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220-year-old court-order book taken by a New York captain during the Civil War comes back to Stafford for a brief visit, will be preserved for posterity by the Library of Virginia

 The 1791 ledger, found at the Jersey City Free Public Library, was given to the Library of Virginia in October. It's one of the few Stafford records known to survive the Civil War.
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Date published: 12/2/2011


A long-lost chunk of Old Dominion history returned yesterday to the spot from which it vanished in the dark days of the Civil War.

Dr. Sandra G. Treadway, the Librarian of Virginia, brought newly discovered pre-Revolutionary records from Richmond to Stafford County so the public, historians and local officials could glimpse this rare treasure.

The court ledger book among the items had vanished from the county courthouse 148 years earlier, when the Union army--140,000 soldiers strong--occupied eastern Stafford. So did the bulk of the county's other court records, creating a huge headache for landowners, lawyers and historians that lingers to this day.

The leather-bound ledger, its entries written with quill pen, was found recently by a manager at the Jersey City, N.J., Free Public Library as he gathered materials to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

John Beekman, assistant manager of the New Jersey Room, realized the book didn't conform to his library's collection policy, and contacted the Library of Virginia to arrange its return.

Yesterday, local and state officials lauded Beekman for "doing the right thing," especially in an era when old documents are routinely sold--legally or not--to collectors via the Internet.


"It's really exciting for me to be part of this today," Treadway said yesterday as the 276-page volume was publicly unveiled back home in Virginia. "This discovery gives me hope that publicity about it may encourage other libraries in former Union states to take a look at what they have in their collections. They may say: 'Wow, we've got something similar. Let's pull it out. Maybe it doesn't belong here.'"

When Union troops occupied Stafford in 1862-63, from before the Battle of Fredericksburg to the Confederacy's "high-water mark" at Gettysburg, they sacked the courthouse area, local historian Jane Hollenbeck Conner recounted.

Pillaged court records were strewn all about the courthouse steps and yard, in drifts at least 15 inches deep, The New York Times said.

"It is impossible to estimate the inconvenience and losses which will be incurred by this wholesale destruction of deeds, claims, mortgages, &c" the newspaper reported on Dec. 11, 1862.

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The "Adopt Virginia History" program of the Library of Virginia Foundation, a tax-deductible nonprofit, seeks donations to conserve the state's collective memory. To contribute, contact the foundation and reference the Stafford County Order Book, 1749-1755. On the Web, see lva.virginia.gov/involved/adopt.asp.