R.D. (Robert Davidson) Hufford was born in Wythe County in 1850. He studied medicine at the Medical College of Virginia and established a practice in Smyth County. In 1891, he moved to Tazewell County where he practiced until his death in 1898. Following Hufford’s death, all of his estate papers and account books were exhibits in a chancery cause heard in Tazewell County Circuit Court. Titled Foote and Johnson and others versus Administrator of R.D. Hufford and others (Tazewell County Chancery Cause 1903-043), the purpose of the suit was to settle Hufford’s estate. The estate papers and account books remained at the courthouse following the resolution of the suit. One of the ledgers eventually made its way to the Library of Virginia as part of a records transfer in the 1970s.
I came across Doctor Hufford’s account book while cataloguing the business records of Tazewell County. Looking through the pages, most entries contained scant information, e.g. “to visit … $4” or “to Rx … $1”. There were a few entries that provided some detail on the services Hufford provided. They included treatment for fevers, amputation of limbs, removal of teeth, and numerous pregnancies. And there was the odd entry such as using electricity to treat the wife of a patient and setting the leg of a horse that, for a nineteenth century doctor, perhaps … 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 »