“In the time worn and musty old folios long since filed away in our public offices, there is many a fact recorded that has occured [sic] under the personal observation of no one now living; and which if placed within the reach of the public, would go farther to give us a knowledge of the manners, customs, and character of the pioneers of Augusta County than all the histories that have been written on our native state.”
These words were written by a young lawyer who was researching court records filed in the Augusta County courthouse in the early 1830’s. He was amazed by the amount of history found in the old court papers. He discovered stories about the first settlers of western Virginia and the many obstacles they encountered in their efforts to start a new life in an untamed wilderness. He read about events that happened during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. The young lawyer came across suits in which the litigants talked about their migration down the Shenandoah Valley from western Pennsylvania to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mesmerized by what he was reading, the young lawyer wanted to make his discoveries in the court records available to the public, and so, he wrote a letter to the editor of an unidentified newspaper requesting a weekly column in which he … read more »
Ever want to claim you were too drunk to be responsible for committing a criminal act? In Virginia in 1915, you would have been out of luck. Jury instructions found in the Staunton criminal case of Commonwealth vs. Vaughan Bell (Staunton Commonwealth Causes, barcode 1184535) suggest that Mr. Bell, indicted for housebreaking with the intent to commit larceny in the store house of H. N. Tinsley, tried to use being drunk as an excuse for his accused criminal behavior. He also may have tried to claim insanity, as a notation on the case wrapper indicates that a commission was held to inquire into his mental state. The commission found him sane and the jury found him not guilty. Additional jury instructions speak to the necessity of proving beyond a reasonable doubt not only the housebreaking but the intent to commit larceny and that any doubt must cause the jury to judge in Mr. Bell’s favor. Clearly the jury did have doubts and Mr. Bell went on his merry way, dubious excuses and all.
-Sarah Nerney, Senior Local Records Archivist
A group of Library of Virginia (LVA) archivists recently traveled to Staunton, Virginia, to visit the Augusta County courthouse. Their goal was to transfer more than 300 boxes of the county’s earliest chancery records in order to begin a large digital scanning project. Their lunchtime reward was the giant meringue pie at The Beverley restaurant two blocks away.
Augusta County’s chancery records hold special importance to Virginia and the country. The collection begins in 1745 and covers a period of time when the county stretched north to the Great Lakes and west to the Mississippi River – a large part of the early American frontier. County court was often held in what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The scope of the scanning project is enormous and will result in close to a million digital images being added to the Chancery Records Index (CRI) on Virginia Memory. LVA Local Records archivists will review the more than 340 legal-sized Hollinger boxes to ensure that they are up to current processing standards. These boxes comprise the part of the chancery collection from 1745 to 1866. In June 2008, a team of archivists at the LVA completed a processing and indexing project that yielded an additional 659 legal-sized Hollinger boxes of Augusta County chancery, covering the years 1867-1912.
Scanning more than 1,000 boxes of Augusta County chancery records will … read more »