I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was called to a meeting in the Library’s Special Collections reading room on a busy day in September 2014. A certain amount of skullduggery and mystery surrounded the parlay with staff from a yet-to-be-identified TV show about genealogy. Already other Library of Virginia staff members had unearthed a set of documents that related to a certain Benjamin Sharpe from a remote section of Virginia. I was to provide context with a few of my colleagues. The meeting went smoothly enough—a free-ranging discussion of the election of 1800, life in a remote section of Virginia, and slavery in the Appalachian region. Did I know a historian who could speak on camera with the show’s star for filming? Certainly. I recommended a few names and returned to my work.
A few days later the e-mail arrived. Would I be the foil for the unnamed actor? I was surprised and flattered, as I recall, but also a bit wary of the assignment. Having some familiarity with shows of this type, I felt hesitant. Such TV episodes, like a movie or any other kind of storytelling, must have a narrative arc. Having been a “talking head” for many documentaries and short media pieces, I realized that my part would be boiled down and edited to serve that narrative. I do the … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the final batch of digital images of legislative petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776-1865, is now available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes present-day West Virginia and Kentucky counties and numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities. With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available online number over 24,000.
Legislative petitions are one the few primary source documents that provide valuable insight concerning the plight of Native Americans during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In reading them, one will discover the depth of poverty and disease Native Americans experienced in Virginia. An example can be found in a petition filed in October 1786 by Simon and John Turner of Southampton County asking the General Assembly for an act appointing trustees to join them in the conveyance of land owned by the Nansemond Indian tribe located on the north side of the Nottoway River. They introduced themselves as the “only surviving men of the Nansemond Indians.” Proceeds from the sale would be used to bring relief from “bodily infirmities” and oppressive poverty for the last of the Nansemond tribe, the two petitioners and three women, who currently resided with their friend and neighbors in the Nottoway tribe. The … read more »
Digital images of Legislative Petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776 to 1865, from Bath County through Essex County are now available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes present-day West Virginia counties such as Barbour, Berkeley, Boone, Braxton, Brooke, Cabell, Calhoun, and Doddridge Counties. It also includes numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities such as Bland, Buckingham, Caroline, Charles City, Dinwiddie, and Elizabeth City Counties. With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available for viewing online currently number over 5000.
For researchers of African-American history and genealogy, the legislative petitions are an invaluable primary source on the topics of slavery, free African-Americans, and race relations prior to the Civil War. One will find petitions from slave owners seeking approval to import their slaves into the Commonwealth from another state; free African-Americans seeking permission to remain in the Commonwealth; heirs of slave owners seeking to prevent the emancipation of slaves freed by their parent’s will; free African-Americans seeking divorce from their spouse. The following are specific examples of the research potential on African-American history and genealogy that can be found in the collection.
John S. Harrison of Berkeley County petitioned the General Assembly in 1810 asking for permission to import three slaves, named Paris, Letty, and Daniel, from Maryland to Virginia. Harrison … read more »
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 »
“Remember Americans, that we must and shall be free and enlightened as you are,
will you wait until we shall, under God, obtain our liberty by the crushing arm of power?
Will it not be dreadful for you? I speak Americans for your good. We must and shall be free
I say, in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery,
to enrich you and your children; but God will deliver us from under you.
And wo, wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting.”
David Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World
David Walker, a free black man from Boston, wrote to Thomas Lewis in Richmond on 8 December 1829 enclosing thirty copies of the first edition of his pamphlet An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. Walker instructed Lewis to sell the pamphlet for twelve cents among the Richmond’s African-American population or to provide them free of charge. Walker used Old Testament theology and the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence to describe the plight of African-Americans, both slave and free, in four articles: “Our wretchedness in consequence of slavery,” “Our wretchedness in consequence of ignorance,” “Our wretchedness in consequence of the preachers of the religion of Jesus Christ,” and “Our wretchedness in … read more »
Edward Houchins, a veteran of Captain Edmund Curd’s Company of Goochland Militia, petitioned the General Assembly on 10 December 1818, requesting an increase in his forty-dollar-a-year pension. According to the Louisa County resident, he was severely wounded in the arm at General Horatio Gates’s defeat at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, in 1780. It was this very wound that allowed Houchins to successfully petition the Assembly in 1805 for his current pension. In the 1818 petition, Houchins complained of unusual pain from the lead ball that had become lodged in his arm thirty-eight years earlier. An affidavit from Richard Sandidge accompanying the petition asserts that he saw Houchins’s wife take a poultice of her husband’s arm, thereby producing the bullet. Upon further examination of the bullet, Sandidge determined that it contained pieces of bone from Houchins’s arm. As a result of this evidence, the General Assembly decided favorably on Houchins’s petition for an addition to his pension. Houchins later relocated to Mercer County, Kentucky, in 1821, collecting his pension until his death on 14 April 1846.
Edward Houchins’s petition is just one example of the more than twenty thousand legislative petitions included in the Library’s Legislative Petitions Online Database. According to a note filed with the 1818 petition, the affidavit of Richard Sandidge (containing the extracted projectile) was removed … read more »