This is the third in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
During the Civil War, Virginia enacted legislation to force African Americans, both slave and free, into “public service” supporting the Confederacy. Their primary responsibility would be to erect “batteries, entrenchments or other necessities of the military service,” which could include working in mines and factories, preparing meals and washing clothes for Confederate soldiers, or driving supply wagons.
Legislation to impress free African Americans was passed shortly after Virginia’s secession from the Union. In July 1861, the state convention that had approved secession passed an ordinance “to provide for the enrollment and employment of free Negroes in the public service.” This ordinance was amended and re-enacted by the General Assembly in February 1862. The legislation authorized local courts to enroll for “public use” all able-bodied male free African Americans between the ages of eighteen and fifty. They would not serve more than 180 days and would be fairly compensated for their services.
When a commanding officer of the Confederate Army had need of the services of free African Americans, a local board would select from the list of free African Americans “such number of laborers as in … read more »
This is the first in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.
Enslaved African Americans in antebellum Virginia attempted to secure their freedom in many ways. The violent, armed uprisings led by Nat Turner and Gabriel loom large in historical memory, and the historical record is littered with stories of runaway slaves stealing off in the night to seek freedom with the help of the Underground Railroad. However, the narratives of enslaved individuals who used the law to secure their freedom are frequently missing from this dialogue. The Library of Virginia’s collection of freedom suits helps to illuminate these stories.
Enslaved Virginians could petition the court for their freedom “forma pauperis” based on a few different claims. Since free or enslaved status in antebellum Virginia was based on the status of the mother, petitioners often sued on the basis that they were born of a free woman. In many cases these suits involve individuals claiming descent from a Native American. After 1788, slaveholders who brought slaves to Virginia when resettling from another state were required to register their slaves with the county court and sign an oath stating that they had not brought them for the purpose of … read more »
While processing collections, archivists often come across items that don’t directly relate to the collection at hand but which often provide a window into a different subject altogether. One good example of this is from an 1888 Rockingham County chancery case. Amid the various items in the case is an advertisement that reads: “Mr. John Christian, Champion Colored Fancy Skater of Virginia, will give an exhibition at 9:15.” Having never heard of “fancy skating,” I wanted to know more about the sport and who John Christian was. After a little research some questions were answered and others were not.
Roller skating became very popular in the 1880’s, and most towns had their own rinks where the general public could skate. Industrial advances made this fad possible, allowing for average citizens to own their own skates. At its height, in 1885, it is estimated that $20 million of roller skates and related equipment were sold. Local newspapers seem to back up this trend. The People, a Harrisonburg newspaper, reported on 1 May 1885: “it is hard times, but the skating rink is furnished nightly with $30.00 houses.” This new craze appeared to be popular with black as well as white citizens. It was also segregated. In the same issue of The People it was reported that “the colored people have a skating rink over Kavanaugh’s … read more »
Additional images of documents from counties or incorporated cities classified as “Lost Records Localities” have been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory. The bulk of the new addition consists of copies of wills from the following localities: Botetourt, Buckingham, Dinwiddie, Fairfax, Gloucester, Hanover, James City, King and Queen, King George, King William, Prince George, Prince William, Rockingham, and Spotsylvania counties. These wills were used as exhibits in Augusta County and City of Petersburg chancery causes. The index number of the chancery suit that the “Lost Record Locality” document appeared in is included in the catalog record. Be sure to search the Chancery Records Index for the chancery suit to learn how, for example, a will from King and Queen County recorded in 1749 ended up as an exhibit in an Augusta County chancery case that ended in 1819.
Also, images of Buckingham County (Va.) Tithable List A-G, 1764 have been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection. Most of the early court records from Buckingham County were destroyed during a courthouse fire in 1869. The 1764 tithable list was spared destruction because, at the time of the fire, it was located in the Prince Edward County courthouse. From 1789 to 1809, Prince Edward County was the seat of a district court that heard civil and criminal suits … read more »
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Also tagged in: Augusta County, Botetourt County, Buckingham County, Chancery Causes, Chancery Records Index, Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, Digital Projects, digitization, Dinwiddie County, Fairfax County, Gloucester County, Hanover County, James City County, King and Queen County, King George County, King William County, Local Records, Lost Records Localities Digital Collection, Petersburg, Prince George County, Prince William County, Spotsylvania County
The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the Rockingham County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, is pleased to announce that the indexing and digitization of Rockingham County’s historic chancery causes is now complete and available online through the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.
The RockinghamCounty chancery collection covers the years 1781 to 1913 and are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history. They often contain correspondence; property lists: including slaves; lists of heirs; and vital statistics that reveal detailed stories that help tell the story of Virginia. Cases contain useful biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free. (See this earlier blog post for a description of interesting suits covering the issue of slavery found in the chancery causes for the years 1781-1893.)
In addition, the economic boom of the 1880s, and subsequent bust that followed the Panic of 1893, plays out in the chancery causes. Suits 1903-128 and 1909-088 contain prospectuses laying out the grand plans of two land improvement companies that became casualties of that financial downturn. The schemes for new towns, grand hotels, and railroad lines in RockinghamCounty and other parts of the Valley collapsed along with the railroad and banking industries of the U. S., and the creditors and shareholders of … read more »
Individuals today wishing to conduct research using Rockingham County court records may encounter a few stumbling blocks. Due to two major events in the locality’s history, Rockingham County is identified as one of Virginia’s Lost Record localities. The first loss of Rockingham records occurred in 1787 when a courthouse fire destroyed primarily wills and estate records. A second and even more devastating loss came during the Civil War.
In June 1864, with the threat of Union troops advancing into the valley, concerned citizens of the county wanted court records (mostly volumes) removed from the courthouse so that the records could not be destroyed. A judge granted permission for these records to be moved to a safer place east of the Blue Ridge. A teamster and wagon were hired to remove the records, but the wagon was left on the Port Republic-Forge road after a rim was lost and a tire came off. During this delay, Union troops spied the wagon and partially destroyed the records by setting fire to it. The mother of a Confederate soldier extinguished the fire by carrying water and smothering the fire with green hay just cut from a nearby field. She retrieved what was left of the records and took them to her home for safekeeping. The records remained at her home for quite some time, and because … read more »
The chancery causes we encounter usually involve disputes over lands, estates, and businesses, but occasionally we stumble upon cases that can only be categorized as bizarre. One such oddity found in the chancery collections is a dispute over the winner of a contest held during Harrisonburg’s Fourth of July celebration in 1893. There are many traditions involved in marking the independence of the United States – hot dogs, baseball, parades, and, of course, fireworks. The Harrisonburg celebration included among those traditions a hose contest participated in by local fire companies. However, the outcome of this particular Fourth of July diversion was not resolved until two years later in the Rockingham County chancery court when Hose Company No. 4 brought suit against Hose Company No. 1, Hose Company No. 2, and the Harrisonburg Guards, who hosted the event (Rockingham County Chancery Cause 1895-043).
For the hose contest, squads of fifteen men from each of the companies were to start from a given point, run a distance of 100 yards with their hose carts on which was to be reeled 200 feet of hose, unreel and disconnect 150 feet of hose, fix a nozzle upon one end of the hose, connect the other end with a fire plug, and “throw water.” A prize of $30.00 was to be given to the company whose squad accomplished the test … read more »
Business letterhead can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. A striking example appeared in the Rockingham County chancery causes recently. In the case of Ridgemont Cement & Manufacturing Company vs. Manly Manufacturing Company, 1900, there is a piece of Manly Manufacturing Company letterhead dated 1 March 1895 featuring an image of stereotypical 19th-century African American caricature behind bars. Shocking to our 21st-century sensibilities, this type of advertising was very common beginning in the Victorian era. Caricatured images of African Americans and other minorities were commonly used to sell products because they capitalized on existing beliefs and, ultimately, reinforced existing prejudices.
Manly Manufacturing Company billed itself as “The First and Only Steel Jail Works in THE SOUTH.” Headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, the firm was originally Manly & Cooper, a foundry responsible for casting, amongst other items, the ornamental fence surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s gravesite in Charlottesville. Relocating from Philadelphia to Dalton in 1887, the company developed “Manly Portable Convict Cages,” horse-drawn, steel-wheeled cages to house prisoners working on outdoor projects. The cages became one of its best selling products.
A quick Internet search revealed that Manly Manufacturing is still in business today, 121 years later, as Manly Steel.
The Rockingham County chancery collection contains 534 Hollinger boxes or about 250 cubic feet of records. It is currently being processed … read more »
The first blog entry I wrote back in 2009 was about the shredded first pages of an old family Bible that were part of a Rockingham County Chancery Cause. The sense of wonder and excitement I felt when I opened the letter marked “Exhibit A” filled with those fragments and tucked away in the court papers was not an unusual experience. Hardly a week went by for me during my nearly six years here at the Library of Virginia when I didn’t feel that way at least once, twice, or three times.
Today I leave the Library of Virginia and, hopefully, leave our state’s historic records in a little better shape than when I first came through the door. Like the archivists who worked here before me and those who will come after me, we try to save the building blocks of history, organize and preserve them, and make sure that they are accessible not only to visiting scholars but also to the citizens of this state and those who live around this country with roots deep in the soil of the commonwealth’s history.
I once heard a career counselor say that a job is what you do and the things you are passionate about become hobbies. I have been fortunate enough to do for nearly six years what most people could never dream of – … read more »
When I found an unopened envelope labeled “Exhibit A” among the papers of a Rockingham County Chancery cause, I was curious to see what could be inside. Curiosity quickly turned to excitement when I opened the envelope to find a genealogical gem.
These tattered pages of a family Bible were used as an exhibit in Dorman L. Smith, etc. v. S. K. Wine, etc., 1903. It was a complicated land inheritance case made more difficult by the destruction of court records during the Civil War and three generations of Smith family land dealings.
Interestingly, the answer and depositions record an attempt by some war-weary residents of Rockingham County to settle in Bartow County, Georgia, around 1863. In 1901, Caroline Smith, of Lytle, Georgia, gave a deposition detailing the Smith family genealogy. She read from these pages during the deposition and later either gave or loaned them to the court to be used as an exhibit.
These pieces of the Smith family Bible have since remained as part of the court record. The Bible is dated 1722 and was printed in Edinburgh, Scotland, by James Watson, “Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.” The earliest entry records the birth of Abraham Smith on 29 December 1792.
The Rockingham County Chancery collection is housed in more than 530 Hollinger boxes and 14 oversize boxes. It spans … read more »