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Reports of Criminal Trials of the Circuit, State, and United States Courts, held in Richmond, Virginia
Reports of Criminal Trials of the Circuit, State, and United States Courts, held in Richmond, Virgin
Product Code: US0628
Number of CDs: 1
Author: Robert R. Howison
Pages: 122
Pub. Date: (1851) 2009
Qty in Cart: none

Background: The Virginia Law Reports

Virginia law is based upon English common law. It has evolved over time through the enactment of statutes by legislative action (statute law) and the interpretation of those statues by the judiciary (case law). While the interpretation of the law in an individual case is not binding on other cases, it does set precedent and is often used as a basis for the interpretation of new cases. Case law, unlike statutes, is difficult to track; thus through the years, the individual opinions have been collected by various "reporters," at first informally and later more formally into collections called reports. These reports include, unlike the official court orders, an explanation of the reasoning behind the interpretation. A history of the evolution of the Virginia reports is available in Bryson's Virginia Law Books: Essays and Bibliographies. 1

The particular value of the Virginia reports lies in the fact that the majority of the records of Virginia's appellate courts were destroyed by fire in 1865. The reports are one of the few surviving sources for information on the cases heard on appeal. And while the reports focus is the law, in the process of presenting the law, they frequently provide information about individuals, families and family relationships (sometime multi-generational) that are unavailable elsewhere.

Between 1900-1903 the Michie Company republished in 26 volumes, as the Virginia Reports Annotated, the first 74 volumes of the court reports covering the period through 1880. These include a volume by Jefferson which reports on some colonial decisions between 1730 and 1772, the remainder are post colonial. However, the information presented in the court cases often span a number of decades and consequently, often include events and data about individuals in the early 1700s.

In 2005 Ken Craft of Norcross, Georgia, donated a complete set of the Virginia Reports Annotated as well as 6 other volumes (three of which are reviewed below) to the Virginia Genealogical Society in the hope that they could arrange for material to be made more readily available to the genealogical community through the compilation of a general index or by other means. In 2008, the society entered into an agreement with Archive CD Books, USA to publish the volumes in a fully-searchable digital format. The following volume is among the first to be released from that collection. See also Virginia Colonial Decisions Vol 1 and 2: 1728-1741. Other volumes from the collection will be released as they are available.


Robert R. Howison, Reports of Criminal Trials in the Circuit, State and United States Courts, Held in Richmond, Virginia (Richmond, Va.: George M. West & Brother, 1851. fully searchable digital edition by Archive CD Books, USA, 2009.

This volume provides a unique look at life in Virginia in 1850. Criminal trials are rarely considered a source of information on the lives of individuals. Criminals, whether murders or thieves, are rarely sought after for additions to our family trees. We fail to consider that information presented in their trials is not limited to the criminal and his act.

Physical descriptions, occupations, relationships, description of day-to-day activities are things we expect to find in letters, journals and diaries. Yet all of these and more appear in the criminal trials described in this volume. These detailed reports of criminal trials on charges ranging from counterfeiting to murder conducted in the local, state and federal courts held in Henrico County provide detailed physical descriptions of both the person charged with the crime and other individuals involved in the crime, and note a variety of occupations ranging from lieutenant of the night watch, to contractor, to exchange broker to the lady who refused to describe the type of house she kept.

We're told who lived next door, get descriptions of entertainment available in town, the attire worn by a variety of participants, and given detailed descriptions of business transactions, and such things as the ports of call of boats traveling the James River and the "normal" activities of travelers, as well as the details of family relationships.

There are references to families from the burned counties of Caroline and Hanover, a discussion of the basis for the legal determination of free Negro status, and descriptions of medical treatments for wounds and causes of death. These reports provide a rarely available window into the world of our ancestors.

1 W. Hamilton Bryson, "Reports of Cases," Virginia Law Books: Essays and Bibliographies (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2000), 86-136.

Summary by Barbara Vines Little, CG
for the Feb 2009 issue of the Virginia Genealogical Society newsletter.
Reprinted here by permission.

The CD includes high-quality images of every page as originally published (not just a transcript) and is fully searchable using Adobe Acrobat Reader (version 5 or later recommended) on any Windows, Macintosh, or Unix computer. The data on this CD is completely self-contained, and requires no installation.

Reports of Criminal Trials of the Circuit, State, and United States Courts, held in Richmond, Virginia
Price: $12.95

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