Looking back: County holds wealth of historical records

Published 11:15 am Friday, January 29, 2016

by Clyde Parker

January 29, 1966

A real treasure-trove awaits the “expert miners” who “dig” in the Southampton County Clerk’s Office in Courtland, according to Mrs. L.J. Livingston, a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. “This treasure does not consist of precious metals of gold but of invaluable documents and records,” said Mrs. Livingston at a recent meeting of the Historical Society.

The meeting was held at the Walter Cecil Rawls Library in Courtland.

During her talk, Mrs. Livingston said she often leaves her home in Chester and spends long hours examining documents at the Clerk’s Office in Courtland.

She was warm in her thanks to H.B. McLemore Jr., the Southampton County Clerk of Court, and Miss Bessie Shands, his deputy, for their cooperation. Most of the documents she has been studying are called “loose papers,” because they are not copied in any record books or entered in any index.

“Lack of proper books, unavailable copy clerks, or insufficient authentication under the laws of those times, are reasons for those papers or documents not being a part of the official records,” she surmised.

“But they are not lost papers,” she added. “Thanks to the meticulous care of successive clerks of court, and thanks also to the absence of damage by war, fire or accidents, those papers have survived for decades, some even for centuries, and are with us today.”

From the earliest days of the County’s foundation in 1749, the papers have been put in separate bundles, tied with rawhide and later with cord, labeled as to their nature and kept secure in the Clerk’s Office.

Because of these documents, Southampton is one of the most important locations for source records of United States history, Mrs. Livingston thinks.

“It is a collection like none existing anywhere else in the nation,” she said. “The records reach from the days of the colony through the early decades of the Commonwealth and touch all phases of the life of its inhabitants.”

“The records provide an important source from which the social, economic and governmental history of those early times may be authentically written,” she said. “Here in the year 1966, Southampton is a most exciting place to work in genealogy, but a wealth of general history far beyond the names of families is to be found in our courthouse.

Mrs. Livingston concluded by expressing the hope, in which the members of the Historical Society joined, that some means may be found for the continued preservation of this most unusual collection of “unrecorded records” for use by future students and writers of accurate Southampton, Virginia and United States history.

Huge snowfall hits area

A record snowfall has blanketed our area with 12 inches of snow. The blinding snowstorm that moved into Franklin — Southampton after dark Tuesday night caused little damage to property or vehicles; but before it left, it dumped the deepest snow here in several decades.

Lt. Col. John Wall of the U. S. Weather Bureau at Byrd Field in Richmond told The Tidewater News that the official snowfall reading for Franklin was 12 inches, with a strong possibility of more snow over the weekend.

Roy A. Lassiter of Boykins keeps the record of recent area snows. Lassiter told The Tidewater News that his records showed that nine inches of snow fell on the City and in Southampton County on January 18 of last year.

“We had a snow fall of eight and a half inches in 1958,” said Lassiter, “and those are the deepest snows I have recorded since I began keeping records for the Bureau 12 years ago.” The oldest official records show that Franklin and Southampton had a snowfall of 17.7 inches way back in 1892. This is the deepest single snowfall on record for the area.

Franklin Police Chief Willie Burrow said that, so far, there have been only two minor traffic accidents in Franklin caused by the snow.

“We have been very lucky,” he said. “Everything has been real quiet; the only pedestrian injury was on Thursday night when a Franklin man slipped on ice and broke a hip.”

The Baptist Church Hill

Record snowfalls bring out another opportunity in Franklin for good clean outdoor fun. When it snows, what is called the Baptist Church Hill on Second Avenue, in front of City Hall and adjacent to the Franklin Baptist Church, is a place for residents to gather. The City of Franklin closes off that section of Second Avenue from High Street to Franklin Street for everyone, from small kids to “grown-up” kids, to enjoy as they break-out their sleds and “have at it,” sliding down the hill.

In an editorial on the subject, The Tidewater News Publisher Hanes Byerly said, “Thank you, City officials, for thinking about the kids.”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net