Tag Archives: VA

The Confederacy: Partying Like it’s 1899

As you all know, I’ve been temporarily gainfully employed for a short while and so my posts have been infrequent. Though I’m working for the Henrico County Library System, I’m still trying to make my contribution to the Library of Virginia and their blog Out of the Box. I’d like to give you a peek at my latest, unedited LVA contribution. As it is somewhat professional, it does not contain my usual strains of jackassery though I did try to convince the blog’s editor that they should somehow incorporate my Prince reference in the title when it goes live.

Could you ever imagine that in 1896, here in Richmond, the heart of the former confederacy, soldiers on both sides of the bloody conflict that was the Civil War would come together and party? Well, believe it. The occasion was a reunion of soldiers who had spent time in the care of Sally Tompkins and the staff at the Robertson Hospital and the reunion register can be found here at the Library of Virginia.

The hospital reunion register records the names, signatures and sometimes military unit of former soldiers who attended a patient reunion during the Grand Confederate Reunion of 1896. Some wives’ names are also listed. A quick perusal of the document reveals that some attendees were soldiers who fought for the Union, further testimony to the respect and love that soldiers on both sides felt for the care Tompkins bestowed on all. The love was not one-sided as Tompkins paid for the entire blowout herself, renting a house and providing food and drink for the entire company.

Only a remarkable woman such as Tompkins could have engineered such a get-together. Born in Poplar Grove,Mathews City., Va., on 9 Nov. 1833, Tompkins moved to Richmond following the death of her husband and used her considerable inheritance to open a private hospital at the outbreak of the war. Tompkins opened the hospital at the corner of 3rd and Main Street at the home of Judge John Robertson, thus giving the facility its name. The quality of care at Robertson Hospital was of such a high caliber that Jefferson Davis allowed the hospital to operate after he closed all other private hospitals in the capital. In all, the hospital treated 1,333 soldiers from its opening until the last patients were discharged 13 June 1865. Only 73 deaths were ever recorded at Robertson Hospital during its entire existence. When regulations were handed down to the effect that all military hospitals must be run only by military personnel, rather than dispense with such excellent care as Tompkins provided, she was instead appointed a captain of calvary to comply with the new rules. Needless to say, Tompkins was the only commissioned woman in the Confederate Army.

Sally Tompkins was buried with full military honors after her death on 26 July, 1916 in Richmond, Virginia.

Well, that’s about it for any creative output I’ve managed lately. I’m sort of in the midst of a lot of varied career stuff right now. I’m still working on my Continuing Education survey, attempting to find permanent work, trying to write whenever I get the chance and, of course, doing what it is I’m doing now at the headquarters of the Henrico County Library System.

Oh, but I do want to mention that I managed to snag an interview this coming Wednesday at the Appomattox Regional Library System for a Reference Librarian position. Woot!

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Murda Was the Case that They Gave….Samuel Ball?

It has been a crazy week over here in my house because….I GOT A JOB! Well, I got a temporary job, anyway. I think I may have mentioned at one time that I do reference one night a week at our public library in addition to being a kickass archivist? Well, said public library needs someone to fill in for three months so here I am, filling in for three months. Of course, this means that I’ll be spending all my time at the public library but rest assured that my archival proclivities will still have an outlet in the form of a biography I’m currently researching (see last post) and many many other projects.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently buried deep in Lee County court records over at the state library. Such paper-centric inhumation is usually not much to write home about. I’m never the archivist who makes fun discoveries like a long-lost Nathaniel Hawthorne novel shoved into some otherwise unremarkable records. Or like my buddy M.D. who recently discovered a perfectly formed origami crane mixed in with some chancery court records. It was so delicate and cool that it was featured on our blog. But today was my day. Yes, I made some fun discoveries for once. And that is discoveries with an s. Plural, baby. First up was a fun little murder case at which I’d been looking. It involved one Samuel Ball who shot a man in the gut during a dispute. Said decedent…well…died and Samuel was hauled up before a grand jury who promptly indicted him for murda. Well, someone paid the $1,000 bail to have him released on his own recognizance. Sam showed up for his hearings like a good boy until one day he didn’t. The court was not pleased and after a period of time, his bondsman went before the judge to tell the court that he knew that the plaintiff was currently in Texas and could he please go and get him? The judge then issued a “requisition”, which is, I think, fancy old-timey talk for an order of extradition, to the governor of Texas. The bondsman met with success in Texas (which, considering it was the 1870’s, is pretty damn successful) and carried his bounty back to an Appalachian jail cell from which Samuel Ball subsequently escaped. There is nothing else in the record to suggest that the bondsman engaged in yet another rescue mission so we might not be faulted for concluding that this murderer got away with it. Good times.

But, as captivating as murder is, it is the second discovery that I really like. Some of you may or may not know that I’ve a strong feminist streak and a weakness for primary sources that shed any light on women’s lives. Well, my second record of note is a very simple and otherwise tedious chancery case where a woman is asking for a trustee to be put in charge of her inheritance. “Why?” you might ask. “Why does she need a trustee for her own money?” Well, if you ask that then you’re obviously not smart enough to realize that women are absolutely stupid and cannot be trusted for one second with important stuff like money or politics or reproductive organs. Cleo Anderson, who is described by this legal document as “an infant married woman” needs a trustee because she is not yet considered an adult, being under 21 years of age. Married. But not an adult. A married child. An infant married woman. God save us. And do you know who brought this suit before the court and who wants to be the lucky trustee? Wait for it….her husband. So, let’s break this down. Cleo inherits some dough. Awesome! It’s enough to keep her in crinoline for the next fifty years! Aw, shucks. Wait a minute. She’s still a baby! A baby that has sex and bosses and slaps servants and bears her own babies but a baby nonetheless and she needs a big, strong man to tell her what to do with her money just in case she does something stupid like spend it all on Appalachian hookers or turn it into confederate bonds. How fortunate she is that John Anderson, beloved husband that he is, is willing to take on the burden of all that filthy lucre so that she needn’t soil her pretty white hands with it!

Alright, I admit that some of the details of that last part could be pure speculation. Maybe she was an ardent feminist who really wanted to take that money and buy a ticket for the next train to Seneca Falls, New York. Or maybe she wanted someone else to be the trustee during her minority (or while she grew out of the infantile stage, if you will) but her husband drugged her and made her sign a paper declaring him the trustee. Or maybe she was totally insane and evil and the husband didn’t really love her but only married her to get the money that her family made off of the backs of some long-lost family member of his.

Either way, it just shows you how fun primary sources can be.

This Week in the Stacks…

Hello, readers, and welcome to the first edition of This Week in the Stacks, the moment when I tell you in detail all the junk that’s going on in my archival life. Or, at least the last week of it.

Well, I actually spent very little time at work at all this week, really. I got some nasty sickness this past weekend and spent Monday and Tuesday curled up in bed, finishing Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers and drinking copious amounts of O.J. I really should have used the time to study for the certification exam since that’s coming up but hey…Speaking of which, I received my official “You’re Signed Up” letter from the Academy of Certified Archivists and am all ready to go on August 11. This is a bigger deal than seems at first blush because I wasn’t sure how my unpaid experience fit in to the guidelines. The rules are unclear about what sort of experience qualifies and the last thing I wanted in my quest for employment was to be shut down for certification because I didn’t have a pay stub. Anyway, they’ve accepted my credentials and I’m ready to go. The next hurdle to get over is having Richmond, VA be declared a remote test site. You need five test-takers to do this and I won’t know until later this month if we’ve been selected. The state library where I work was selected as the test site last year which would be damned convenient. If Richmond isn’t chosen then I’ll have to mosey on up to Washington which will blow, mainly because the test begins at 8:30AM making it almost a foregone conclusion that I’d be looking for a hotel during the conference, during the height of summer vacation and in the nation’s capitol. BLAH!

Anyhow, we’ve established that I haven’t studied. This does not really present a problem because I took the little practice test and it was EASY! I think my fabulous graduate education must’ve been worth every penny because not only did I get every single question correct but I also read just about every article and book listed in the study guide during my time in school. Okay, so I am studying just a little bit but I’m not pushing myself too hard. I also keep telling myself that I’ll check out the online study forums on the academy website but….

So, as I’ve said, I didn’t get to spend as much time at work as I’d like to have done. At this moment I am processing a collection of deeds from Charlottesville, VA. They span 1888-1917. The funny thing about deeds (for those of you who aren’t aware) is that the designation “deed” is totally worthless. Anything can be entered as a “deed”. I’m processing everything from wills, contracts, indentures and dental licenses (!) to property sales, maps, affidavits and every frickin’ sales receipt J. Perley and Sons ever wrote for one of their customers. The sheer variety of documents makes the whole thing interesting, as does the endless stream of podcasts entering my ears as I work. Also, there are a number of deeds in the collection relating to Jefferson Levy, a United States representative from New York and the man whose uncle bought Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Jefferson Levy was the last private owner of Monticello, selling it to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923 after heavy financial loses and rank anti-Semitism forced him to sell what he once claimed he would never part with “for all the money in the U.S. treasury”.

Levy was an interesting man. A jew, a statesman, a rabid Thomas Jefferson fan (as was his entire family, as evidenced by Levy’s first name), a wealthy, lifelong bachelor who maintained an agent in Europe solely for the purpose of sniffing out nifty furnishings and decor for his beloved Monticello. In fact, the Levy family is the entire reason we have Monticello in the condition it is in today. When Uriah Levy (Jefferson’s uncle) first took possession of Monticello back in 1836, the place was a bit of a ruin. Hard times had come to Monticello and it was a shadow of the stunning Italianate home it had once been. Uriah set about restoring everything from the wood carvings inside to the extensive grounds and gardens outdoors. When you go to visit Monticello today, much of the beauty and grandeur you see there is thanks to Uriah and Jefferson Levy who were some of the first Americans concerned with the preservation of historical American landmarks. Today, Monticello is a World Heritage site.

So, you can see why these deeds have become a little more interesting to me, despite the fact that they have consumed so much more of my attention than I had anticipated, due to many tears and other conservation issues. I finished processing the collection last week and am this week arranging and describing the collection. I will finish this next week with a nifty MARC record for our LVA catalog as well as a nice little EAD finding aid on the Virginia Heritage Project website.