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Tag Archives: slavery

- “We Were Residents of Loudoun County”

Editors’ Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 Loudoun County Office of the Circuit Court Clerk Historic Records Newsletter, “Little Gems.” We are grateful to Gary M. Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, for permission to publish this post. Individual names of enslaved people from this indexing project have been added to the Chancery Records Index for Loudoun County.

 


Map of Loudoun County,  ca. 1854, Philadelphia : Thomas Reynolds & Robert Pearsall Smith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the June 2018 newsletter I wrote about a project I was tasked with to compile a spreadsheet that listed the names and cases involving enslaved people in Loudoun County’s early chancery records. It took the whole of 2018 to complete the index, comprised of 3,990 lines in an Excel spreadsheet. Those 3,990 entries represent 3,990 names of enslaved people who were included in chancery cases from the years 1757 through 1866.

In this project, I reviewed 3,028 chancery cases, 550 of which involved a dispute over enslaved individuals. I documented names and case details in relation to each enslaved person. Chancery cases for this time period encompassed disputes over things such as land, crops, houses, estates of deceased individuals, tobacco, and just about anything of monetary value. It was interesting to notice trends in the number of cases in certain years.

From 1831-1835 there were 101 cases out of a total 487 cases filed that involved enslaved people. In those … read more »

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- Library of Virginia and Virginia Museum of History & Culture Merge Databases of Records of Enslaved Virginians



Detail. Emancipation / Th. Nast ; King & Baird, printers, 607 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

 The Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) and the Library of Virginia are cooperating to provide greater access to African American history and genealogy in Virginia. In early January of 2019, the VMHC’s Unknown No Longer project (over 500 documents containing nearly 12,000 names) was merged with the Library’s Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative (over 10,000 records with more than 100,000 names), providing researchers with unprecedented access to an expanded collection of resources on the history of enslaved and free African Americans in Virginia. The combined databases are now available through the Virginia Untold web page.

“Providing easier access to these records can help researchers break through the so-called ‘brick wall’ of pre–Civil War African American history,” said Librarian of Virginia Sandra Treadway. “We are excited about this partnership, which can help tell more of these stories.”

VMHC’s president and CEO Jamie O. Bosket touted the partnership by saying, “Joining forces with our friends at the Library of Virginia will make work we’ve done even more accessible and useful. We are proud to contribute to the remembrance of so many people from our past whose names were forgotten for far too long.”

This collaboration makes it possible for researchers to access one site to discover stories like those of Peter Spain and Ann Singleton. Peter Spain was enslaved by Robert Spain of … read more »

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- From Lancaster to Lunenburg: Betty Chapman’s Story in Virginia Untold


Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants, oil painting by Agostino Brunias, Dominica, c. 1764–1796. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1788, the Virginia General Assembly reformed the state judicial courts in order alleviate congestion in the General Court, which had caused unreasonable delays in the adjudication of common law cases such as repayment of debts, slander, land disputes, and fraud. They divided the Commonwealth into eighteen district courts, each composed of several counties, plus the district of Kentucky. The Brunswick County District Court heard cases originating in the counties of Brunswick, Greensville, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg until 1809 when the Superior Court of Law replaced the district courts. The Library of Virginia has scanned district court suits involving enslaved and free African Americans heard in the Brunswick County courthouse and made them available through Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative.

Two suits, William McTyiere [McTyre] William v. John Ussory, Jr, 1798 and Betty Chapman, etc. vs. William McTyre, 1800 found in the Brunswick County District Court records tell the story of Betty Chapman. Both suits papers describe her as a “mulatto” living with her family in Lunenburg County. However, her story really begins in the mid-1750s in Lancaster County. Her mother, Winny Chapman, was a free white woman who lived in the home of Robert McTyre. While living there, Winny gave birth to Betty and a sister named Milly, who was also of mixed-race parentage. Betty and Milly grew up in a community where their neighbors regarded … read more »

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- The Cost of Freedom: A Campbell County Story


 Illus. in: The Child's Anti-Slavery Book..., New York, [1860], frontispiece. Library of Congress.

The Campbell County court ordered the sale of Louisa Alexander and her daughter, Eliza, because as enslaved persons, Virginia law considered them part of Louisa’s deceased husband’s estate. After William Alexander, Sr., a free person of color, died, John P. White sought payment of a debt that he claimed Mr. Alexander owed him. The Campbell County chancery cause Louisa Alexander & etc. vs.  John P. White, 1852-017, lays out the Alexanders’ tale.

Louisa told a different version of her life story. She called White’s claim of a debt owed by her husband fraudulent. She said that for many years she and Eliza had also been free persons of color. Louisa claimed that she and William had moved to Maryland, lived there for a while, and then moved back to Wythe County, Virginia, before his death. Louisa and Eliza then moved to Campbell County. The Campbell County sheriff, on White’s word, had already advertised their sale to the highest bidder at auction. Establishing their freedom became an urgent matter.

An injunction was filed on her behalf to halt the sale until the suit could be settled. Louisa further claimed that she had never been her husband’s property, but had been sold to William Alexander, Jr. Young William then carried her and her daughter into the state of Maryland and sold them to James Selden, contrary … read more »

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- What a Difference a Day Makes: Serendipity in the Reading Room


1834 woodcut depicting the kidnapping of a freeman, Library of Congress.

The Library of Virginia employs both reference archivists and processing archivists. Reference archivists work exclusively with the public—the Library’s front line. Processing archivists work behind-the-scenes to arrange, conserve, and describe the collections—whether private papers, state records, or local government materials. Large-scale gatherings such as conferences afford the Library’s archivists an opportunity to work together, as it is all hands on deck for major events.  In October 2015, the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society (AAHGS) held its 36th annual national conference in Richmond.  The Library of Virginia hosted AAHGS members for several formal and informal events during the conference.

While volunteering with the reference staff during the conference, I had a chance meeting with one of the Library’s long-time patrons, James Bundick.  Mr. Bundick resides in Philadelphia but is researching his family in Accomack County, Virginia.  He traveled for years to the Accomack County courthouse for his research, but now he and his wife are happily ensconced at the Library. While making copies of chancery related documents for his research, I introduced myself. I then proceeded to tell him about a story that I had discovered a few weeks earlier while processing Accomack County chancery causes. Given the coincidence of the same last name, I felt that there was a relationship between him and the individual in the story.

There is a debt suit, Jacob Warner read more »

- A Colonial Cover-up: Lunenburg County Records Reveal New Information


Front cover, The Killing of Reverend Kay, courtesy of cynthiamattson.com.

Has researcher and author Cynthia Mattson uncovered a sordid, centuries-old murder conspiracy and cover-up?  There’s good reason to believe she has.

Reverend William Kay was a lightning rod for controversy. As Virginia’s nascent planter elite sought to consolidate their social position in the mid-18th century, they ran into one obstacle: the Anglican Church, which, with the weight of the British government behind it, occasionally took precedence over the even the wealthiest laymen. This put Kay on a collision course with Tidewater planter Landon Carter.

In the past centuries, aspects of Kay’s life have warranted comment in a number of history books, including ones by such high-profile authors as Eric Foner, but the manner of his death has never been addressed. Indeed, as Mattson wrote to me, “I happened upon a lone entry in a court order book from the fall of 1755… recording the jailing of three of Kay’s slaves for killing their master. I was astonished by my finding, for I had thoroughly researched the Kay/Carter affair and not one of the historical accounts, nor the histories of Lunenburg County, mentioned that Kay had met a violent death a mere two years after the conflict with Carter had ended.”

Suspicious of this murder, Mattson attempted to dig deeper. Strangely enough, however, no record of the trial made it into Lunenburg’s official court order … read more »

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- “The Body of an Infant There and Then Laying Dead”: Infanticide in Coroner’s Inquisitions At The Library of Virginia





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. Kristen Green, an independent author whose previous work was Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, spent the year researching and writing The Devil’s Half-Acre.

A newborn girl smothered just after birth. A baby girl killed after being struck on the forehead and above the mouth with a brick. An infant boy strangled to death.

All three cases of infanticide were the subject of coroner’s inquisitions in Henrico County in the 1830s and 1840s– and in all three cases, the victims were born to enslaved women and therefore were also enslaved. Virginia law stipulated that the slave status of the babies followed that of their mothers.

When juries were assembled to investigate the three suspicious deaths, each one pointed the finger at the enslaved mother of the baby.

Perusing the Library’s digital collection of inquisitions from around the Commonwealth, I was drawn to these stories of dead babies and the enslaved women investigated for murdering them. Coroner’s inquisitions are county investigations into deaths that are violent, unnatural, or suspicious, and juries are assembled to determine how the person was killed and by whom. The inquisitions, which exist from 1789 to 1942 for Henrico … read more »

- A Will without a Way: An Amherst County Freedom Suit


Title: Personal recolletions of the war, Illus. in: Harper's Weekly, v. 33 (1866). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Sometimes a will is not worth the paper it’s written on. Too often, people go through the trouble of creating a formal last will and testament only to have their desires ignored. The chances for dispute or contestation are even greater when there is opportunity for financial gain, as was the case of a 19th century man who wanted a better life for his slaves.

Samuel Gist listed in his will specific instructions for how his enslaved people should be treated after his demise. The will filed in the City of Richmond noted that Gist’s land would be sold and the enslaved people emancipated and taken to Ohio. In all, between 80 and 100 enslaved men and women gained freedom in 1819 and relocated with the assistance of William Hickman as dictated in the Gist will.  The men and women affected must have been overjoyed as Gist’s will created a way to escape from bondage. Yet all did not share the enjoyment.

At the time the move to Ohio, an enslaved women named Sarah was away from the Gist estate, living with her husband’s owner, George P. Luck. Luck had sold Sarah’s husband, leaving her with eight children between the ages of 18 months and 19 years, and a ninth baby on the way. To make matters worse, Luck was in debt, and unbeknownst to … read more »

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- “Soon, the grievance will cease to exist”: Chief Inspector of Vessels Reports

On 17 March 1856, the General Assembly adopted a law entitled, “An Act providing additional protection for the slave property of citizens of this commonwealth.” This legislation established a new inspection system to prevent the escape of criminals and enslaved people aboard commercial shipping vessels. All vessels bound for any northern port beyond the Virginia capes were subject to the inspection.

The Underground Railroad offered avenues to freedom for African Americans, some of which made use of Virginia’s extensive waterways. Free and enslaved African Americans provided an important labor force for the state’s thriving maritime economy. Employment along the busy wharves in Virginia’s harbors also presented enticing opportunities to escape. By the mid-1850s, many runaway slaves from the Hampton Roads area were suspected of escaping aboard ships destined for northern ports. One Norfolk newspaper described this alarming situation as “an intolerable evil.” Urgent pleas for a more effective system to stop these escapes were sent to Richmond. The General Assembly received strongly worded petitions from the citizens of Norfolk, Elizabeth City County, and Princess Anne County. These Tidewater localities wanted “additional legislation…which should clothe the Pilots of our state with power to search vessels, arrest fugitives, and should require every vessel bound to a Non-Slaveholding Port, to take a Pilot…to give us the necessary protection.” Soon, Delegate Francis Mallory of Norfolk introduced new legislation aimed … read more »

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- Warren County Chancery Causes Digitized


Warren County courthouse. Courtesy of Tracy Harter.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Warren County chancery causes, 1837-1912, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on Virginia Memory. Chancery suits are useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions. They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history, and serve as a primary resource for understanding a locality’s history.

The following are a sample of causes of interest for researchers of African American genealogy and history found in the Warren County chancery collection. In John J. Johnston vs. William A. Mitchell, etc., 1845-006, Johnston accused one of the defendants, James C. Mitchell, of secretly carrying enslaved people from Fauquier County to Washington, D.C., under cover of darkness and selling them to the infamous slave trader Joseph Bruin. Guardian of James R. Ash vs. James R. Ash, etc., 1850-007, involves a dispute over expense payments related the capture and sale of a runaway enslaved man named Tom. The chancery causes Duskin, an enslaved person vs. Admr. of Henry Self, etc., 1850-001, and John R. C. Reed vs. Admr. of Mary Shambaugh, etc., 1859-003, describe the forced migration of African Americans from Virginia to free states such as Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa in the pre-Civil War era.

The social and economic impact of the … read more »

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