Virginia History Books

Browse selected volumes on popular topics, such as the Civil War, the American Revolution, Fredericksburg, and the surrounding counties. These titles are updated frequently, so check back often for more recommendations. Most books can be requested and checked out from your home library branch. Use the menu below to limit your search to areas that interest you.

For students wanting historical tales--true and otherwise--check out our lists of Virginia History Books for Kids.

"Negro President"--Jefferson and the Slave Power

By Garry Wills

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Wills argues that the U.S. Constitution's three-fifths clause for slave "representation" in Congress and the Electoral College gave slave holders the edge in winning most presidential elections, controlling the federal government, and maintaining slavery by throttling personal liberties.

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A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom: Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation

By David W. Blight, editor

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Through a combination of intelligence, daring, and sheer luck, the men reached the protection of occupying Union troops. Historian Blight prefaces the narratives with each man's life history. Using genealogical information, Blight has reconstructed their childhoods as sons of white slaveholders, their service as cooks and camp hands during the Civil War, and their climb to black working-class stability in the North, where they reunited their families. In the stories of Wallace Turnage and John Washington, we find portals that offer a rich new answer to the question of how four million people moved from slavery to freedom.
From the publisher's description.

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Accommodating Revolutions: Virginia’s Northern Neck in an Era of Transformations, 1760-1810

By Albert H. Tillson, Jr.

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The Northern Neck runs from Falmouth in Stafford County all the way down to Windmill Point in Lancaster County, bounded by the Rappahannock River to the south and the Potomac River to the north.  Now it’s a sleepy section of Virginia but it was once called the Athens of the New World.

What a foreign world it seems to us today—the antebellum Northern Neck--where wealthy white plantation owners bought and sold slaves with ease along with the services of bound whites for years at a time. How could such a system that relied on keeping people in their places and maintaining the established order bring forth some of the greatest leaders of the Revolutionary period? History is complicated, and Accommodating Revolutions digs into court documents and newspaper accounts to flesh out what was going on with those who served the gentry as the winds of political and religious upheaval shook Virginia.
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An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

By Henry Wiencek

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"When George Washington wrote his will, he made the startling decision to set his slaves free; earlier he had said that holding slaves was his 'only unavoidable subject of regret.' In this groundbreaking work, Henry Wiencek explores the founding father's engagement with slavery at every stage of his life--as a Virginia planter, soldier, politician, president, and statesman. Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife had blood ties to the slave community.

"Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off children to collect debts (an incident ignored by earlier biographers). Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington's attitudes began to change."

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Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans

By James Melvin Washington

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Beautiful words from slaves, writers, preachers, and theologians of color who sound out their faith in God's justice through poetry, prayers, hymns, and stories.

Slavery and the eclipse of the African Gods, 1760-1860 -- The crucible of the Anglo-African conscience, 1861-1893 -- The vale of tears, 1894-1919 -- The new Negro, 1920-1955 -- The Civil Rights ethos, 1956-1980 -- Postmodern African-American worlds, 1981-1994.

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Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War

By Scott Christianson

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Down the old plank road from Fredericksburg towards Culpeper--today's Route 3 West, you'll find the still-standing and ruined remains of many a grand Virginia plantation. One of these was home to Charles Nalle, who escaped from slavery in hopes of reuniting with his already-freed wife and children. In 1860, the streets of Troy, New York, became the scene of a struggle between the Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad supporters and the slave hunters who had been sent to retrieve him.

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Good Wives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia

By Kathleen M. Brown

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A feminist examination of the roles of women of different classes--lower class white, upper class white, slave, and Indian--in colonial Virginia, with much reliance on primary sources.

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Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story Of Quilts And the Underground Railroad

By Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard

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Jacqueline Tobin tells the story African American quilter Ozella Williams handed down to her, describing how slaves made coded quilts and used them to navigate their escape on the Underground Railroad.

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Historic Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy

By Michael Aubrecht

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Recalls stories of rebellion, racism and reconstruction as experienced by Secessionists, Unionists and the African American population in Fredericksburg's landmark churches during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
Using a wide variety of materials compiled from the local National Park archives, author Michael Aubrecht presents multiple perspectives from local believers and nonbelievers who witnessed the country's "Great Divide." Learn about the importance of faith in old Fredericksburg through the recollections of local clergy such as Reverend Tucker Lacy; excerpts from slave narratives as recorded by Joseph F. Walker; impressions of military commanders such as Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson; and stories of the conflict over African-American membership.
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