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Tag Archives: Smyth County

- Big Top or Crops?


Staunton Spectator, 16 September 1873, Virginia Newspaper Project, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Traveling circuses, with their daring performers and ferocious animals, drew considerable crowds in the 19th century. The incredible feats of courage exhilarated the minds of visitors and broke the monotony of everyday life. Not everyone, however, celebrated circus excitement. In fact, as proven in an 1850s Smyth County court case, a circus could intrude upon the rights of others and even threaten to degrade their livelihood.

In 1859, a man by the name of W. D. Strother was troubled because of a “circus intrusion.” Strother owned approximately 15 acres of land in rural Smyth County, Virginia. He sold ten of those acres sold to Hubbard and Clark; the remaining five acres were later sold to Jones and Gilmore, who used their portion to grow and sell crops and shared proceeds with Strother. On the surface, the arrangement seemed harmless and Strother did not have an issue with the transactions. A road through the estate made the parcels easily distinguishable. The ten-acre lot was on one side of the road, with Strother’s residual five acres on the other. Everything seemed perfect, until the circus came to town.

Hubbard and Clark decided to rent their land to a traveling circus. The Robinson and Lake Circus was a popular antebellum troop known to travel across the country. They built temporary shelters to house the events and performers during their stay, which varied from city to city. It is fair … read more »

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- The Art of the Annual: The Virginia Yearbook Digitization Project


The 1972 Missile, Petersburg High School, Petersburg, VA, Petersburg Public Library System Collection https://archive.org/details/missilethe1972pete

In 2015, I started the Library’s yearbook digitization project to scan yearbooks from all around Virginia on behalf of public libraries. Thanks to funds from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), we have been able to digitize and provide access to 2,308 yearbooks published though 1977, the year that copyright law impacts use. So far, 35 local libraries have contributed their yearbooks, with more in process. There is no set end date for this project; it will continue as long as IMLS funding supports it and there are willing participants.

While working with the yearbooks from the Library of Virginia collection, I began to notice the artistic elements of the yearbooks. Some of the earlier yearbooks, created between 1920 and 1940, were elaborately designed with embossed covers. Some were done in a mimeographed style or had handwritten headers. Others had fancy themed borders printed on each page. Beginning around 1950 until our stop date of 1977, the yearbooks became plainer and less crafted.

I was curious why earlier ones had more intricate and detailed designs, so I did some research. An article in NPR’s ‘The Picture Show’ called “For All You Graduates: A History Of Yearbooks” () gives some explanation:

George K. Warren (1832–1884) was an early American photographer working and living in the Boston area when the daguerreotype fell out of

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- Local Editorial Contemplates Smyth County’s Cohabitation Register

(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 »

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- Solid Genealogical Gold

Harper's Weekly sent artists south to document life in the post-war southern states.

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 »

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