The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for the Albemarle County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1768-1850, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on Virginia Memory. Chancery cases 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.
The following are a few suits of interest found in the Albemarle County chancery collection.
In 1843-024: Ann Eliza Sandridge vs Charles Maupin, etc., Ann Eliza Sandridge sued her former fiancé, Charles Maupin, for damages after he broke off their engagement and moved outside of Virginia suddenly and without warning. Maupin claimed that he had actually already attempted to end their relationship several times through correspondence, but Sandridge had ignored him and burned every letter that he sent her. Several love letters from the beginning of their courtship were included as evidence.
1846-039: Timberlake & Flannagan vs Edwin Conway, etc. concerns the debts of Edwin Conway and Mary J. Conway, operating a hotel on the campus of the University of Virginia. In addition to the couple’s debts, the plaintiffs also take issue with Mary Conway, as a married woman, operating the business in her own right, resulting in a complicated argument as to whether Edwin or Mary Conway is actually in charge of the operations. This uncertainty then clouds other questions such as: to whom do the debts belong, legality of the sale of persons enslaved by Mary to pay debts, and the lawfulness of the hotel’s general operations.
In 1849-020: Joseph Twyman vs Alfred Twyman, Joseph Twyman claims Alfred Twyman defrauded him into purchasing Harriet, an enslaved woman, who proved to be “unsound” due to a condition described as “enlarged womb,” and therefore will not pay the remaining bonds due Alfred Twyman. Instead, Joseph requests a refund and for Harriet to return to Alfred. This cause contains a fair amount of discussion of 19th century gynecology and women’s health.
1850-020: James M. Garland, etc. v Thomas Garland, etc. itself is an estate dispute concerning property in Fluvanna County, the Dismal Swamp, Buckingham County, and a Candle and Soap Factory near Richmond, Virginia, as well as property in New Orleans and Kentucky. What is more interesting are the wills included in the suit, the first of Richard Morriss which emancipates Fanny and her children Shelton, Richard, Hannah, Elizabeth, John, and Alexander. Morriss’ will provides the children with funds for their education, property and homes in “Western County,” as well as enslaved persons. The Will of Mary M. Garland dictates that Nancy and John, both enslaved, shall have the option to choose to remain enslaved or to be free, and for Nancy’s husband Lewis Brooks to be purchased and likewise given the choice, along with Nancy and Lewis’s children. Mary Garland also declares that her executors provide funds to remove John, Nancy, Lewis, and children to Liberia or to “any free state of their choosing” as well as twenty five dollars should they choose freedom.
January 3, 1828 letter from Caroline Brand, a free woman of color, informing the representatives of Joseph Brand’s estate that her family had arrived in Pennsylvania and what their recent expenses had been, and requesting further funds.
Albemarle Chancery cause 1842-012: Caroline Brand (Free) vs Admr of Joseph Brand etc.
Several of the suits focused on the lives of newly free persons of color in Albemarle County, and their experiences while migrating out of Virginia into nearby free states. In 1842-012: Caroline Brand (Free) vs Admr of Joseph Brand, etc., Caroline Brand and her children were freed in Joseph Brand’s will, and were also made the heirs to his entire estate. She claimed in the suit that the representatives of Brand’s estate had taken advantage of her lack of literacy and her family’s migration to Pennsylvania in order to defraud them of their full inheritance. In a later suit, 1843-037: Alexander Wilson (Free) & wife vs Exrs of Joseph Brand Sr., etc., she and her new husband, Alexander Wilson, also sued for the rights to Joseph Brand’s portion of his father’s estate, on the grounds that his inheritance should fall to her and her children as their former enslaver’s legal heirs. The suits include several letters discussing the family’s new lives in Pennsylvania.
1843-041: Reuben Lee (Free) vs Exr of Martha F Walker, etc. describes the struggles of Reuben Lee in his efforts to purchase his wife and children’s freedom and migrate with them to Ohio. Martha F. Walker, his former enslaver, had included a clause in her will that not only freed him but also promised that her estate would supply him with the funds necessary to free his family and leave Virginia. Lee argued that her executor had consistently refused to actually provide him with a sufficient amount of money.
1841-002: Benjamin Dawson etc. vs Heirs of Martin Dawson, etc. centers around the will of Martin Dawson, in which he had stipulated that all of the people enslaved by his estate should be offered a choice after his death: remain enslaved and be transferred, along with their families, to an enslaver of their choice, or be freed and migrate to Liberia. His heirs argued that he had not had the legal authority to include this clause, and that ownership of these enslaved persons should instead descend to them. Ultimately, only about a third of the people manumitted by this will obtained their freedom, and they were allowed to migrate to a chosen free state rather than Africa. The suit includes a detailed description of these newly freed persons and their familial relationships, as well as an account of their travels out of Virginia and their eventual resettlement in Illinois.
In 1846-021: 1846 October 27, Steven Bias v George W. Trueheart, Steven Bias, a free man of color, claims that he has been unlawfully seized of property to pay debts owed to George Trueheart for legal representation in a judgment involving Bias’s and his wife’s ability to remain in the commonwealth. Bias asserts that he never secured George Trueheart for any legal services and is unaware of any judgment regarding his status as a free man.
The processing and scanning of the Albemarle County chancery causes were 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.
Local Records Archivists,
Mary Ann Mason and McKenzie Long