In his debut novel, Forsaken, Ross Howell Jr. tells the story of an uneducated African American servant, Virginia Christian, who was tried for killing her white employer in 1912. She died in the electric chair one day after her 17th birthday, the only female juvenile executed in Virginia since 1908. Howell researched the case using a variety of documents and images related to Christian’s execution found in the Library of Virginia’s collections.
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce a new digital exhibition, Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography, which spotlights the court records and newspaper stories used and referenced in the novel. Included are: the coroner’s inquest for Ida V. Belote; Virginia Christian’s trial, appeal, and clemency records; and newspaper coverage of these events from the Newport News Times-Herald and Daily Press.
As noted at the beginning of the novel, Forsaken is a work of fiction, but many of the characters were real people. Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography includes brief biographical sketches and documents related to these individuals. Also included is additional background material on other historic events referenced in the text, such as Nat Turner’s Rebellion and the “Allen Gang.” The epilogue focuses on what happened to the real-life main characters: Charles Mears, Harriet and Sadie Belote, Charles Pace, and others.
While by no means comprehensive (and very much a work in progress), Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography is intended to serve as a primary source companion piece to the novel.
I would like to thank Sonya Coleman, the Library’s digital collections specialist, for making this exhibition possible. She took an idea to spotlight our Virginia Christian records and turned it into Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography.
Ross Howell, Jr. will discuss his new novel Forsaken at the Library of Virginia at noon on Wednesday, March 9. The event is free and open to the public.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist