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Friday, December 20, 2013

Chancery records are so cool!

Alright, I am a slacker.  Seriously, I am.  This week I sat on my couch letting my brains run out of ears far more than I have in the past few months.  You know what, it felt great.  However, that feeling has to go away because it is time to get back to the grindstone if you know what I mean.

Once I got off the couch, I found an interesting little nugget while delving into a family chancery record.  Virginia Chancery Records, for those of you who don’t know, are simply put courts that were involved with disputes where something needed to be divided equally.  These were not criminal cases and most instances they simply needed a mediator between two parties that were in dispute. 

Recently I was looking into the Chancery Records concerning the estate of my 6th great grandfather James Drake.  His third oldest son William was the executor of the will and, well, it seems his siblings were a bit miffed at the way the estate was settled.  So much so that they were suing him for $6,000 which in 1799 was a pretty penny.  Yeah, I bet that made holiday gatherings awkward since the suit went on for several years and there were another 4 cases I have found so far dealing with this estate.

To me the most amazing document in the initial case file was on the last page.  Here on page 27 was an
inventory accounting for everything that William did with his father’s estate.  Who received what, how much, and when.  I am currently comparing this to the will I copied from the Library of Virginia this time last year.  It will be interesting to see where the items from the original inventory ended up.

Page 27 of File 1800-006, Powhatan County Chancery Records, Library of Virginia.

As with the will, I did find a mention of a slave transfer as well as provisions purchased for them.  It is fascinating actually.  One listing states the estate purchased “1 gallon of Rum for sick negroes” another reads “paid for a hat for a negro of the Estate.”  Was rum a common medicine purchased for ailments?  Cough syrup or something to be infused with herbs?  I really need to look into that.

Finally there was the purchase of “a negro woman Nell and her child Jacob” for the sum of £30.  In the past I have told you I feel the need to publish the names of these people when I find them, so I am.  Maybe, just maybe, it will help someone find the answers to their family history.

Blow up of page 27

There were also two others cases that dealt with the division of the plantation.  Originally 800 acres, it was carved up into pieces for the children with a large portion given to James’s wife Mary.  I could not believe my luck when these files contained plats with the land divisions!  Now I get to start the process of trying to use the roads, waterways, and landmarks on the plat to see if I can find the land today.  

Plat 2 from file 1806-015, Powhatan County, Library of Virginia.  Tarlton Drake was James Drake's son, and my 5th great grandfather.


  1. Great stuff. As for locating the land, you can enter the legal description into a converter to get the longitude/latitude then put the longitude/latitude into google maps and it will take you right to the land. I did the same with my grandmother's Cherokee allotment.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I will try and that see what I get!

  2. I love the Library of Virginia's Chancery Records!