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Tag Archives: Native Americans

- Who Do You Love?: Race and Marriage in Virginia Before the Loving Decision


Sample marriage license. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

Virginia’s marriage license requirements recently made the national news, and the state’s complicated history with racial classification is part of that conversation. Various records held by the Library of Virginia document this state-sanctioned bias. The following is a look at one such record that contextualizes the discussion of race and marriage going on today.

On 20 March 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, recognizing only two races, White and “Colored.” The act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and made marriage between white persons and non-white persons a felony. The law was one of the most famous bans on miscegenation in the United States, and was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 1967, in Loving vs. Virginia. The Racial Integrity Act generally adhered to the “one-drop rule,” a historical colloquial term that holds that a person with any trace of African ancestry is considered Black. However, the act was also subject to the so-called Pocahontas exception. Since many influential families claimed descent from Pocahontas, the legislature declared that a person could be considered white with as much as one-sixteenth Indian ancestry. This law, along with the Sterilization Act also of 1924, imposed the practice of scientific eugenics in the Commonwealth.

The racial criteria behind the act were developed by Dr. Walter Plecker, … read more »

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- A Virginian, a Tomahawk, & the American Revolution in the Old West

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Gregory D. Smithers, Professor of History and Eminent Scholar (2019–2024) in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, spent the spring researching and writing for a book project entitled The Riverkeepers: The Cherokees, Their Neighbors, and the Rivers that Made America. 

 


Print showing Linn brothers in hand-to-hand combat in a Native American village, Kentucky, ca. 1785. Illustration from Augustus Lynch Mason, The Romance and Tragedy of Pioneer Life, 1883, p. 413. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Like many eighteenth-century militiamen, Joseph Bowman was interested in more than warfare. Bowman’s enlistment in Virginia’s militia during the Revolutionary War also served the modus operandi for thousands of colonial Americans by the latter half of the century: the business of doing business. In a letter dated 14 June 1779, Bowman provided a rich description of the economic opportunities available to Virginians who were willing to try their luck throughout Anglo-America’s western frontiers. From New Orleans to the Ohio Valley, Bowman surveyed a diverse land rich in financial possibilities.

Joseph Bowman was born in Frederick County, Virginia, on 8 March 1752. The grandson of German immigrants, the family made the decision at some point during the eighteenth century to anglicize their surname name from “Baumann” to “Bowman.” Bowman’s forebears saw the western frontiers of Virginia as a space where they might prosper. As such, the family joined the first Europeans to settle in … read more »

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- Digital Images of All Legislative Petitions Now Available on Virginia Memory

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the final batch of digital images of legislative petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776-1865, is now available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes present-day West Virginia and Kentucky counties and numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities.  With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available online number over 24,000.

Legislative petitions are one the few primary source documents that provide valuable insight concerning the plight of Native Americans during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In reading them, one will discover the depth of poverty and disease Native Americans experienced in Virginia.  An example can be found in a petition filed in October 1786 by Simon and John Turner of Southampton County asking the General Assembly for an act appointing trustees to join them in the conveyance of land owned by the Nansemond Indian tribe located on the north side of the Nottoway River. They introduced themselves as the “only surviving men of the Nansemond Indians.” Proceeds from the sale would be used to bring relief from “bodily infirmities” and oppressive poverty for the last of the Nansemond tribe, the two petitioners and three women, who currently resided with their friend and neighbors in the Nottoway tribe. The … read more »

- A Monument of Debt


Washington Monument, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, 2010. (Image used courtesy of George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

The Washington Monument is finally reopening on 12 May 2014 after undergoing restoration for damage caused by an earthquake in August 2011. I was curious what the Library of Virginia had in its collections relating to the monument and discovered an interesting footnote to the history surrounding its construction. The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization formed in 1833 to fund and build the monument, solicited donations and designs for more than a decade before construction finally began in 1848. In 1854, the Society went bankrupt, leaving a partial structure that stood unfinished until Congress assumed the duties of funding and construction on 5 July 1876. Arlington County Judgment Samuel Harrison Smith vs. Thomas K. Beale, dated October 1838, sheds some light on why the Society found itself bankrupt.

The judgment concerns the work of James M. McRea, an agent for the Society sent to Alabama to solicit donations “for the erection of a great national monument to the memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government.” Included in the case are three letters sent by McRea during his travels in Alabama. In the first, dated 2 April 1836 and sent from the then state capitol, Tuscaloosa, we discover that McRea did not travel alone but took along his family, causing a delay in his journey when his children were “attacked … read more »

- King William Co. Chancery Now Online!


Letterhead for the Terminal Hotel, West Point, Virginia. King William County (Va.) Chancery Cause Anderson Bourgeoise, etc. vs. Daniel L. Risley, 1904-026, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for the King William County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1868-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site. Because they rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information and are especially useful when researching local, state, social, or legal history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that are especially helpful in documenting the African American experience, family history, women’s history, and Southern business and labor history. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.

The King William chancery causes contain several suits which illustrate the experiences of Native Americans in the Tidewater region. The Mattaponi Tribe is represented in Chancery Cause 1895-002, George F. Custalow vs. James S. Robinson, Trustee. In the case, two members of the Mattaponi Tribe, Custalow and Austin Key, dispute ownership over a piece of land.  In Chancery Cause Walter Miles vs. Alice Miles, 1907-006, two members of the Pamunkey Tribe, living in Indian Town, head to the King William County court to seek a divorce. Walter Miles claimed that on 15 November 1904 he was called before the chiefs of the tribe to face a charge … read more »

- “hundreds of the descendants of Indians have obtained their freedom:” Freedom Suits in 18th & 19th Century Virginia

 

Thomas Nast's celebration of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War, circa 1865.

A small slip of paper on display in the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition You Have No Right: Law and Justice in Virginia, running 24 September 2012-18 May 2013, was of immense importance to twelve people. It discloses, even though it does not state the fact in so many words, that on 2 May 1772 they gained their freedom after being held in slavery since each of them was born. The piece of paper and the fates of those Virginians illuminates a disturbing and little-known part of Virginia’s history, the enslavement of American Indians.

The paper came into the possession of the Library of Virginia in 1988 when it acquired a copy of volume two of John Tracy Atkyns, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery in the Time of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke . . . (London, 1765–1768) that had once been in the library of the colonial government in Williamsburg. One of the librarians in the cataloguing section showed it to me, knowing of my interest in that library. When she lifted it from her desk to hand it to me, a piece of paper that had been slipped between leaves in the middle of the volume fell out and fluttered to the floor. We were surprised, and I was even more surprised when I saw what … read more »

- Augusta Co. Chancery Reveals Pioneer Stories of Western Virginia


Letter to the editor of an unkwown newspaper written by a young lawyer requesting to write a weekly column on the history of Augusta County, Augusta County Chancery Cause 1842-042.

“In the time worn and musty old folios long since filed away in our public offices, there is many a fact recorded that has occured [sic] under the personal observation of no one now living; and which if placed within the reach of the public, would go farther to give us a knowledge of the manners, customs, and character of the pioneers of Augusta County than all the histories that have been written on our native state.”

These words were written by a young lawyer who was researching court records filed in the Augusta County courthouse in the early 1830’s. He was amazed by the amount of history found in the old court papers. He discovered stories about the first settlers of western Virginia and the many obstacles they encountered in their efforts to start a new life in an untamed wilderness. He read about events that happened during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. The young lawyer came across suits in which the litigants talked about their migration down the Shenandoah Valley from western Pennsylvania to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mesmerized by what he was reading, the young lawyer wanted to make his discoveries in the court records available to the public, and so, he wrote a letter to the editor of an unidentified newspaper requesting a weekly column in which he … read more »

- First Scott Co. Chancery Images Have Arrived!


View of Moccasin Gap, Clinch Mountain in Scott County, Va. (Image used courtesy of Wikipedia/author Mark Lindamood.)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the first digital images, covering the years 1816-1857, from the Scott County chancery causes digitization project have been added to the Chancery Records Index. The Scott County chancery index covers the years 1816 through 1942 (bulk 1816-1912). The records will be scanned through 1912.

The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly added Scott County chancery digital images. In suits 1828-001, Madison Hill vs. Heirs of Joseph Johnson, and 1830-017, Joseph Jones & wife vs. Thomas M. Carter, one will find references to confrontations between Native Americans and the early settlers of Scott  County. Chancery causes 1831-009, 1832-009, 1837-001, and 1852-004 concern a free African American mother’s determined effort to liberate her two children from slavery.

Additional Scott County chancery images will be available in the coming months. Stay tuned for future Out of the Box posts on this valuable and interesting collection of historic Virginia court records.

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), funded through a $1.50 of the clerk’s recordation fee, is committed to efforts, like the Scott County chancery causes digitization project, that preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court records. Unfortunately, the downturn in the real estate market and the General Assembly’s diversion of CCRP funds have negatively impacted … read more »

- The Gingaskins of Virginia


Gingaskin Indian reservation historical marker located near the site of the reservation in Northampton County. (Photo by Bill Pfingsten, 4 May 2008/used courtesy of Historical Markers Database.)

November is Native American Heritage Month, a month set aside to recognize the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States. Here at the Library of Virginia we have documents that tell the story of the Gingaskin Tribe. In 1641, the Accomac Indians, an Algonquin-speaking tribe located on the Eastern shore and part of the group collectively referred to as Powhatan Indians, became known as the Gingaskins when they accepted a patent from the English government for the remaining 1,500 acres of their ancestral lands on the ocean side of Northampton County. Various legal and boundary struggles with their English neighbors over the years reduced the lands reserved for the Gingaskins to 650 acres, which was patented again in 1680.


Investigations of people, including free negroes, living on Gingaskin lands, 1785.  (Northampton County Land Records, 1785-1815. Barcode 1168316)

Over the years, Indian lands were often leased to outsiders by the state and county governments in order to help support Gingaskin members, most of whom chose to maintain a traditional lifestyle and not farm the lands. Great concern was exhibited by white neighbors about the Gingaskins intermarrying with free negroes and charges were made in petitions to the General Assembly in 1784 and 1787 that there were no more “real” Indians left on the reservation and therefore the land should be given to whites who could better protect it, by which they meant farm it in … read more »