transfer of approximately 120 drawers of pre-1913 law and chancery case files to … read more »