A Guide to the Louisa County (Va.), Health and Medical Records, 1771-1902 Louisa County (Va.) Health and Medical Records, 1771-1902 0007787120

A Guide to the Louisa County (Va.), Health and Medical Records, 1771-1902

A Collection in
the Library of Virginia
Collection Number 0007787120


Library of Virginia

The Library of Virginia
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© 2020 By The Library of Virginia. All Rights Reserved.

Processed by: T. Harter

The Library of Virginia
Collection Number
Louisa County (Va.) Health and Medical Records, 1771-1902
.225 cf; legal-sized half-hollinger box
Louisa County (Va.) Circuit Court

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Louisa County (Va.) Health and Medical Records, 1771-1902. Local government records collection, Louisa County Court Records, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Acquisition Information

This collection came to the Library of Virginia in a transfer of court papers from Louisa County Circuit Court.

Historical Information

Mental Health Records may consist of a variety of documents that historically were referred to as lunacy papers in the courthouses of Virginia localities and municipalities.

First known as commissions, the Justice of the Peace office originated with the county quarterly court in 1623. Commanders of Plantations (1607-1629) were predecessors of the commissioners, who since 1662 have been called justices of the peace. They have traditionally had both civil and criminal jurisdiction, and have served other functions, including performing coroners' and lunacy inquisitions. Until 1869 justices served both as judges of the county court and as individual justices; since then they have had only the latter function.

During its session begun in November 1769, the House of Burgesses passed an act establishing a hospital in Williamsburg for the mentally ill. The Eastern Lunatic Asylum (now Eastern State Hospital) was the first institution in America constructed as a mental hospital. The first patients were admitted in October 1773.

In January 1825 the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation providing for the construction of an asylum in the western part of the state. The institution, which become known as Western Lunatic Asylum, was constructed close to the town of Staunton, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was the second mental health facility built in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The buildings and surrounding gardens were designed to embrace the idea of "moral therapy" for mentally ill patients by providing an aesthetically pleasing and tranquil atmosphere in which patients lived comfortably, exercised and worked outdoors.

Western Lunatic Asylum opened in 1828, accepting both male and female patients suffering from a variety of mental disorders. It should be noted that the hospital underwent a short-lived name change between 1861 and 1865, when it was known as Central Lunatic Asylum. (It should not be confused with an asylum of the same name later built in Petersburg, Virginia to house African American patients). From 1865 to 1894 the name was again Western Lunatic Asylum. However, in 1894 the General Assembly passed legislation changing the name to Western State Hospital.

In March 1882 a 300 acre tract of land was purchased by the City of Petersburg and given to the state for the purpose of constructing a permanent mental health facility for African Americans. Construction of the new facility near Petersburg was completed in early spring 1885. This later included a special building to house the criminally insane apart from the rest of the hospital population. An early institutional history notes that treatment at Central Lunatic Asylum during the 1890s was humane and emphasized the value of work and the benefits of recreation. However, practices at the facility also included seclusion, mechanical restraints, and the administering of hypnotics.

In 1894, Central Lunatic Asylum was officially renamed Central State Hospital. This piece of legislation also altered the names of the other mental health facilities in Virginia in and attempt to inspire a more positive image of the institutions, and of mental health treatment in general. It is important to note that another state institution located in Staunton, Virginia went by the name Central Lunatic Asylum between the years of 1861 and 1865. Its name later was changed to Western Lunatic Asylum, and is a separate facility with no connection to the Richmond/Petersburg hospital for African Americans.

Louisa County was named for Louisa, a daughter of King George II and wife of King Frederick V of Denmark. It was formed from Hanover County in 1742.

Scope and Content

Louisa County (Va.) Health and Medical Records 1771-1902, consist of two series: Mental Health Records and Smallpox Epidemic Records.

Mental Health Records are housed in five folders, and may include warrants, orders, petitions, depositions, reports, etc. for or by justices of the peace and others regarding the mental condition of individuals who were released to the recognizance of a family member or who were recommended to be committed to hospitals in Williamsburg, Staunton, Petersburg, or Richmond. Fiduciary records such as estate inventories of a person judged insane may also be present. Some justices of the peace convened at Elisha Jackson's Tavern to commiserate and write their reports. See selected documents of interest below.

Smallpox Epidemic Records consist of one folder of papers relating to quarantines and hospitals for the containment of and/or treatment for smallpox outbreaks in Louisa County. 1779 documents include accounts of various individuals, especially William Terrell, for expenses incurred during smallpox outbreak at home hospital of William Ward. An 1862 order references a smallpox outbreak at the Slate Hill Gold Mine. Documents also reference three quarantines of individuals in May 1880, including one near Green Springs Depot at the home of Richard Ogg and another at James B. Madison's home known as "Hackett's House". A third quarantine did not specify location.


Chronological within each series. The Mental Health Records are arranged chronologically by year, and alphabetically by name. If more than one individual is referenced in a document, names are listed on the folder but the folder title will reflect the number of individuals named. If an individual had more than one instance of suspected mental incapacity, there may be papers filed in more than one chronological location. Smallpox Epidemic Records are arranged chronologically by year within one folder.

Related Material

See also: "Louisa County (Va.) Judgment, Lewis Yancey, surviving partner vs. Louisa County, 1906 May." . This judgment pertains to a smallpox outbreak of Dec. 1902-Apr. 1903, where a local dry goods business, Yancey Brothers, served as a quarantine hospital and all goods/wares were ordered destroyed afterward.

Additional Louisa County court records can be found on microfilm and in the Chancery Records Index at the Library of Virginia. Consult "A Guide to Virginia County and City Records on Microfilm" and The Chancery Records Index .

Index Terms

    Corporate Names:

  • Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane, Virginia.
  • Central State Hospital (Petersburg, Va.).
  • Eastern State Hospital (Va.).
  • Louisa County (Va.) Circuit Court.
  • Western State Hospital (Va.).
  • Subjects:

  • African Americans--Mental Health--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • County courts--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Insanity--Jurisprudence--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Jails--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Medical laws and legislation--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Mental illness--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Physicians--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Psychiatric hospitals--Virginia.
  • Public health administration--Virginia.
  • Public health--Virginia.
  • Public records--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Quarantine--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Smallpox--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Geographical Names:

  • Louisa County (Va.)--History--18th Century.
  • Louisa County (Va.)--History--19th Century.
  • Genre and Form Terms:

  • Health and Medical--Virginia--Louisa County.
  • Local government records--Virginia--Louisa County.

Significant Places Associated With the Collection

  • Louisa County (Va.)--History--18th Century.
  • Louisa County (Va.)--History--19th Century.

Documents of Interest

Mental Health Records (selected)
  • Sarah Armstrong, 1771

    "Capable of Working at the cards & Wheel &c But Incapable of Manageing or making any Advantage of her Estate."

  • John Baker, 1790

    Justices did not recommend him to a mental hospital because the found that he "was not entirely void of reason."

  • Elizabeth Hardesty, 1853

    Court sought input from Superintendent of the Lunatic Asylum at Staunton.

  • Two individuals in jail for lunacy, 1871

    Jenetta Michie (race not given) and Isaac Jackson (colored).

  • Jane Greenfield 1876

    Confined to jail "there being no room in the asylum provided for col'd persons."

  • Three individuals in jail for lunacy, 1886 and n.d.

    Susan Crew (race not given) and Betsy Nuckolls (colored) were sent to the "Pinel Hospital" in Richmond due to Eastern, Western, and Central Asylums being full. Richard Chiles/Dick Crew was released.

  • Isaac Harris, 1899

    (Race not given) Was to be sent to the Lunatic Asylum at Petersburg, which was known as the hosptial for people of color.