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 the … 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 the … 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 »