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The Library of Virginia – Virginia’s Collective Experience


Welcome to the Library of Virginia, guardian of Virginia’s collective
experience, and the trusted steward of many priceless
records that document America’s historic path to freedom. Here, you’ll find the story of Virginia
and all Virginians, told through nearly ninety-seven million
documents, books, photogrpahs, maps, works of art, newspapers, recordings, posters, and official records preserved with
state of the art care and housed and protected in the Library’s more than fifty-five miles of
shelves, in this building and an enormous off-site records center. These ninety-seven million pieces of
Virginia’s history comprise of the most extensive and priceless collections in the world. They tell us stories about the
famous and the little-known, the weatlhy and the poor, the free and enslaved, the educated and the illiterate, and the people and the representatives. The records of many of the nation’s
founders and the legacy left by rulers are here, along with the writings of those who
defined American freedom, and helped establish the laws that governed
our country since before its beginning. For those who love to browse through documents,
the story of our nation begins in Jamestown in 1607. A volume published in 1624 provides the first account Virginia’s
history– the stories of early Native Americans, adventurers,
planters, and governors. The author of this book was none other than Captain John Smith. Maps as well as descriptions of
commodities, people, government, customs, and religion are founded in this volume. For the scholar, historian, or
amateur time traveler, just one degree a separation lies between earliest days in a bewildering new continent and in the world we live in today. A century later, the story moved to
nearby Williamsburg. The new Virginia capital became the site
Virginia’s first library– the Council Library, where America’s founders were guided by
reference books not only on law and politics but also
geography, world history, science, and religion. Many of the Council Library’s books and
official government papers can be found today at the Library of Virginia, including the minutes of the last
meeting of the House of Burgesses– an historic meeting in which that body decided to separate
from England. The clerk who had been taking minutes in his customary small script wrote this final word “FINIS” in script four inches high. Thus with this final flourish, the era of colonial rule came
to a fitting end. Working in the Coucil Library, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe first penned an act for establishing religious freedom, the first law in the modern world separating church and state. It became law in Virginia, and later was incorporated into the First
Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, becoming the sixteen words that have influenced the lives of Americans ever since. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” A rare manuscript copy of the
Bill of Rights containing those words is part of the Library of Virginia’s collections as well. It is one of only twelve surviving copies. Here you can also find a copy of
the Declaration of Independence, an early and exact facsimile printed on sheepskin and inscribed with the dedication to the
author, Mr. Jefferson. As Governor of Virginia, it was Thomas
Jefferson who proposed the state library be established. “The lost cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains.” Jefferson’s dream became a reality in 1823 when the Virginia Legislature
established this official state library. Ironically, by that time the British had destroyed many of the
Colonial Council’s records and run off with much of Mr.
Jefferson’s private and official correspondence. There are records here from the day
of Patrick Henry, Virginia’s first governor. Every Virginia governor since has had official records on file in the
Library for historians and others to study. Of course the Library contains more than
just the records of famous men and women. Here one can also learn about the lives
of Virginia’s farmers, free laborers, indentured servants, and slaves. About storekeepers, artisans, teachers, ministers, and other Virginians. The Library has amassed such an extensive
archive of court, business, organizational, and family Bible
records as well as personal papers that many consider the Library of Virginia
one of the most important family research institutions in the United States. Every year the knowledgeable and professional staff process more than a thousand visitors from all over the world who come to explore their family’s history and its connection to the nation’s past. Some trace their families to their early
settlers who came to virginia from the British Isles
and Europe using land grants, county records, tax
rolls, and parish registers of birth, marriage, and death. Virginians of African descent trace
their family history in these records too, as well as in plantation, business, and
circuit court records, and records of other activities of daily life received from state and local
governments across the commonwealth. Consider Charles Ellis of Goochland, a World War II recipient of the
Bronze Star and five Battle Stars, whose grandfather was born a slave. He never knew his grandmother’s maiden
name– now he does, thanks to records located in the Library of Virginia. Those whose family members have served
in the military can turn to our extraordinaire military
records collection, which was established after the
American Revolution, when the Virginia Assembly ordered an inventory of the service records of soldiers and
sailors that fought in that war for freedom. These records touched many Virginians. Take for example Shirley Ann Minnox of Fincastle,
Virginia whose father owned one became a husband at age eighteen, a father at twenty, and World War II casualty at 22. Shirley never knew a photographic existed
showing her with her father until recently when a story about the military records
collection appeared in a local paper along with this photo caption: “Does she know there’s a picture in
a box in Richmond, which shows her on her daddy’s knee?” Less than a hundred years after the
American Revolution, the Civil War decimated the Library
and its collections. During the fall of the Confederate
capitol early April 1865, fleeing officials left the library in a
shambles, and many historic and valuable documents
were lost or stolen, Among these was the Virginia
Ordinance of Secession, a manifesto dated April 17, 1861 that dissolved the union between the state of Virginia and the other states of the U.S. Constitution. During the fire that destroyed much of Richmond, union soldier named Charles Bullis took
the Ordinance of Secession home to New York, where it remained until his passing. Eventually the document was returned to
the Library of Virginia. Other Union soldiers and souvenir
hunters rummaged through the Library in those final days of the Civil War, removing scores of unique manuscripts documenting the Virginia’s past. Fortunately, many have since been recovered. In war or at peace story of the Library is Virginia’s story. Here you can see how Virginians grew, made, and traded things, and sometimes even rankled things. You can trace Virginia’s economy as it evolved from subsistence farming, to manufacturing, and then to a service economy. Industries like health care and technology work side by side. As the official guardian of Virginia’s
collected experience, the Library of Virginia has been a leader in the
preservation of historical records. Skilled conservators use state of
the art technologies along with traditional methods to preserve and restore the vast collections. Among them a unique set of miniature books, a priceless collection of George Washington’s
letters, and the papers of Virginia’s oldest insurance company. The Library is also charged with the protection
of the state’s art collection. With this responsibility comes complex task of art restoration. An important recent project involved
portrayal of a lady, sometimes identified as Queen Elizabeth I, painted by unknown artist in England and
the seventeenth century, A gift to Virginia from Britain’s Lady
Astor who was born in Virginia, the painting had been in the governor’s office
for years. When conservators removed yellowed varnish, small sections of the paint gave way, revealing the original painted surface
underneath. After taking x-rays, and infrared, and
ultraviolet photographs, a clear likeness emerged, restoring the painting to its original
integrity after three hundred years. Virginia has produced many significant
literary figures that include Edgar Allen Poe, Sherwood Anderson, Ellen Glasgow, and Douglas Southall Freeman. Rita Dove, a Poet Laureate of the
United States. Tom Wolfe, author of “The Right Stuff.” And William Styron, who wrote “Spohie’s Choice.” Since its beginning the Library has
collected works of Virginia authors and today invites them to share their work through public readings and book signings. Library of Virginia officially recognizes
outstanding Virginia poets, novelists, and historians every year. The work of Virginia authors is housed
for public review in a special room dedicated to Virginia’s authors on the Library’s second floor. In the early nineteen hundreds, the closest
library to most rural areas might have been hundreds of miles away. The Library of Virginia initiated a traveling
library, with boxes of books sent by train from town to town. During the second World War, the Library hit
the road with bookmobiles, each capable of carrying from five
hundred to a thousand books into rural communities. The Library arranged for thousands of books and
magazines to be collected and sent to military bases, and war related brochures,
posters, and promotional materials were added to the permanent collection. The Library of Virginia continues to support a quality of life in Virginia’s communities through programs and
services for libraries throughout the commonwealth. Yes the story of Virginia and Virginians can be told in many ways, and has been since 1607. At the Library of Virginia it is told through
ninety seven million extraordinary glimpses into our past, our history. Each an individual tile in the vast and colorful mosaic of Virginia’s experience. It is a story of Native Americans and
early settlers, of farmers and plantation owners, of free men and slaves, of patriots and founding fathers, of soldiers and peacemakers. Of entrepenuers, of businessmen and women, of shopkeepers, of famous leaders and citizens of
every walk of life. This film is just an introduction to
telling these stories. Imagine how many more can be found at the Library of Virginia. The nation’s story, Virginia’s story,
your story.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Proud that my Counts family came to the shores of Virginia in the 1700's and were amongst those pioneering early settlers in Shenandoah Valley and in Southwest Virginia. Lovely film. Made me want to visit, numerous times.

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