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When the records come marching home, hurrah

Civil war aficionados here in Virginia have been angry at the state of Minnesota for years, because officials at the Minnesota Historical Society have refused to return a Virginia battle flag that was taken at the Battle of Gettysburg.

This item somehow remains in the Gopher State despite the fact that in 1905, Congress passed a resolution requiring all stolen/borrowed Civil War flags to be returned to their home states.

Here’s a historical tale with a happier ending. And in Virginia, there is no history like old history.

During the war, in 1862, a Union Army captain named William Treadwell, of the 4th New York Regiment, swiped a volume of court records from the Stafford County Courthouse. The volume ultimately made its way to Jersey City, N.J.

The leather-bound book includes a transcription of Stafford court records from 1749 to 1755. The pages are yellow and the binding on the book is broken. It was compiled by John Fox, who was the Stafford County deputy clerk in 1791.

Earlier this month, John Beekman, the assistant manager of the New Jersey Room in the Jersey City Free Public Library, found the Stafford records in a box; he was gathering information for a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war.

Did the library, Minnesota-style, try to keep the book? No, officials in Jersey City called officials here, and on Oct. 20, they turned the volume over to Carl Childs, director of the Local Record Services at the Library of Virginia.

It turns out that Stafford is one of those counties that has lost a lot of its history. Childs told The Jersey Journal that so few records remain from Stafford County Court from before the Civil War that the state has classified it as a “catastrophic loss.”

“This helps fill one of those holes,” Childs said.

There are interesting tidbits of history throughout the volume.
* For example, one man was fined for cursing in church.
* Witnesses who testified before the court got paid, but in tobacco. Two days of testimony was worth 50 pounds of the weed.
* And some things don’t change: There was a lawsuit filed by an angry widow who contested the fact that she only got one third of her husband’s stuff.

Childs said that the Library of Virginia will make a copy of the book for the public. The original will be restored and filed away for safekeeping. Here in the Old Dominion, after all those years.

— with material from the AP

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