On this day in 1607, Christopher Newport and a small company of men began exploring the upper reaches of the James River, where they were feasted by the Indian weroance Ashuaquid. Two years later, a feast would have tasted even better, but relations with the Indians were generally poor and the colony not doing so well. As such, the muckety-mucks at the Virginia Company of London (that’s their seal above) decided on a major rebranding effort that included, on this day in 1609, the rolling out of a brand new charter. It provided for private corporate control—better to instill some discipline!—and extended Virginia’s boundaries all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Below you’ll find the first two pages of the charter, with the names of some of the investors, including the governor, Sir Thomas Gates, and even Oliver Cromwell (not that Oliver Cromwell, but his uncle).
Skipping ahead in time, today is the 188th birthday of Ambrose Everett Burnside, the pride of Liberty, Indiana, and bearded men everywhere. During the Civil War, he led the Union Ninth Corps to triumph at the site of the original Roanoke colonies—okay, it wasn’t much of a triumph, but it weren’t nothing, either—and disaster at Fredericksburg (1862) and the Crater (1864), after which he was sent away to await orders that never came. That’s Ol’ Sideburns on the left down there. On the right is Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession, which was passed by referendum on this day in 1861 by an exact vote (in case you’re interested) of 125,950 to 20,373.
The war at this point was already a fact. On the same day, Union troops occupied the grounds around Arlington House, Robert E. Lee‘s mansion. Within a couple of years, the land would be transformed into Freedmen’s Village, a place for former enslaved people to make an attempt at a new life. These men and women had been using the war as a means to freedom, and in fact it was on this day in 1861 that three enslaved men from Sewell’s Point fled to the safety of Fort Monroe. The Union commander there, Benjamin Franklin Butler, declared them to be “contraband of war,” or property used by the enemy to aid the war effort. In that way he could affect their freedom without breaking any laws.
On this day a year later, in 1862, the Confederate spy Belle Boyd, pride of Martinsburg, spied through a peephole in a closet door and in this way managed to obtain information that aided Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in his victory at Front Royal. That’s her down there on the left, in a portrait by Kevin Storms, who, like many before him, wonders about her beauty of lack thereof. She did all right in her day, supposedly wooing information out of some Union men and then marrying one of her eventual captors. (Listen to our podcast about all that.)
Finally, on this day in 1951, Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson (entry forthcoming) filed suit on behalf of 117 students and their parents from Robert Russa Moton High School in Prince Edward County. Exactly a month earlier, the students had gone on strike in protest of poor conditions at their all-black school. The case, Dorothy Davis et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Civil Action 1333, was eventually bundled into Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and we all know what happened with that. Courtesy of the National Archives, you can check out the original filing (above right) as well as photographs from the plaintiff and defendants, showing conditions at Moton and a comparable white school in the county.
A version of this post was originally published on May 23, 2012.