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Historic Middlesex Records can be read online

by Larry Chowning

The Middlesex County Historical Chancery Records dating from 1754 to 1912 are now online as part of a state-sponsored program to preserve county records through the Library of Virginia’s Circuit Court Records Preservation Program.

Middlesex County is one of only a few counties in Virginia that have a significant portion of its historical court records. Most counties had their records destroyed at the end of the Civil War when the Confederate Capitol of Richmond was burned.

During the war, Union troops targeted county courthouses by looting and destroying records and documents in an effort to demoralize the local population. As a result, Confederate officials authorized all county clerks to send their records to Richmond for “safe keeping.”

The Middlesex County Clerk at the time was Philemon Taylor Woodward of Saluda, who balked at the notion to send the documents to Richmond. Instead, he hid the records in a barn near the Dragon Run. His actions saved the county’s records and have immortalized him in the history of the county. Counties that lost their records in the Richmond fire are today referred to as “burn” counties.

With so few court records left throughout the state, Middlesex County’s primary source records have become extremely important in understanding past social and economic times.

Chancery Causes are cases of equity where a judge, not a jury, determines the outcome of the case. The records are organized by case, of which each is assigned an index number comprised of the year of the case. They are arranged chronologically.

Some of the more interesting cases include a debt suit in 1809 between Middlesex County notables James Mills and James H.T. Lorimer. The estate of Urbanna merchant James Mills sued Lorimer, whose family owned “Woodgrove,” a large estate that was on the Dragon Run between Warner and Saluda. The records reveal slave information and a catalog of books.

Another case was between the slave Aggy and the estate of Randolph Segar. Slaves Aggy, Alice, Sophrina, Solomon, Phil, Lancaster, David and Ceasar sued for their freedom after being emancipated in Segar’s 1795 will. Segar’s heirs attempted to stop the emancipation process. After 18 years, the Middlesex County Circuit Court agreed the slaves were free. This case is well documented in the Middlesex County’s history book, Signatures in Time: A Living History of Middlesex County, Virginia.

Yet another case involves the infant granddaughter of Revolutionary War veteran Richard Montague, whose estate was sued by relative Philip T. Montague over boundary lines of about 1,333 acres granted to Richard Montague for his service in the war.

Middlesex County Museum president Marilyn South said the Chancery Records project shows the importance “of our records, not only to Middlesex, but to the entire state and nation. It speaks to the way we actually lived and tells us a great deal about ourselves and how we grew into a nation. We have a treasure in our courthouse, and not too many other counties can say that. We are very appreciative to the Library of Virginia for helping us preserve our history.”

The website can be found at

posted 09.25.2013

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