The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of the city of Lynchburg Chancery Causes, 1805-1827, to the Chancery Records Index. The collection includes chancery causes heard in the Corporation Court of Lynchburg and, more significantly, in the Superior Court of Chancery for the Lynchburg District. The Superior Courts of Chancery were created by an act of the General Assembly passed on 23 January 1802. In order to expedite the hearing of chancery suits, the High Court of Chancery was abolished and the state was divided into three chancery districts with a Superior Court of Chancery for each district seated in the cities of Richmond, Staunton, and Williamsburg. Suits heard in these courts were typically cases appealed from the local courts. A transcript of the suit from the local court was commonly filed with the appeal. Litigants could also bypass the local courts and file their suits in the chancery district court directly.
Given the voluminous number of causes heard in the Staunton and Richmond districts, the General Assembly formed the Lynchburg district in 1814. The court remained in Lynchburg until the Superior Courts of Chancery were abolished in 1831. The Lynchburg district consisted of the following localities: Amherst County, Bedford County, Campbell County, Franklin County, Henry County, Patrick County, Pittsylvania County, and the city of Lynchburg. Causes that originated in these localities can be found in this collection. Consequently, the Lynchburg chancery collection contains more chancery causes per year than one typically finds in other localities. For example, from 1821 to 1828, there are between 70 and 100 causes per year.
The Lynchburg chancery causes are a tremendous resource for historical and genealogical researchers of Lynchburg and surrounding localities. The early growth of Lynchburg after it was incorporated in 1805 can be documented in the numerous disputes among its citizens over ownership of tenements and lots or failure to repay loans for the purchase of same. John Lynch, the founder of Lynchburg, filed several of these type causes. Descendants of the Crenshaw family of Hanover and Pittsylvania counties might be interested in 1819-013, James Smith and Company vs. Exrs. of Charles Crenshaw the Elder. It involves a dispute over a debt incurred by Crenshaw prior to the Revolutionary War. The plaintiff wanted property in Pittsylvania County owned by Crenshaw that he had devised to his son Nathaniel Crenshaw in his will recorded in Hanover County in 1790. A transcript of Crenshaw’s will is recorded in the cause which is fortunate given that the original will was destroyed along with most of Hanover County’s court records during the Civil War.
Chancery causes from the Superior Court of Chancery period offer personal accounts of the War of 1812 and its impact on the local community and Commonwealth. In chancery cause 1814-001, Petition of Edmund Martin by c vs. Lt. Joseph Barnett, the parents of the plaintiff, who lived in Pittsylvania County, attempted to prevent their son from enlisting in the militia during the War of 1812, claiming he was underage. The suit 1818-005, Paulus A.E. Irving vs. Samuel Garland, etc., includes a letter written by the plaintiff in which he remarked about how Campbell, Amherst, and Bedford counties were “literally drained of malitia (sic) and infantry” in late 1814. And, in 1819-007, Josiah P. Moon vs. Richard North, etc., the plaintiff in his bill of complaint writes about the British attack on Washington, D.C., and the British threat to the city of Richmond that forced the governor to call out the militia to protect the city.
The most valuable aspect of the Superior Court of Chancery era of the Lynchburg chancery is the tremendous amount of African American history found in the collection. Lynchburg and the surrounding localities had one of the largest African American populations, both free and enslaved, in the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Lynchburg chancery causes are rich in African Americans narratives. Causes involving African Americans found in the collection include freedom suits (1816-003: Thomas Johnson vs Isaac, an enslaved man), division of enslaved people (1822-018: Edward H. Carter, etc. vs. Hill Carter, etc.), and fraudulent sales of enslaved people (1825-001: Joseph Dillard vs. Admr. of Thomas Clasby). Many of the records used as exhibits in the causes include names, ages, and family relationships. They also record narratives of physical abuse, separation of families, and efforts to pursue freedom.
Also springing from this valuable trove are two suits which are particularly noteworthy because they contain extensive African American genealogy. The cause 1821-033, Charles Evans, etc. vs. Lewis B. Allen is a freedom suit in which the plaintiffs claimed to be free on the basis that their ancestor Jane Gibson was a Native American. The plaintiffs submitted genealogical charts that traced their family lineage back six generations and across multiple localities. In 1823-039, John Alcock, etc. vs. Exrs. of William Cabell, the Elder, concerns the division of enslaved people as part of an estate. All of these individuals were descendants of an enslaved woman named Daphney. Her original enslavers lived in Caroline County in the 1750s. The cause records the names of Daphney’s descendants, their date of birth, to whom they were sold, and where they lived, including the states of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Genealogy chart of Jane Gibson. Lynchburg City, Chancery Causes, 1821-033, Charles Evans, etc. vs. Lewis B. Allen. Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.
A more extensive list of causes involving African Americans can be found in the finding aid for Lynchburg chancery causes on Virginia Heritage.
The processing and scanning of the Lynchburg County chancery causes, 1805-1827, was made possible by funding from the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program between the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association (VCCA), which seeks to preserve the historic records found in Virginia’s circuit courts. The project is the 79th digital chancery collection added to the Chancery Records Index.