In the courthouses of Virginia, one can often find records that are not and were never under the official purview of the clerks of the court. Newspapers, church minutes, private papers, and other records of these kinds turn up as the collections are searched by today’s researchers. The private papers of Charles J. Callison are an example of one such find in the Montgomery County Circuit Court records.Discovered in a file cabinet drawer of court judgments and estate bonds, the Callison papers consist of two issues of a handwritten newsletter titled “The Moonbeam,” two bound booklets, and a loose sheet of paper. Most of these seem to have been composed when Callison was a child or at least a young man. They concern his interests in hunting, nature, and wild adventure stories. There is no discernible reason why these papers should have found their way into the courthouse, but it is delightful to us that they did.
According to the 1880 federal census, Charles J. Callison was born in Virginia. Eighteen years of age at that time, he lived at home in Montgomery County with his parents and his five brothers and sisters. His father, Isaac, was a shoemaker according to the 1880 census and a farmer according to the 1900 census. Other information about Callison is thin on the ground. He served in the … read more »
Processing of the Montgomery County chancery began in August 2013, and one of the early finds was Chancery Cause 1848-016, Letitia Floyd vs. Executors of Elizabeth Madison, which involved two locally well-known Virginia families, the Prestons and Floyds. While much of the history of these families revolves around the military, economic, and political exploits of the men, this particular suit reveals great politicking among the females as well. Additionally, this case permits researchers to evaluate changes in women’s economic and social status over several generations.
William Preston, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Virginia in 1737, moved to western Virginia and became a surveyor in Augusta and Botetourt Counties. He fought in the French and Indian War, became an officer in the colonial militia, and eventually served in the House of Burgesses and as a sheriff and surveyor in Fincastle County. In 1775, he signed the Fincastle Resolutions and helped to recruit soldiers for the militia, ultimately serving as a colonel in the newly-created regiment mustered from Montgomery County. Preston and his friend and fellow surveyor, John Floyd, (among others) advanced land claims for prominent Virginians by surveying tracts (legally and illegally) in Kentucky.
Numerous local and area histories celebrate adventurers and pioneers but few of these accounts consider the experiences of the women who carved out a home for their families in the … read more »
The Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services branch, in partnership with the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk, was recently awarded a 2-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support the processing of the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Collection, 1777-1912. The grant provides for the processing and indexing of the Montgomery County Chancery Causes with an eye toward future digitization as well as the creation of electronic finding aids for the remaining loose historical court records found in the clerk’s office in Christiansburg. The project will utilize a new strategy for the LVA in that all work will be completed by professional archivists in the clerk’s office rather than at the Archives in Richmond.
The NHPRC recognized the national significance of the Montgomery County court records as the county was ideally situated on routes west to experience the travel and migration of people seeking opportunity, land, and adventure in the West. These court records also illuminate the lives of numerous under-documented populations and have national significance for researchers interested in the African American experience, women’s history, westward migration, and southern labor and business history in the antebellum and post-Civil War periods.
In their current state, the Montgomery County chancery records are only known and utilized by a select few historians and humanities researchers. When completed the Montgomery County Chancery Causes … read more »
The final images from the Augusta County chancery causes are now available on the Library of Virginia’s Chancery Records Index. With this addition, all Augusta County chancery causes covering the time period from 1746 to 1912 can be viewed online—a total of 10,268 suits and 878,490 images. The collection is one of the most significant collections of historic legal records in the nation. From 1745 to 1770, the boundaries of Augusta County encompassed most of western Virginia and what became the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio, and parts of present-day Pennsylvania as far north as Pittsburgh. The Augusta County chancery causes are the most voluminous of any locality in Virginia and are one of the longest and most complete continuous collections of chancery records of any locality in the country. Cases are also included from the Staunton Superior Court of Chancery, with a jurisdiction of over 28 localities, from 1802 to 1831.
Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition of Augusta County’s equity suits. Augusta County Chancery Cause 1818-099 is a dispute over the estate of John Edmondson that included numerous slaves. The suit contains a chart documenting the hiring out of slaves owned by Edmondson. Administrator of Andrew Moore vs. Representatives of John Stuart, etc., 1845-015, gives some perspective on the ways in … 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 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 »
The latest images from the Augusta County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. This latest addition of Augusta County chancery causes covering the time period from 1896 through 1902 joins the 1867-1895 causes already available online. Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition.
In 1898, Betty E. Arey proclaimed that a cemetery would not be built in her backyard when she and her husband brought suit against the Town of Waynesboro in R. E. Arey and wife vs. Town of Waynesboro etc., 1898-004. The Areys attempted to halt the construction of a cemetery behind their property and brought as evidence a plat showing the proximity of graves to their house, garden, and well.
In her bill for divorce, Annie B. Black wrote that she was persuaded to elope by John B. Black who later “willfully deserted and abandoned her at the youthful age of thirteen” after having only been married for two months. In Annie B. Black vs. John B. Black, 1900-054, Annie Black claimed that her husband obtained their marriage license without her presence and falsely represented her as being twenty when she was actually not yet thirteen at the time of their marriage.
The Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch was recently awarded a $150,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support the scanning of the Augusta County Chancery Causes dating from 1745 to 1912. NHPRC, the grant funding arm of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), recognized the national significance of the Augusta County collection and validated the importance of and great benefits provided by LVA’s ongoing digital chancery initiative.
Chancery causes are invaluable to family historians and those interested in studying the history of a locality or region and its inhabitants. Chancery causes are legal proceedings that could not be decided readily by existing written laws. Decisions were made by a county justice or judge, not a jury, and on the basis of fairness, or equity, in place of the strictly formulated rules of common law.
The Augusta County chancery causes are the most voluminous of any locality in Virginia and are one of the longest and most complete continuous collections of chancery records of any locality in the country. They document an unusually large geographic area. For the period 1745 to 1770, the boundaries of Augusta County encompassed most of western Virginia and what became the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio, and parts of present-day Pennsylvania as far north as Pittsburgh. In fact, the … read more »