The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that Nelson County Chancery Causes, 1808-1912, are now processed, indexed, and conserved; and the index is now available on the Chancery Records Index. These records contain considerable historical and genealogical information. Because the records rely so heavily on testimony from witnesses, they offer a unique glimpse of the people of Nelson County from the early 19th century through the First World War. Following are a few suits of interest found in this collection.
In chancery cause Tobias~ vs. Heirs of John Campbell, 1816-005, Tobias, a free Negro, sues for the payment of a judgment won against the administrator of John Campbell. In chancery suit Eliza A. Figures vs. Christopher T. Estes, 1838-035, Eliza Figures was hired by Estes, a tavern owner, to take care of the house business and culinary affairs, and she sued for lack of compensation. In Eliza Ann Figures vs. Dr. Matthew Figures, 1840-013, the same individual is the plaintiff suing for divorce from her husband citing cruelty, abandonment and repeated acts of adultery. Daniel M. Harris, trustee vs. Christopher T. Estes, etc., 1846–017, includes a typical item found in many of Nelson County’s pre-Civil War chancery causes – a cash valuation of slaves. The effects of the Civil War are noted in Elijah R. Walker vs. William H. Loving, 1871-079, and in chancery cause 1880-012 which consists of multiple suits involving members of the Coleman and Hamner families. Modernization within the county is a topic dealt with in J.R. & Mary E. Peebles vs. W.M. Tunstall, 1906-032, which involves a dispute over a telephone line.
Chancery causes are cases that are decided on the basis of equity and fairness as opposed to the strictly formulated rules of common law cases. They are especially useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions and are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics, along with many other records. Some of the more common types of chancery causes involve divisions of the estate of a person who died intestate (without a will), divorces, settlements of dissolved business partnerships, and resolutions of land disputes.
Nelson County chancery records are currently only available for research in their original form at the Library of Virginia. Because of reductions to the Library of Virginia’s budget in recent years, the pace of the agency’s digital chancery projects will necessarily proceed more slowly. Please know these projects remain a very high priority for the agency and it is hoped that the initiative can be resumed in full when the economy and the agency’s budget situation improve. Please see the Chancery Records Index for a listing of the available locality chancery collections.
-Callie Freed, Local Records Archivist