Tag Archives: J.B. Wood

- Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography


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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Elmer Raines, No. 8824

Photograph of Elmer Raines, #8824, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 694, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot MondayArchives Month Edition.  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole information in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Elmer Raines, the subject of this week’s post, was paroled in July 1911.  His freedom was shortlived.  Raines was back in the Penitentiary by November 1911 under a new name, Charles H. Kimball, one of many aliases “Raines” used.

Thirty-five-year-old Pennsylvania native Elmer Raines arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary on 14 July 1909.  Raines was convicted of forgery in the Roanoke Corporation Court and sentenced to four years in prison.  At the time of his incarceration, Raines had two known aliases:  Henry Fairfax and Frank Fairfax.  Penitentiary officials also learned of a new one:  William H. Reynolds.  On 2 February 1911, Penitentiary Superintendent J.B. Wood received a letter from a Mrs. William H. Reynolds of Macon, Georgia, inquiring if her husband, Elmer Raines, would be paroled in July.  “I have tried to be patient,” Mrs. Reynolds wrote, “and sometimes think I can not get along alone and make a living[,] however I have been very successful so far.”  By June 1911, Mrs. Reynolds’ fortunes had changed.  “[K]indly do all you can to get [Raines] pardoned in July,” she wrote Wood, “for I need his protection more than I can tell you.”  The Virginia Penitentiary … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Joe Perry, No. 6733

Photograph of Joe Perry, #6733, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 21, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot MondayArchives Month Edition.  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole records in the Virginia Penitentiary.  Joe Perry, the subject of this week’s post, was paroled in December 1910.  After his release, he exchanged several warm letters with Superintendent J.B. Wood.

Forty-two-year-old Joe Perry of Buchanan County arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary on 30 August 1906 to begin serving a ten-year sentence for second degree murder.  He was a model prisoner and did not violate any rules during his incarceration.  In May 1909, Perry found a repeating shotgun which one of the guards had left in a common area of the penitentiary and returned it to prison officials.  On 14 December 1910, this incident, along with Perry’s good conduct and clemency petitions submitted by Buchanan County citizens, led Governor William Hodges Mann to commute his sentence to eight years.  This made Perry parole eligible.  Five days later the Virginia Penitentiary Board of Directors granted it without requiring Perry to secure employment.

Upon his return home to Council, Virginia, Perry wrote Superintendent J.B. Wood on 14 January 1911 to thank him.  “I feel that I owe you so many thanks for the kind treatment I received from you and your officials during my time there,” wrote Perry.  “I can’t find words … read more »

- Virginia Christian: The Last Woman Executed by Virginia?

Photograph of Virginia Christian probably taken on 3 June 1912 when she was transferred from Hampton to the Virginia Penitentiary Death House in Richmond.   Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B Photographs, Box 19, Accession 41558.

On 16 August 1912, 17-year-old Virginia Christian was electrocuted at the Virginia Penitentiary for the 18 March 1912 murder of Ida Belote, her white employer. Today, she remains the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908. That historic distinction may be about to change. Barring any intervention by the judicial system or Governor Robert McDonnell, Teresa Lewis will be executed on 23 September 2010 at the Greensville Correctional Center for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis. Lewis’s pending execution has sparked renewed interest in the Christian case.

The Library of Virginia has a variety of documents concerning Virginia Christian’s execution. Rather than summarizing the case, I will let a representative sample of 51 documents tell the story from all sides: Christian’s family and her attorneys, Belote’s family, the prosecutor, and Governor William Hodges Mann. These documents were drawn from various State Records collections including:  Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary; Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers; and Records of Governor William Mann. Each image caption includes the citation of the document. The records of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558) are now open to researchers.

Readers interested in exploring how the Christian case was covered in the media should consult the Library of Virginia’s extensive newspaper collection. Click here … read more »