The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the Warwick County Chancery Causes, 1860-1912, are available online through the Chancery Records Index on Virginia Memory. Chancery causes are useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions. They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history, and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history.
A variety of topics can be found in Warwick County Chancery Causes, ranging from estate disputes (some involving enslaved or formerly enslaved persons), divorces, business/contract disputes, and even fraudulent elections, to name a few.
Because estate disputes can last for decades, even chancery causes that ended after the Civil War can provide valuable glimpses into antebellum life. Cause 1885-005 John D. Mallicote & wife vs. William J. Moore etc. references several other chancery causes and includes bonds for hiring out of enslaved people, and wills that explicitly state how to divide named enslaved workers and/or reimburse heirs for financial losses from potential runaways.
Several divorce cases are included among these chancery causes, in which complainants give various reasons for seeking divorce. In 1888-001 Cordelia Kight vs. William B. Kight, the plaintiff sought a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s alleged abuse, such as “kicking her with his boots and…threaten(ing) to kill her with an ax.” In 1891-011 Ephraim Tynes vs. Ann Tynes, the plaintiff sought a divorce from his wife due to bigamy, and produced her two marriage licenses as exhibits in the cause. In 1911-005 Caroline Lilly vs. George C. Lilly, the plaintiff sought divorce, stating that her husband deserted her because she was too old for him, while her marriage license noted she was twelve years younger than her husband. In her deposition, she referred to obtaining a divorce as “getting my free papers,” which, along with the marriage license, indicated that the couple were African American. In 1892-004 Frank Diggs vs. Virginia Diggs, the plaintiff’s deposition stated that his wife never wanted children with him because he was “too black” and her lover was “half white.”
Disputes over business transactions and contracts are also prevalent. In 1895-006 M.W. Loftus vs. J.M. Maloney etc., the plaintiff alleged that his business partner had kept him drunk for weeks and coerced him to dissolve their partnership and assume all debts. The business had started out as a bakery, but they had later constructed the County Seat Hotel and sold liquor. Documents reference this as “the first bar-room in Newport News.”
In 1894-008 C.D. Cooley vs. Trustees of First Baptist Church, Colored, Newport News, the plaintiff was the pastor of said church from April 1884-April 1891 and publisher of a Baptist newspaper in Newport News called The Caret, from 1883 to approximately 1892. During his years as pastor, he claimed he had provided money for the construction of the church, the purchase of a church bell, and an organ. He alleged he never was fully reimbursed for his investments nor for his salary. In a letter from the plaintiff dated 1894, he wrote that all was settled and “We are at peace—Thank God.” In 1910-005 Henry Johnson vs. Henry Michaux, a dispute of ownership and possession of oyster grounds in the James River, the complainant was African American and many deponents were formerly enslaved people.
Allegations of election fraud are found in 1889-008 J.H. Crafford etc. vs. Board of Supervisors of Warwick County. Plaintiffs charged that the Board did not fairly conduct elections pertaining to the possible relocation of the Warwick County Circuit Court, for which a building had been constructed in 1884. They alleged that 32 of the votes cast were from outside the voting precinct (outside of jurisdiction), and that the application for the election had been signed by representatives of corporations, which plaintiffs alleged was illegal.
Additional causes of interest can be found in the finding aid for the Warwick County Chancery Causes. The processing and scanning of the Warwick County chancery causes was made possible through 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.