Public improvements, military claims, divorce, manumission of slaves, division of counties, incorporation of towns, religious freedom, and taxation are just some of the concerns expressed in the Library of Virginia’s collection of Legislative Petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776 to 1865. In late 2012, the Library partnered with Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to digitize the collection straight from the microfilm which was created in-house in 2002. Work has now begun to take the 150,000 digital images, unite them with the database entries constructed on the Library’s searchable website (Legislative Petition Online Database), and make them accessible through Digitool – the Library’s digital asset management system. Thus far, the counties from Accomack through Amelia and Appomattox through Barbour are available (Legislative Petitions on Digitool). Besides the images, these entries in Digitool provide the same information previously available on the Legislative Petition Online Database including the petitioner, date, description, and subjects. The petitions often contain hundreds of signatures and are a useful tool in genealogical research. Frequently, the petitions contain supplementary support documents useful in research including maps, wills, naturalizations, deeds, resolutions, affidavits, judgments, and other items.
There are many noteworthy and valuable documents among the over 1,000 petitions currently digitized. Accomack County alone includes several appeals of freed slaves for permission to remain in the state following their emancipation as required … read more »
On 16 March 2013, Virginia’s Executive Mansion celebrated its 200th anniversary with a birthday party at the Library of Virginia. The highlight of the event was a public screening of a new Mansion documentary, First House, produced by Blue Ridge PBS in partnership with Appeal Productions. The Library of Virginia and Citizens’ Advisory Council for Interpreting and Furnishing the Executive Mansion also published a commemorative book, First House: Two Centuries with Virginia’s First Families, written by Mary Miley Theobald. Out of the Box decided to jump on the bandwagon with a post highlighting some of the archival records about the Executive Mansion at the Library.
The history of the Executive Mansion (also called Governor’s House or Governor’s Mansion) is well represented in the Library’s archival collections. The Auditor of Public Accounts, Capital Square Data Records, 1779-1971, document the construction, furnishing, and repair of the 1813 Executive Mansion and the various buildings used by the governor prior to the Mansion’s construction. The Drawing and Plans Collection includes a photographic copy of a page from Alexander Parris’ sketchbook depicting the floor plan for the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. Parris designed the mansion in 1811-1812. An Executive Communication to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, dated 17 February 1813, includes photocopy of a report from David Bullock, William McKim, and Robert Greenhow, … read more »
In 1923 the Virginia General Assembly accepted a gift which would lead to an international investigation and administrative embarrassment 15 years later. The gift was a 300-year-old portrait of none other than “first Captain and practical founder of the State of Virginia” Captain John Smith. Or was it? The painting depicts a bearded man wearing a fur-trimmed hat and elaborately embroidered coat, flanked above by putti (chubby male children) holding pelts and below by snarling lions. The portrait was presented to the General Assembly by 15 prominent Virginians including John Stewart Bryan, Fairfax Harrison, and Eppa Hunton Jr.
The portrait was purchased for $1,000 in 1923 through the London-based firm of B.F. Stevens and Brown, “experts in Americana.” The painting subsequently hung in the Governor’s Office, where it remained until the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Alexander W. Weddell, studied the painting while editing the book A Memorial Volume of Virginia Historical Portraiture, 1585-1830. Weddell believed the portrait to be that of “the half-mad son of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who was known to have walked about London in Oriental garb.” Weddell discussed the portrait with the director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, H. M. Hake, who found the original engraving which the Commonwealth’s portrait was modeled after–and it is of little surprise that it was not of John Smith.… read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition. This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole information in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Elmer Raines, the subject of this week’s post, was paroled in July 1911. His freedom was shortlived. Raines was back in the Penitentiary by November 1911 under a new name, Charles H. Kimball, one of many aliases “Raines” used.
Thirty-five-year-old Pennsylvania native Elmer Raines arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary on 14 July 1909. Raines was convicted of forgery in the Roanoke Corporation Court and sentenced to four years in prison. At the time of his incarceration, Raines had two known aliases: Henry Fairfax and Frank Fairfax. Penitentiary officials also learned of a new one: William H. Reynolds. On 2 February 1911, Penitentiary Superintendent J.B. Wood received a letter from a Mrs. William H. Reynolds of Macon, Georgia, inquiring if her husband, Elmer Raines, would be paroled in July. “I have tried to be patient,” Mrs. Reynolds wrote, “and sometimes think I can not get along alone and make a living[,] however I have been very successful so far.” By June 1911, Mrs. Reynolds’ fortunes had changed. “[K]indly do all you can to get [Raines] pardoned in July,” she wrote Wood, “for I need his protection more than I can tell you.” The Virginia Penitentiary … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition. This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole records in the Virginia Penitentiary. Joe Perry, the subject of this week’s post, was paroled in December 1910. After his release, he exchanged several warm letters with Superintendent J.B. Wood.
Forty-two-year-old Joe Perry of Buchanan County arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary on 30 August 1906 to begin serving a ten-year sentence for second degree murder. He was a model prisoner and did not violate any rules during his incarceration. In May 1909, Perry found a repeating shotgun which one of the guards had left in a common area of the penitentiary and returned it to prison officials. On 14 December 1910, this incident, along with Perry’s good conduct and clemency petitions submitted by Buchanan County citizens, led Governor William Hodges Mann to commute his sentence to eight years. This made Perry parole eligible. Five days later the Virginia Penitentiary Board of Directors granted it without requiring Perry to secure employment.
Upon his return home to Council, Virginia, Perry wrote Superintendent J.B. Wood on 14 January 1911 to thank him. “I feel that I owe you so many thanks for the kind treatment I received from you and your officials during my time there,” wrote Perry. “I can’t find words … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole records in the Virginia Penitentiary. Edmonia M. Peebles, the subject of this week’s post, brutally killed her husband. Her subsequent manslaughter conviction as well as the decision to grant her parole was controversial.
On the afternoon of 31 August 1907, David C. Peebles and his 11-year-old daughter Mary Sue arrived at their home in Bedford County, having spent several days in Lynchburg. His wife, Edmonia, was working in their detached kitchen. David was drunk and argumentative. David cursed her and accused her of neglecting her responsibilities. Edmonia responded that “if I were a man I’d give you a good thrashing, but I can’t beat you.” Enraged, David attempted to choke her; Edmonia grabbed a stove-lifter and stuck him several times on the head. Peebles grabbed an axe handle and beat her with it. Edmonia got away from him, ran into the house, grabbed a shotgun and returned to the kitchen. Peebles was washing the blood off his face. “You see that don’t you?” he shouted. “You made me do it,” Edmonia replied, “but I want to know if you are going to beat me anymore.” Peebles grabbed the axe and started towards her. “I am not going to let you beat me … read more »
Processing the records of a state agency director can often be unsatisfying. While the folders of historically important correspondence, reports, and meeting minutes describe the inner workings of an agency, they usually reveal very little about the individuals running it. However, that is not always the case. While processing what initially appeared to be unremarkable 20th century Western State Hospital (WSH) superintendent’s records, I discovered a treasure trove of personal material related to one of Virginia’s most (in)famous physicians, Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette.
A celebrated physician and psychiatrist during the early decades of the 20th century, Dr. DeJarnette is most famous for his support and involvement in the eugenics movement, which included support for sterilization of the “feeble minded,” alcoholics, drug addicts, and those suffering from other mental illnesses. He penned the pro-eugenics poem “Mendel’s Law” and lobbied prominently in favor of Virginia’s 1924 compulsory sterilization law. Dr. DeJarnette also served as an expert witness in the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell (1927), which upheld the constitutionality of Virginia’s sterilization legislation. Though his deeds were revered during his lifetime, Dr. DeJarnette’s legacy is something most find rather repugnant today. Due to DeJarnette’s eugenics advocacy, the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services in 2001 changed the name of the DeJarnette Center for Human Development (formerly DeJarnette State … read more »
Five years ago, Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured at least 17 others before turning the gun on himself. The 16 April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, I created a web archive collection, Tragedy at Virginia Tech, in order to capture the Commonwealth’s “on-line” response. Included in the collection are the websites of Virginia Tech, the Office of the Governor, and the Virginia Tech Review Panel. I remember creating the collection because of the “historic” nature of the shooting. I confess that I initially viewed that day’s events with the emotional detachment of an archivist/historian. But what made it “historic?” The number of people killed? The 32 people who died that day are not numbers – they had names, families, hopes and dreams – a future. The biographies captured in the Tragedy at Virginia Tech collection quickly shattered my impassiveness. What I saw as “historic” in 2007 is an ever present tragedy for the families who lost their loved ones. It is a wound that time cannot heal.
I was reminded of this when I began processing the e-mail records of Governor Tim Kaine’s administration. The Kaine administration transferred to the Library of Virginia approximately 1.3 million e-mail messages from 215 … read more »
In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912 murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster. The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March. The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912. The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders. On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster. The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen. He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy. Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder. Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.
The execution did not happen in November. In order to … read more »
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Wesley Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 27 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. Edwards was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Wesley Edwards:
“The first day I was in prison I ran into Wesley Edwards on the steps of the Industrial Department and started a conversation with him. As soon as I told him where I was from, he at once extended his hand, with a smile, and said he was glad to see someone from near his old home, though he was sorry to see me in trouble. I in turn extended my sympathy to him. My thoughts of him were many, the chief one being how strange it seemed that this tall, blue-eyed, young fellow could be so jovial and so interested in his work. He was even then in a hurry, had saw-dust in his hair and on