Henry County historic records uncovered from 1700s include famous signatures and county origins

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:44 PM EDT
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HENRY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Henry County Circuit Court is working to preserve records it recently uncovered, dating to 1774.

Henry County Circuit Court keeps a large variety of records dating to 1777. However, a recent discovery includes documents as early as 1774 that detail the formation of Henry County through notable figures like Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.

“Once we came across that and realized the signatures and the dates of these documents and how vitally important they are to history, we knew that this needed to be preserved and handled properly,” said Jennifer Ashworth, Clerk of Court for Henry County. “But finding something like this is a once in a lifetime thing. It’s not going to happen again.”

One document is a land grant from King George III declaring 335 acres to the area in 1774. Another was a letter signed by Patrick Henry, appointing Justices of the county when he was governor in 1777.

“I get those calls once in a while and usually they’re disappointing,” said Eddie Woodward, Senior Local Records Archivist for the Library of Virginia. “This was not a disappointing collection of records. They’re significant because they document the early history and the formation of Henry County.”

The archives also reveal the construction of the county’s first court house in 1780 and the floorplan of the 1793 courthouse that still stands today.

“It’s very interesting and exciting to see the original floor plans and bonds for not only the courthouse that still standing in Martinsville, but the courthouse that was actually before that, as well. We also have documents about the prison and what we think would be the first tavern in Martinsville,” said Ashworth.

Jennifer Ashworth will apply for a grant to have the documents preserved.

“We’re just so excited to have found these historical documents and have the opportunity to be involved in having them preserved properly for future generations,” added Ashworth.

They hope to one day have the documents on display inside the courthouse.

“What is unique about them in Henry County is they all survived. Very often, records that are from courthouses that are as old as Henry County, the records don’t survive because of fires, floods, or Union cavalry could have come through and defaced the records. Henry County has a nice, well-rounded collection of historical records that document the history of the county,” explained Woodward.