A vast treasure trove of Petersburg court documents from the 1700s to the 20th century are now available to the public thanks to a long effort to digitize the records.
The Library of Virginia recently announced it has completed Petersburg’s chancery records digitization project. The digitization effort means that nearly 240,000 documents are now available to the public for free through the Virginia Memory Web portal.
The project – which took more than 10 years to complete – was partially funded by a $155,071 grant of from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Petersburg chancery records contain a wealth of information on the African American experience, women’s history, and southern labor and business history in the antebellum and post-Civil War periods. The Petersburg chancery is comprised of case files from the Petersburg Court of Chancery, 1787 to 1912, and includes bills of complaint, affidavits, wills, business records, correspondence and photographs.
“We are so grateful to have had the assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” said Shalva J. Braxton, Petersburg’s Circuit Court clerk. “There is so much history that lies here in the city of Petersburg, which is now available to the public. I am pleased to have worked so closely with the Library of Virginia since the project began in the year 2000 compiling the records for public view.”
Researchers browsing the uploaded chancery cases can find a great deal of information on Petersburg’s enslaved population. For example, Jane, the slave of Edwin Lanier of Sussex County, became free upon his death in 1828. She was the only one of Lanier’s slaves to be set free. In one chancery suit, 1834-015, Jane v. Admr. of Edwin Lanier & etc., Jane sues the administrator and heirs of Lanier’s estate to receive the property and cash bequeathed to her in Lanier’s will. In a second suit, 1840-066, also Jane v. Admr. of Edwin Lanier & etc, Lanier’s administrator and others successfully sued Jane for debts initiating Jane and her children’s re-enslavement.
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