The staff at Montgomery County’s Circuit Court Clerk’s Office recently rediscovered the county’s cohabitation register, one of the most valuable records used for African American genealogical research. Its official title is The Register of Colored Persons of Montgomery County, Virginia, Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife on February 27, 1866. Watch as this video tells the story of this register and its preservation at The Library of Virginia. Montgomery County is one of only 19 Virginia localities known to have a surviving cohabitation register. The video script was co-written and narrated by our own Sarah Nerney, Local Records Senior Archivist. Thanks also to Audrey Johnson of Special Collections, Leslie Courtois of Etherington Conservation, and videographer Pierre Courtois for their invaluable contributions to this video production. See a previous blog post about the Smyth County cohabitation register.
-Dale Dulaney, Local Records Archival Assistant… read more »
In July 1814, entrepreneur William Weaver made a chance investment in the Virginia iron industry along with his new partner, Thomas Mayberry. Weaver and Mayberry purchased Union Forge (later renamed Buffalo Forge), located in Rockbridge County, and two blast furnaces, Etna Furnace and Retreat Furnace, in neighboring Botetourt County. Later, Weaver would become a prominent and successful ironmaster in Virginia and one of the largest slaveholders in Rockbridge County.
Initially, Weaver staffed his furnaces with a mixture of white laborers and hired slaves, but in October 1815 he purchased 11 slaves. Weaver would use this group of slaves, which included a valuable ironworker named Tooler, to form the basis of his large crew of skilled ironworkers.
In 1825, Weaver filed a chancery suit in the Augusta County courts to dissolve his partnership with Mayberry. It was a rather acrimonious dissolution, with contention over who owned the slaves purchased in 1815. In a cagey move, Weaver had the bill of sale for the slaves made out to himself, rather than to the partnership of Weaver & Mayberry, claiming that Mayberry was against slave ownership. While examining volumes found at the Augusta County Courthouse, I discovered nine volumes belonging to Weaver and his iron interests, which had been used as exhibits in the case.
The volumes cover a variety of topics and document the purchases Weaver and … read more »
On 3 March 2011 the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library announced that it recently purchased a copy of David Walker’s anti-slavery “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” from a New Jersey rare-book dealer for $95,000. Readers of Out of the Box will remember that last month Craig Moore, State Records Appraisal Archivist, wrote a post on Walker’s “Appeal”. Not only does the Library of Virginia have a copy of the “Appeal”, we also have the only known extant document written in the hand of David Walker. See Craig’s post to view the letter and read the transcription. The Library’s copy of Walker’s “Appeal” has been microfilmed and is available to researchers in the Library’s West Reading Room (Miscellaneous Reel 5391) and through interlibrary loan.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist… read more »
“Remember Americans, that we must and shall be free and enlightened as you are,
will you wait until we shall, under God, obtain our liberty by the crushing arm of power?
Will it not be dreadful for you? I speak Americans for your good. We must and shall be free
I say, in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery,
to enrich you and your children; but God will deliver us from under you.
And wo, wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting.”
David Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World
David Walker, a free black man from Boston, wrote to Thomas Lewis in Richmond on 8 December 1829 enclosing thirty copies of the first edition of his pamphlet An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. Walker instructed Lewis to sell the pamphlet for twelve cents among the Richmond’s African-American population or to provide them free of charge. Walker used Old Testament theology and the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence to describe the plight of African-Americans, both slave and free, in four articles: “Our wretchedness in consequence of slavery,” “Our wretchedness in consequence of ignorance,” “Our wretchedness in consequence of the preachers of the religion of Jesus Christ,” and “Our wretchedness in … read more »
(The following editorial is reprinted here courtesy of the Smyth County News & Messenger. It originally ran 28 July 2010.)
HUMBLING CHAPTER OF OUR STORY
In some ways it is difficult to read. Just the title “Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, State of Virginia, Cohabitating Together as Husband and Wife on 27 February, 1866″ speaks of discrimination so powerful that the institution of marriage between a man and woman was not recognized. As you read across the columns and come to “Last Owner,” the reality of slavery existing in Seven Mile Ford, Rich Valley, Marion and Rye Valley takes hold.
The names of those registered and their last owners resonate as familiar: Campbell, Carter, Fowler, Heath, James and Tate among many others.
As news of this register’s existence was announced this week, Circuit Court Clerk John Graham reflected, “When you see this document, you’re reminded that slavery was not just an institution somewhere in the South. It was a way of life right here in Smyth County. This remarkable document brings history home.”
Despite the challenges it presents us, this register is a national treasure of incalculable value.
Prior to this document recording and formalizing their marriages, which Virginia law didn’t recognize before the Civil War ended in 1865, the existence of many of these individuals had never been listed in a public … read more »
Genealogists researching enslaved African Americans face serious challenges. Records that exist for the free population do not exist for the enslaved since slaves were considered property and were prohibited from reading, writing, owning land, or even legally marrying. This is why Virginia’s few surviving cohabitation registers are so important.
The Library of Virginia recently conserved the Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866 at the request of John Graham, Smyth County Clerk of the Circuit Court. It is one of only twenty one cohabitation registers known to exist and is included in the Library’s cohabitation register digitization project. This project aims to digitize, transcribe, and make available via the Virginia Memory website the images of all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit.
Prior to the Civil War, Virginia law provided no legal recognition for slave marriages. What is certain and what documents like the cohabitation registers reveal is that slaves did marry and consider themselves to be married in spite of the lack of legal protection and recognition. In 1865, Commissioner Oliver Otis Howard of the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau) directed the assistant commissioners of the states to order the county clerks to … read more »