Virginia has long held the nickname of “the mother of presidents,” and surely its most famous native son was the first president, George Washington. His birthplace in Westmoreland County, now a national monument, can be visited today and often features living history performers demonstrating what life was like in the times he knew. George Washington’s Virginia, by John R.
From a Scottish port to colonial Fredericksburg to the royal courts of France and Russia, the little man who famously refused to give up the fight was perfectly at home in both cottages and elegant salons, but he was always eager to set sail for adventure and glory.
Virginia’s Civil War history sometimes overshadows her Revolutionary past. In For Virginia and Independence, Dr. Ward shares fascinating, adventurous stories of soldiers, some local, whose deeds should be remembered. There’s Peter Francisco, the strongman immigrant soldier; Jack Jouett, Virginia’s Paul Revere; Anna Maria Lane, who dressed as a man and followed her husband into battle; and 25 more.
The year 2002 celebrated the 250th anniversary of the foundation of "George Washington's Mother Lodge." According to the authors of The History of Freemasonry in Virginia, "Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 stands out as one of the brightest Lodges in the early history of Freemasonry in Virginia." Since 1752 it has maintained a continuous Masonic presence in Fredericksburg. Many of the town's prominent citizens have been members, and many of its prominent buildings have Masonic cornerstones.
Gold was discovered in Stafford during the eighteenth century. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia, “I know a single instance of gold found in this state. It was interspersed in small specks through a lump of ore, of about four pounds in weight, which yielded seventeen pennyweight [1/20 ounce] of gold, of extraordinary ductility.” This gold was found in Stafford about four miles below Fredericksburg on the north side of the Rappahannock.
The Age of Pirates has been so thoroughly romanticized in the popular imagination that many people do not know about the real lives of pirates. Films ranging from Captain Blood to the Pirates of the Caribbean series create the idea of piracy as freedom from the boring drudgery and stress of life on land. But how much did pirates’ real lives resemble those of the fantastic swashbucklers of the silver screen? Terrance Zepke’s book, Pirates of the Carolinas, is a series of short biographies of some of the best-known pirates who operated out of North Carolina. Although not as in-depth as some other accounts, such as Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pirates, the book provides concise, factually accurate information on some of the most notorious figures in American history.
The Founding Foodies, by Dave DeWitt, is an easy-going chat on matters historic and gastronomic in the Old Dominion and beyond. DeWitt dismisses some food writers’ contentions that colonial food was poor stuff. Having attended Mr. Jefferson’s university and being thus familiar with the third president’s many accomplishments, he knew that this common opinion was surely an overgeneralization. Jefferson, as well as Washington and Franklin, were trend-setters—learned men who easily absorbed and promulgated cultured styles of fashion, philosophy, architecture, and, yes, food, derived European trends, especially their French allies.
Besides these Founding Fathers’ culinary preferences, DeWitt also looks at curious historical periods of Virginia history where food, or lack of same, played a noteworthy role. At Jamestown, the horrors of spoiled ships’ rations and the colonists’ inexperience with hunting and fishing made them very dependent on the native tribes’ shared knowledge. They did learn to hunt and fish which was well since the supply ship was delayed, nearly resulting in John Smith being hanged. Desperate to turn a profit in the days before tobacco, the settlers took up fishing on a grand scale—thousands of pounds of salted cod to England and dried fish to Spain.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
You can find them on a map. Barely. Little towns that used to be rather important hubs dot the Virginia countryside, dating from the days when agriculture ruled along with the horse and buggy or mule and wagon. These central spots, often near rail stations, rivers, or better roads, were communities in their own right and many have faded away as the interstate system grew. The Lost Communities of Virginia, by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, takes a look at these fading places, several of them near our area, including Mineral, Woodford, and Milford.
Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café can relate to little Milford, situated in Caroline County and still located on a railroad line. Originally the popular area here was Doguetown, named for the Dogue Indians who used the Mattaponi River for transportation. Milford, named for a nearby plantation in 1792, also used the river as a point for shipping—and inspecting—tobacco. The Mattaponi River was connected to both the York River and the Chesapeake Bay. By the early 1840s, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad ran from Richmond to Aquia Creek with a stop in Milford. Milford’s North-South railroad connections made it a target in the Civil War.
When I began began doing genealogical research many years ago, like all beginners I focused on marriage records, birth and death records--when they were available, and wills. Then came deeds and other land records, and through using them I discovered the world of "courts of chancery" and "chancery records."
Not all Virginia courts judged cases the same way, you see. Some courts decided cases based on written laws that either specifically allowed or specifically prohibited various actions in certain circumstances. There was in these courts no latitude for judicial interpretation; there were no "grey areas."
Other courts, however, dealt with issues of equity or fairness in a much more flexible way--Chancery Courts. These courts decided cases which codified law could not readily accomodate, and these cases were usually land disputes, divisions of estates, divorce petitions, and business partnership disputes.
Chancery Court files are filled with subpoenas, depositions of witnesses, affidavits and other items of enormous interest to genealogists!
The Library of Virginia in Richmond has been diligently digitizing and indexing old chancery records, covering cases from the early eighteenth century through World War I. The database now includes hundreds of thousands of items. Several jurisdictions of interest to us are already completed! You may now find and view online the scanned chancery records for Westmoreland County, 1753-1913; Caroline County, 1787-1849; and Culpeper County, 1829-1913. Others will be made available in due course.