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Important Middlesex historical documents are being restored

The keepers of Middlesex County’s historical records are, from left, deputy clerk Rachel Hartenbach, deputy clerk Kaitlyn Austin, and Middlesex County Clerk Lynn Dunlevy.

by Larry Chowning

Middlesex County Clerk of the Circuit Court Lynn Dunlevy recently reported to county supervisors that the clerk’s office has received $16,689 in grant money from the Library of Virginia over the past two years that has been used to restore historical county records.

Middlesex County is one of only a few counties in the State of Virginia that has most of its historical records intact in its county courthouse.

Civil War
During the Civil War, the Confederate government in Richmond encouraged county clerks to send their records for “safe-keeping” to Richmond. Most of these county records were destroyed when Richmond was burned during the war.

Middlesex records, however, were not destroyed because they were never sent to Richmond. Philemon T. Woodward, Middlesex County clerk from 1852 to 1892, wanted to hide the records in Middlesex. He requested permission from Middlesex Circuit Judge Joseph Allen Christian to do this, and Judge Christian agreed.

Invading Union soldiers were encouraged and inclined to destroy the records of Confederate states as a way to further break the spirit of the rebel cause. Under the direction of Union General Judson Kilpatrick, Yankee soldiers broke into the Middlesex County Courthouse during the war with intent to destroy the records. However, most important county records had been removed from the courthouse and had been hidden by Woodward.

When historians speak of Middlesex’s records they denote that the county is not a “burn county”—thanks to Judge Christian and P.T. Woodward.

Dunlevy reports that the county has received three grants. The first grant for $4,585 was used to restore three documents—the “Register of Free Negroes” book dated 1827-1860; Will Book 5 1827-1837, and the index to deeds starting in 1800.

Two other grants were used to restore four documents—Will Book 1775-1798, Oyster Plat Book 1894-1929, Orphans Account Book 1760-1819, and Will Book 1675-1798. The two grants for the refurbishing of these books amounted to $12,104.

Dunlevy said that Carl M.C. Childs, director of Local Records Service of the Virginia State Library, has been working with the clerk’s office to identify the books most in need of being restored. “We’ve gotten a great deal of help from the Virginia State Library,” said Dunlevy. “We are very grateful for all the help they are giving us. 

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 03.20.2013

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