The Library of Virginia, June 17 – 23, 2013, Richmond, V.A.
The generous and timely assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, and of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, allowed me to undertake an archival ‘scoping’ trip for the better part of a week in Richmond, Virginia. I recently completed a PhD on the social and cultural history of vagrancy in England, between 1650 and 1750, and my post-doctoral proposals have focused on broadening my work to include both the context of England’s Atlantic empire, and potential comparisons between the treatment of vagrants and the treatment of other marginalized groups, including slaves.
With that in mind, Virginia seemed like an ideal location to begin my new research. Colonisation took hold in the Chesapeake from 1609 onwards, and by 1650 the area boasted a thriving planter population, one that had to interact regularly with indentured servants, native Americans, freed men and women of color, and slaves. Mobility defined this frontier society in very interesting ways, and I went to Richmond to explore those connections.
My visit to the Library of Virginia, the official state archive of Virginia and the holder of most of the state’s legal records, lasted about 6 working days. I managed to press through, and often photograph, about 7 counties’ worth of local legal correspondence and judicial process, much of it tallied in enormous county record books kept by legal clerks. As one might expect, land, servitude, and slavery dominate these records, and I gathered a great deal of data about slave and servant run-aways, and about the numerous infractions which warranted the whip in early Virginian society. Unusual stories caught my eye. One Indian servant, whose English nickname soon became ‘Pick Pocket’, was sold into slavery in Barbados after stealing the goods of numerous white planters in Accomack county in the 1670s. Pick Pocket had also been heard to utter threatening speeches against local grandees. He was treated like a vagrant, whipped, and incarcerated until he could be sold away.
The Centre for the study of the Renaissance generously allocated funding for this trip, and generously assisted me with reservations, flights, and bookings. My archival visit was accordingly very productive. In my time away from the archives of England’s earliest Atlantic colony, I did manage to explore some of Richmond, and Virginia’s, later heritage, including civil war sights and the ‘Confederate White House’, which stands to this day beside Richmond General Hospital. The legacies of slavery and the ghosts of empire saturate Virginia, and as an historian one cannot help but see them.
I am very pleased by the results of my funded archival research. This trip may well prove to be the deciding factor in future post-doctoral proposals, since I have now firmly assessed the nature of early archival collections across that Atlantic, and concluded that they are well suited to my project.
The James River
Richmond Art Revival