In the early morning hours of 31 May 1936, Margaret Jacobs was awakened by a “lumbering in the kitchen.” She awoke to find the lights blown out and exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy! There is a ‘reefer’ man in here.” She saw someone going out the back door, and “he whirled right around then and ran though the front of the house, and then the gun fired twice.” That’s when she heard her son, George Collins, yell out “Lord, have mercy! I am shot.” Margaret Jacobs sought help from her neighbors, calling out, “Somebody come here. A ‘reefer’ man has been in here and shot George.” George later died at the Petersburg Hospital from sepsis as a result of the gunshot wound. Neither George Collins nor Margaret Jacobs knew who the shooter was, but a witness was able to identify a man he saw coming out of the home, who had earlier been to his house asking for George. Witnesses believed the shooter to be James Hines, alias Slim, but police were never able to connect Hines to the crime.
While processing Petersburg (Va.) Coroners’ Inquisitions, 1807-1947, I found these references to the “reefer man” intriguing. Early in Virginia’s history, the Jamestown Colony made cannabis cultivation mandatory because hemp was viewed as a critical crop for rope, clothing, and canvas. After the formation of the Federal … read more »
At one o’clock in the morning on 1 September 1859, Milly T. King arrived at the home of James Clary and found his slave Hannah “lying on the hearth gasping for breath, and I thought dying.” When King saw Hannah an hour later, she was dead. The following day Brunswick County coroner William Lett arrived to examine the body. With him were twelve men, none of whom had a medical background but rather were chosen as upstanding men and representatives of the county. The office of coroner held inquisitions in cases when persons met a sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious death. In this case Hannah had certainly met a sudden and suspicious demise.
Hannah, owned by the late Elizabeth H. Harwell, had been in the possession of James Clary, who adamantly maintained that the marks found on her feet and legs and the wound on her head were not from anything suspicious but came as a result of a fall from a window occurring a few weeks before her death. The coroner and his jury of white men were left to decide if Hannah had suffered an accidental death or if her death had been caused by something more malicious. Clary’s wife, Eliza, backed up her husband’s statements and claimed to know nothing of Hannah’s death, maintaining that her wounds were caused by the fall. … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the first installment of images from the Petersburg chancery causes digitization project have been added to the Chancery Records Index. This project has been funded, in part, through a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Images for the first forty-four boxes of chancery suits have been added to the index (circa 1803-1845). The boxes are not strictly chronological, so not all images for a given year are available. Additional images will be added periodically as the project progresses. Be sure to check back!
Here are some interesting suits that archivists found while processing, indexing, and conserving the collection. Many other fascinating and complex stories will surely be uncovered once the project is complete and the collection is studied by students, scholars, and family historians.
Transcript of Benjamin W. B. Jones Letter to William Smith, 5 February 1826
Petersburg chancery cause 1827-003 involves a dispute over a runaway slave named Davey, alias Davey Smith. Exhibits found in the suit include a notice published in a local newspaper describing Davey’s physical appearance, occupation, and his escape (image 22). The suit also contains letters from Benjamin W. B. Jones of Alabama claiming that he was Davey’s owner (image 27).
Also in the newly released images there are two suits that involve an African American … read more »
The City of Petersburg chancery records scanning project officially began on Friday June 3! The first 50 boxes of case-files were loaded for transfer to LVA’s digital vendor (Backstage Library Works) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Imaging of these fragile court papers will begin next week and resulting images will be posted to the Chancery Records Index (CRI) after ensuring they meet strict preservation and quality control standards. The records date from 1787 to 1912 and consist of 150 cubic feet, including bills of complaint, affidavits, wills, business records, correspondence, and photographs.
Partially funded by a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), this project marks the second chancery collection housed at the Library of Virginia to receive federal grant support in 2011. The Library was one of only 33 institutions nationwide to receive a grant in the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources category and one of only two state archives awarded grants by NEH.
Prior to 1860 Petersburg had the largest population of freedmen in the Mid-Atlantic states. The records offer social, demographic, and economic details that affected state, regional, and national politics; legal decisions; and institutions. The evolution of Petersburg’s economy from one based on tobacco to one centered on milling and manufacturing can be explored through the chancery records. The importance of Petersburg as a prosperous and diverse … read more »
The Library of Virginia has received a grant of $155,071 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the scanning of the City of Petersburg chancery records, a significant collection for researchers interested in the African American experience, women’s history, and southern labor and business history in the antebellum and post–Civil War periods. The Library of Virginia is one of only 33 institutions to receive a grant in the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources category and one of only two state archives awarded an NEH grant.
The Petersburg chancery causes are comprised of case files from the City of Petersburg Court of Chancery, 1803 to 1912, and consist of 150 cubic feet and include bills of complaint, affidavits, wills, business records, correspondence, and photographs. Prior to 1860 Petersburg had the largest population of freedmen in the Mid-Atlantic states. The records offer social, demographic, and economic details that affected state, regional, and national politics; legal decisions; and institutions. The evolution of Petersburg’s economy from one based on tobacco to one centered on milling and manufacturing can be explored through the chancery records. The importance of Petersburg as a prosperous and diverse city—the state’s largest market town and center of economic activity—is seen in the chancery causes. As a commercial and industrial center as well as a transportation hub Petersburg attracted an unusually large number of … read more »
(Editor’s note: Archivists at The Library of Virginia often find people from the past in the collection who are so appropriately named that they seem to be lifted from a Dickens novel. Can Joe Evidence be trusted? Should you marry a man named Singleton Livingood?)
On 22 December 1892, Edmonia DeHaven, 18, and Singleton Livingood, 34, a saloon keeper, were married in Winchester by the Reverend William Harper. Seventeen months later, a woman arrived from Ohio claiming to be Singleton’s “lawful wife.” Soon after this revelation, R. E. Byrd, prosecuting attorney for Frederick County, issued an arrest warrant on the charge of bigamy, but was unable to serve the warrant.
Singleton, either learning of his impending arrest or ready for a change of scenery, slipped town deserting both women. A man with a name like Singleton Livingood was probably meant to stay a bachelor. After waiting for roughly five years, Edmonia sued for and received a divorce. The case of Edmonia Livingood v. Singleton Livingood, 1899, is part of the Frederick County Chancery Court Collection. An early accession of Frederick County chancery causes, 1745-1926, was processed in the 1990s and is available on microfilm. Additional Frederick County chancery causes, 1866-1923, accession 42505, were transferred to the LVA and are presently being processed. This portion, which includes the Singleton Livingood case, will be digitally reformatted … read more »