At 7:15 A.M. on 19 March 1909 , Benjamin Gilbert, age 19, was electrocuted for the 23 July 1908 murder of Amanda Morse in Norfolk. Gilbert and Morse dated briefly. After Morse ended the relationship in the spring of 1908, Gilbert made frequent threats of bodily harm to her. On the evening of 23 July 1908, Gilbert approached Morse and several of her male companions on the Campostella Bridge. When Morse refused to speak with him, Gilbert pulled a revolver and fired three shots, hitting Morse twice in the back. She died the next day. Gilbert was convicted of first degree murder in October 1908 and sentenced to death. Virginia Governor Claude Swanson granted Gilbert two respites to allow his attorney to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court refused to grant a writ of error and the death sentence was carried out at the Virginia Penitentiary.
After Gilbert’s execution, the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch reported on an effort to revive him. Dr. J.P. Jackson of South Norfolk wanted to revive Gilbert with a respirator, an invention that he claimed could restore life if used immediately after death in cases of electrocution and asphyxiation. The 19 March 1909 … read more »
On 16 May 1936 at 8:15 PM, Bob Addison, #35074, a prisoner assigned to Camp 16 of the State Convict Road Force located in Fauquier County, escaped. Addison used a fake shackle to fasten himself to the chain that bound all the inmates together at night. He quickly used an iron bar to open the back cell door, fled into the night and disappeared without a trace. Addison remained a fugitive for the next 30 years until his past finally caught up with him.
Bob Addison was born in Tazewell County in July 1913. In May 1932, at the age of 19, Addison was convicted in Tazewell County of assault with a knife and sentenced to four years in the Virginia Penitentiary. He served 2 1/2 years and was released. Addison got in trouble again in 1935 in Russell County. He was arrested for cutting another man with a knife but escaped prior to his trial and fled to West Virginia. He met a girl, Edna Sanders, whom he married in October 1935. Addison used his real name during the ceremony and was captured five days later. He was tried in December 1935 in Russell County and received … read more »
In April 1935 James “Jimmie” Strother, a blind musician, was convicted of second degree murder in Culpeper County in the death of Blanche Green, his wife. Strother received a twenty-year prison sentence. He was received at the Virginia Penitentiary on 21 May 1935 and transferred to the State Farm in Goochland County six days later. He was pardoned by Governor James Price in 1939.
According to a Virginia Department of Historic Resources Historical Highway Marker, famed folklorist John A. Lomax visited the Virginia State Prison Farm and the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond in 1936. The marker states that “working for the Library of Congress’s Archive of Folk Song, Lomax canvassed southern prisons in search of traditional African American music. On 13 and 14 June 1936, Lomax, assisted by Harold Spivacke, recorded quartets, banjo tunes, work songs, spirituals, and blues at the State Farm. Among the notable performers were inmates Jimmie Strother and Joe Lee. The Library of Congress first released songs from the sessions in the 1940s and they have appeared on many recordings since. These sessions are among the earliest aural records of Virginia’s black folk-song tradition.”
In 2002-2003, the Library of … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the records of the Virginia Penitentiary (Accession 41558) are now available to researchers. The collection contains 289 bound volumes and 698 boxes of paper records spanning nearly 200 years (1796-1991; bulk 1906-1970). Included are administrative records such as annual reports, correspondence, office and subject files, minute books, photographs, and blueprints, as well as specific records related to the State Convict Road Force and State Convict Lime Grinding Board. Also included are financial records such as account books, cash books, ledgers, payrolls, and receipt books. The prisoner-related records include: prisoner registers, 1865-1980; photographs and negatives, 1906-1914, 1934-1961 and 1965-1966; medical records; commitment orders; punishment records; escape reports; index cards; and execution files. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary document the institution’s operational history, prisoners, and the evolution of corrections in Virginia.
The Virginia Penitentiary collection came to the Library in multiple accessions over several decades. In many cases, the original order of the material had been disturbed or was unidentifiable. The bulk of this collection has never been accessible. Researchers are strongly urged to read the Virginia Penitentiary finding aid. The guide describes the contents of the collection in detail. It also notes the significant gaps in the collection as well as cross-references to other collections at the Library of Virginia containing Penitentiary material.
I found … read more »
Interested in what’s new in the archives at the Library of Virginia? You can find out in two reports compiled quarterly by LVA staffers: The Library of Virginia Quarterly Report of Archival Accessions (April-June 2011) and Primary Sources: Quarterly Report of Newly Processed Collections (April-June 2011).
The Report of Archival Accessions lists the creator, title, size, brief description, and accession number of the local, map, private, and state archival collections described and/or received during the time period. Some of the local and state records collections listed may be closed for processing; check with Archives Research Services regarding availability for research use.
Primary Sources lists the latest collections processed, microfilmed, or digitized by the Library. Like its companion publication, Report of Archival Accessions, Primary Sources gives the creator, title, size, and accession number for each collection processed during the previous quarter. It also contains links to published finding aids for each collection.
Created in 1919 by Governor Westmoreland Davis, the World War I History Commission’s task was to collect, edit, and publish source material concerning Virginia’s participation in the Great War. The Commission also conducted a survey of World War I veterans in Virginia using a printed questionnaire mailed to each soldier or nurse by local branches of the Commission. The soldier or a family member completed and returned the questionnaire to the local branch, which forwarded a copy to the Commission’s Richmond office. In June 1928, the Commission disbanded, transferring all records to the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia). An invaluable source of genealogical and military information on Virginians who served in World War I, this collection of nearly 14,800 questionnaires was processed and microfilmed in 1996 and digitized in 1998.
When I joined the State Records section in 1999, I began processing the remaining records of the World War I History Commission. Much to my surprise, I discovered additional questionnaires filed separately, which had not been filmed or included in the digital collection. As it turned out, staff of the Commission had set these records apart from the remainder of the collection by design.
In preparation for its first source volume, Virginians of Distinguished Service of the World War, published in 1923, the World War I History … read more »
Last week President Barack Obama made minor news when he incorrectly signed the guest book at Westminster Abbey in London “24 May 2008.” Obama did not make the same mistake when, as a U.S. senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate, he signed the guest book at the Virginia Executive Mansion on 17 February 2007. Obama was the keynote speaker at the state Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond. Governor Tim Kaine endorsed Obama for president that night, becoming the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse a 2008 candidate for president. The guest book page signed by Obama is a good example of what archivists call a record with secondary value. The Society of American Archivists defines secondary value as “the usefulness or significance of records based on purposes other than that for which they were originally created.” The significance of the guest book is derived from future events: Obama winning the 2008 presidential election and Kaine’s importance as an early supporter. Another example of secondary value is a 21 July 1987 letter written by Mark R. Warner to Governor Gerald L. Baliles. The content of the letter is quite ordinary – a young businessman wants to get involved in Virginia politics and requests a meeting with the governor. The letter’s secondary value originates from Warner’s election as governor in 2001 and United … read more »
Joseph Robinson, alias “Cocky Joe”, was convicted on 9 April 1951 in the Portsmouth City Hustings Court for the 1943 murder of Marc A. Terrell and sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia State Penitentiary on 11 May 1951. Court appeals delayed Robinson’s execution several times until the court set a new date – 4 May 1954. However, Robinson had no intention of letting the state kill him. At 5:30 a.m, ninety minutes before his scheduled execution, Robinson hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell. He was the first death row inmate to commit suicide in Virginia.
The circumstances surrounding Robinson’s suicide are documented in an investigative report dated 5 May 1954 written by W. F. Smyth, Jr., Penitentiary Superintendent, to R. M. Youell, Director, Division of Corrections, Department of Welfare. The report can be found in the Virginia Penitentiary Execution Files (Accession 38103), which also contain court records, Robinson’s mug shot, criminal record, death certificate, and suicide notes, as well as the razor blade he used to cut his wrist in his first suicide attempt.
Joseph Robinson’s saga began nine years earlier. In the spring of 1943, Robinson and his girlfriend Margaret Fowler Barnes went on a crime spree in Portsmouth, committing several robberies and assaults culminating in the armed robbery of the Capital Theater. On 11 May 1943 … read more »
An interesting letter was recently uncovered while processing the Executive Papers of Governor James L. Kemper. The letter, dated 28 September 1874, is written by David G. Yuengling, Jr., of the Champagne Ale Brewery in Harlem, New York. In the letter, Yuengling writes that he is sending the governor some bottles of old stout and discusses the progress of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad.
David G. Yuengling, Jr., was the son of a German brewer who immigrated to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and established the Eagle Brewery in 1829. Yuengling partnered with his son in 1873, changing the name of the brewery to the present name of D. G. Yuengling & Son, famous for its Yuengling Lager. It was the junior Yuengling who oversaw the construction of a new brewery in Richmond in 1866. Located at 912 East Main Street, the brewery became known as the James River Steam Brewery and was later sold to the Richmond Cedar Works in 1878. Yuengling’s letter does not originate from Richmond, but instead from Harlem, on Ryerson & Yuengling, Champagne Ale Brewery stationary.
David G. Yuengling, Jr., was sent to Europe to learn brewing techniques and sought to expand his father’s business outside of Pottsville. The move to Richmond was one such venture, as was the establishment of the Champagne Ale Brewery on … read more »