History Blog

Great Lives Lecture Series: Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen

The University of Mary Washington's 2012 Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Tuesday, March 13, with a lecture on Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen, author of Louisa May Alcott.

Louisa May Alcott spent her childhood in Boston and in Concord, Massachusetts, where her days were enlightened by visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s library and excursions into nature with Henry David Thoreau. When she was 35, she wrote the beloved Little Women in her childhood home, basing the novel on her family during the Civil War. Author Harriet Reisen’s diverse credits include historical documentaries for PBS and HBO, co-producing National Public Radio (NPR) and teaching film history and criticism at Stanford University. Publishers Weekly called her biography of Alcott “heart-rending.”

All lectures in the university's Great Lives series are free and open to the public.

For more about the life of Clarence Darrow check out these resources from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

A New Cache of Old Records

A New Cache of Old Records

When I began began doing genealogical research many years ago, like all beginners I focused on marriage records, birth and death records--when they were available, and wills. Then came deeds and other land records, and through using them I discovered the world of "courts of chancery" and "chancery records."

Not all Virginia courts judged cases the same way, you see. Some courts decided cases based on written laws that either specifically allowed or specifically prohibited various actions in certain circumstances. There was in these courts no latitude for judicial interpretation; there were no "grey areas."

Other courts, however, dealt with issues of equity or fairness in a much more flexible way--Chancery Courts. These courts decided cases which codified law could not readily accomodate, and these cases were usually land disputes, divisions of estates, divorce petitions, and business partnership disputes.

Chancery Court files are filled with subpoenas, depositions of witnesses, affidavits and other items of enormous interest to genealogists!

The Library of Virginia in Richmond has been diligently digitizing and indexing old chancery records, covering cases from the early eighteenth century through World War I. The database now includes hundreds of thousands of items. Several jurisdictions of interest to us are already completed! You may now find and view online the scanned chancery records for Westmoreland County, 1753-1913; Caroline County, 1787-1849; and Culpeper County, 1829-1913. Others will be made available in due course.

Rebel River: A Guide to Civil War Sites on the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James by Mark Nesbitt

Rebel River by Mark Nesbitt

Virginia's many rivers were strategic points in the Civil War. Thousands of men had to cross them at a time, whether by boat or pontoon bridge, or, in shallower places, on foot.  Major rivers slowed down--or, in the case of flood, could block movement entirely. Generals placed their supply depots on rivers, and gunboats patrolled the waters, blasting artillery positions as well as enemy strongholds in large plantation houses.

In Mark Nesbitt's Rebel Rivers, readers are treated to an easy-to-follow guide to river sites and their Civil War history. Rebel Rivers, published by Stackpole Books, is available to check out from the library. The author is also the creator of the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours® and the Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours.

This excerpt is used with the author/copyright holder's permission.

Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall

Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall

If you don’t live in Vermont, the name Ethan Allen may just be a furniture brand to you. But the life of this key figure in the American Revolution embodied a lot of the conflict between the colonists and their English overlords. From relatively humble beginnings, the Allen family became involved in trade and land ownership. The problem was, wildly rich speculators from New York had in mind to keep New Hampshire land under the tenant farm system whilst the struggling farmers wanted to be able to own their land outright.

Great Lives Lecture Series: Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John A. Farrell

The University of Mary Washington's 2012 Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Thursday, Feburary 23, with a lecture on Clarence Darrow by John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned.

Following graduation from the University of Virginia, author John A. Farrell embarked on a prize-winning career as a newspaperman, most notably for the Denver Post and the Boston Globe. His biography of Darrow —  “impeccably researched, beautifully written, and timely,” said the San Francisco Chronicle – describes the career of the limelight-stealing, two-fisted attorney who resigned from corporate law to defend union organizers, powerless minorities, and those accused of sensational crimes. He is perhaps best known for his devastating attack on his former friend (and three-time presidential candidate) William Jennings Bryan, when the pair faced off during the notorious Scopes “Monkey Trial” over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools.

All lectures in the university's Great Lives series are free and open to the public.

For more about the life of Clarence Darrow check out these resources from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Great Lives Lecture Series: Jackie Robinson

Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season

The University of Mary Washington's 2012 Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Thursday, Feburary 16, with a lecture on Jackie Robinson by Jonathan Eig, author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season.

April 15, 1947, marked the most important opening day in baseball history. When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond that afternoon at Ebbets Field, he became the first black man to break into major-league baseball in the 20th century. World War II had just ended; democracy had triumphed. Now Americans were beginning to press for justice on the home front - and Robinson had a chance to lead the way. But his biggest concern was his temper, and playing well, despite race-baiting by segregationists. Author Jonathan Eig, in addition to publishing three nonfiction books, writes a monthly sports column for Chicago magazine.

All lectures in the university's Great Lives series are free and open to the public.

For more about the life of Jackie Robinson check out these resources from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Great Lives Lecture Series: Richard and Mildred Loving

The Loving Story movie poster

The University of Mary Washington's 2012 Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Tuesday, Feburary 14, with a panel discussion and film showing about Loving v. Virginia .

In 1958, the sheriff of Caroline County charged into the bedroom of Richard and Mildred Loving in the dead of night and arrested them. Although legally married in Washington, Richard was white and Mildred was black, which was against the law in Virginia and 13 other states. The case on their behalf was brought by the ACLU before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” leading to the overturning of all such laws in the United States. Panelists on the program will be Bernard Cohen, one of two lawyers who argued the case before the Court, and Peggy Fortune, the Lovings’ daughter.

All lectures in the university's Great Lives series are free and open to the public.

For more about the life of  check out these resources from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Great Lives Lecture Series: Christopher Columbus

Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen

The University of Mary Washington's 2012 Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Thursday, Feburary 9, with a lecture on Christopher Columbus by Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus: The Four Voyages.

Christopher Columbus, said a New York Times reviewer of Laurence Bergreen’s biography, was a “terribly interesting man - brilliant, audacious, volatile, paranoid, narcissistic, ruthless and (in the end) deeply unhappy.” Part explorer, part entrepreneur, part wannabe-aristocrat, Columbus initiated the most important period in Western history as a result of an error. Laurence Bergreen, a frequent lecturer at major universities and symposiums, also serves as a featured historian for the History Channel.  Among his many other books are biographies of Magellan and Marco Polo.

All lectures in the university's Great Lives series are free and open to the public.

For more about the life of Christopher Columbus check out these resources from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

"The Sacking of Fredericksburg"

War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C.

Excerpt from War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C. Pfanz, (pp. 44-46)

Donald C. Pfanz is staff historian with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He is also the author of Abraham Lincoln at City Point and Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life.  This chapter is reprinted on CRRL's history site with his permission.

“The Sacking of Fredericksburg”

By the time the fighting ended on Dec. 11, Fredericksburg was desolate.  Fighting in the streets combined with a bombardment by more than 180 cannons had left the venerable old town shattered and ruins.  Those citizens who had not fled Fredericksburg had seen their homes riddled with bullets, shot and shell.

What Was Christmas Like During the Civil War?

Present-day Christmas conjures memories of snow, lighted trees, cinnamon, gifts, parties, and music. If we lived during the Civil War, what kinds of memories would we have? Would they be of family, food, warmth, and parties, or would they be of just trying to survive and stave off hunger? Would there be presents under the tree, or would we be happy just to be present with our loved ones. To learn a bit more about Christmas during the years 1861-1864, explore the items in the library and the Web sites listed below.

In the Library: