Sometimes an archivist must be a detective looking for things everyone else missed.
As part of an appraisal project in local records, I reviewed blank volumes sent to the Library of Virginia from county courthouses searching for entries that may have been overlooked in their initial description. Several volumes that were described as blank actually contained information, most notably a large bond book from Frederick County.
The book was in pieces, tied together with string, with only one of its leather covers remaining. The pages printed with executors bonds—outlining the obligations of individuals carrying out the directions and requests in wills—were completely blank. However, the back of some of the pages were filled with faint, but legible, writing.
The book was used not for its original purpose, but instead was used to record loyalty oaths after the Civil War. These oaths, dated 1865–1866, consisted of statements signed by residents of Frederick County in which they promised to “support the Constitution of the United States and the laws made in pursuance thereof as the supreme law of the land.”
Each oath recorded the individual’s name, age, and sometimes his profession (for example, Henry Brent was a cashier at the Bank of the Valley of Virginia, and C. Lewis Brent was a lawyer). The volume also contains an alphabetical index that the record keeper crafted by tracing lines for columns and drawing letters on carefully-cut tabs. The index lists 89 county residents, including some women (like eighteen-year-old Sarah Adams).
The outbreak of the Civil War meant that the lives of Virginians were forever changed. Twenty-six major battles and more than four hundred skirmishes during the fighting left their mark on the commonwealth and its citizens. More men fought and died in Virginia than in any other state. Virginia was the center of military activity in the eastern theater of the war, and Union soldiers were a continuous presence in the commonwealth from the summer of 1861 until the end of the war in April 1865. The war lasted longer and was bloodier than anyone anticipated when it began. Three of every four white men of military age ultimately served in the Confederate Army. Frederick County was itself a battleground, and Winchester changed hands between Union and Confederate troops multiple times during the war.
The loyalty oath was signed by persons during and after the war to pledge allegiance to the Union. Initially intended for employees of the federal government and military personnel, the oath soon took several different forms and eventually extended to the state level. Employment and business ownership were then dependent on these signed oaths. Recently rediscovered, they will allow researchers to glimpse the lives of postwar Virginians in a new way.
-Jennifer Davis McDaid, Local Records Appraisal Archivist