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The VHS Brings Out the Big Guns (Literally!) with Arming the Commonwealth


image of Arming the Commonwealth exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society. Photo by Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis

From protecting yourself from enemy combatants to finding dinner for your family, weapons have played a significant role in Virginia history. Our newest exhibition, Arming the Commonwealth, made possible by the Cecil R. and Edna S. Hopkins Family Foundation, explores how the state became a hub for weapon manufacturing and how Virginians used them in their everyday lives.

Following the American Revolution, Virginia was the only state to arm its militia fully with locally manufactured weapons. In its short operational history, the Virginia Manufactory of Arms produced more than 58,000 muskets and bayonets, 10,000 swords, 4,000 pistols, and 200 artillery pieces for the state militia. Later, the U.S. Congress, recognizing the problem with relying on foreign countries for weapons, designated two sites for armories. One was Springfield, Massachusetts; the other was Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).

The average citizen used weapons for hunting or for personal protection. One of the pieces that always draws in crowds, and one of my personal favorites, is the English Long Fowler, known at the VHS as the “Woodson musket.” I have met several Woodson descendants (and there are a lot of them) wanting to see the musket on display. It’s 7 feet, 4 inches long and has a .80 caliber barrel. It’s huge! It may have been used to hunt stationary birds or in the military as a “wall gun.”

Image of WoodsonMusket (VHS accession number: 1929.8) on display in Arming the Commonwealth exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society

English Long Fowler (“Woodson” musket), mid 17th century, Barrel; about 1750, Lock; about 1800, Stock, VHS accession number: 1929.8 (On loan from Charles Granville Scott and conserved with gifts from Woodson descendants). By Woodson family tradition, the oldest part of the gun was used by Lt. Col. Thomas Ligon, who helped Sara Woodson defend her Prince George County home from an Indian attack on April 18, 1644.

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Beat the summer heat with football cards at the VHS this Saturday, July 16


When it was too hot to play sandlot baseball or football, I’d spend most of those hot summer days heading to the pool or going to the local sports card store. As my wife will tell you, I’m not much of a pool person, so the card shop was my choice. The card shop provoked my senses like a baseball game. There was the smell of the newly opened pack of cards, not the newly mowed grass. There was the sound of the chatter between a patron and the shop owner about a potential trade, not the sound of the crack of the bat. And there was the sight of the rare rookie card under the glass, not the sight of the home run going over the fence. These all stirred my senses. Whether I was searching for a Jerry Rice rookie card in a pack of Topps cards, trying to complete my set, or looking to trade a Yankees card for one of my favorite Braves players, I always had a wonderful time. Times have changed and card shops are fewer now that eBay has provided an online venue for card trading and sales.

This weekend I’ll get to rekindle my childhood journeys to the local sports card shop, when Bill Hall (former sports card shop owner) comes to the VHS and brings more than 800 cards from his collection to discuss the “History of Football Cards.”  The program takes place at 10:30 a.m. and is repeated at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 16. Tickets range from $4 to $12.

Bill Hall will cover more than 100 years of football card history including:

  • Tobacco cards
  • Rare cards (including error cards and chase cards)
  • Card rating systems
  • Modern era of Topps
  • eBay and card collecting

Bill Hall has been collecting for more than sixty years and has been featured in several newspaper articles and owned three sports card shops. In 1981, he presented a sports memorabilia exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Come to the VHS on Saturday, July 16, to revisit your childhood (or adult) hobby and see more than 800 football cards from the collection of Bill Hall.

Here’s a teaser of some of the rare cards you’ll get a chance to see:

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Event Information:

“History of Football Cards” takes place at 10:30 a.m. and is repeated at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 16. Tickets range from $4 to $12. Purchase your tickets now for the History of Football Cards.

This event is a special exhibition program related to the current exhibition, Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Why We Need to Talk About James Armistead Lafayette


The following blog was written by Sarah Wells, a senior at St. Catherine’s School, who just completed an internship in the public relations and marketing department at the Virginia Historical Society.


Lizzie Oglesby

I, like many other young people these days, am undeniably obsessed with the Broadway musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not only did the beautiful music and incredible performance change my life when I saw the show, but so did the history. Because of the show, I want to learn all that I possibly can about the men and women who were influential during the American Revolution. Hamilton has encouraged me to go out and learn more about the interesting people that fought in the war. I know, it sounds crazy—a seventeen-year-old girl actually doing research on something that is not required for school? Madness! This miraculous occurrence just further proves how important Hamilton really is.

When listening to the musical, I heard about a lot of men whose names I had either never heard or had only seen mentioned off-hand in a section of a textbook. One of these men was the Marquis de Lafayette. I had heard of him, but while listening to the musical I found out how important he really was. I had seen a picture somewhere on the internet of an engraving of the Marquis de Lafayette standing with a horse and another man. The caption below the engraving only mentioned the name of the Frenchman, and I saw a series of comments questioning who the other man could be. I never thought I would learn the truth about that mysterious man, but then I saw a small plaque in the Story of Virginia exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society. This plaque told the story of James Armistead Lafayette.

Lafayette and Body Servant James, 1993.178

“Marquis de Lafayette and Body Servant James” Accession number: 1993.178. This is a late 18th century print of the painting I saw depicting the Marquis de Lafayette and James depicting the end of the Revolution.

James Armistead Lafayette was a slave during the Revolution who volunteered to join the Continental Army and served under the Marquis de Lafayette. He was a spy, reporting to Lafayette the actions of Benedict Arnold (after he turned to the British) and eventually Lord Cornwallis leading up to the battle of Yorktown. He informed the Continental Army of the British movements and strategies while also feeding the British false information to keep them at bay. Lafayette played a pivotal role in leading the British to the attack at Yorktown, yet he is very rarely mentioned in accounts of the war. The Marquis de Lafayette abhorred slavery and wanted James to be free more than anything. When James was granted his freedom after the war, he took the last name Lafayette because the general had helped him so much.

James Armistead Lafayette, 1993.215

An 1824 engraving of James Armistead Lafayette with the text of a testimonial written by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784. Accession number: 1993.215.

Lafayette’s story is exactly the kind that should be told today—he served his country even though it didn’t consider him as a whole person, and he found strength in the friendship of others. Hamilton helps everyone relate to American history, and by talking about James Armistead Lafayette, we can take another step toward helping everyone find a place in America’s history. The VHS strives to connect people to American history through the story of Virginia, and to “inspire future generations,” and by showing the lives of underappreciated heroes like James Armistead Lafayette, the historical society achieves just that.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove posts that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas for the Sports Fan


With Fathers Day right around the corner, I thought I’d share with you some great opportunities at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) for those dads who are sports fans like me. Here’s a list of several sports-related items and programs that the VHS has to offer and would make great gifts for dads!

footballThe Pro Football Hall of Fame has come to the VHS. Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is on display until September 4. If your dad loves Sundays because of Pro Football, then he’ll love this exhibition, which features 200 artifacts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No matter what his favorite team—Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Washington, etc.—he’ll find something to enjoy in this fascinating exhibition. Gridiron Glory also has several interactives and hands-on activities that will entertain all members of the family. Purchase your tickets now for this special exhibition.


Baseball game at the C&O Railway Field Day in Richmond, VA in 1923. Photo by Walter Washington Foster. Accession number 1991.1.43541.

It’s the 150th Anniversary of organized baseball in Richmond and we’re celebrating at the VHS. Our national pastime has had a rich history in Richmond, and Scott Mayer will be at the VHS at the end of June for a two-part class on “Baseball History and Richmond.”  He’ll discuss the origins of the game, what impact the Civil War had on it, the locations of Richmond’s professional teams, and the evolution of the modern game. Join us for a fascinating class on our national pastime’s link to Richmond. Purchase your tickets now for this class.

BillDudleyMost dads collected sports cards at sometime in their lives. Join us at the VHS for a discussion on the History of Football Cards. Bill Hall (sports card collector and former sports card shop owner) and Greg Hansard (Manager of Web and Digital Resources and sports enthusiast) will take you through the history of football cards from early tobacco cards to the modern era of Topps. This class will be offered at 10:30 a.m. and repeated at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, and will feature more than 300 football cards from the collection of Bill Hall.  Learn more about this event.

museumshopOur Museum shop is loaded with sports related books and merchandise. Here are my top five picks for dads.

  1. Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book: Where Greatness Lives($34.99)
    Edited by John Thorn (creator of ‘Total Football’) and Joe Horrigan (Pro Football Hall of Fame), this beautifully bound book is a great keepsake for any serious football fan!
  2. Washington Redskins Hall of Fame Legends Mug ($11.99)
    Sip your daily coffee surrounded by the best of the best when you drink from this Hall of Fame Legends Mug.
  3. Unbelievable Is Believable Here [DVD] ($24.95)
    Filmmaker Phil Wall documents the story of the 2011 Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team.
  4. Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era ($34.95)
    Eric Allen Hall has created an intimate, nuanced portrait of a great athlete who stood at the crossroads of sports and the struggle for equal justice.
  5. Baseball and Richmond: A History of the Professional Game, 1884–2000 ($35.00)
    Scott Mayer and W. Harrison Daniel discuss the players and owners and also the nearly twelve-decade relationship shared by the team and the city.

A VHS membership is also a great gift for dads.  Discounts on museum shop purchases and programs, and free admission to our exhibition galleries are just some of the great benefits of membership.  Purchase a membership for dad today!

Greg Hansard is the Manager of Web and Digital Services at the Virginia Historical Society. Read other posts by Greg.

Meet the Staff: Evan Liddiard


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet the Staff - Evan Liddiard

What is your job title?

Senior Education Specialist

When did you begin working at the VHS?

July 2011

What are your job duties?

I am in charge of HistoryConnects, the distance learning and digital outreach initiative of the VHS. This includes live, interactive programming, our online teacher institutes, and creating and sharing digital educational resources with our audiences here in Virginia, across the country, and all over the world!

HistoryConnects studio map

I keep a map in my office that shows all of the places in the U.S. that we have reached through HistoryConnects. The list of locations expands every day!

How did you become interested in history? Read more…

What Are the Five Physical Regions of Virginia’s Geography?


The Five Regions of VirginiaThe geography of Virginia has shaped both the history and economy of the state. It brought settlers and wars to the region, the federal capital to its edge, and its harbors facilitated commerce and the twentieth-century military buildup. Terrain and climate have determined the nature of the state’s agriculture and industries. To help understand this setting that has been critical to life in Virginia for thousands of years, geographers have identified five physical regions in the state: the Coastal Plain (Tidewater), Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau. To illustrate these five regions, selections from the display of landscape paintings at the Virginia Historical Society are pictured here.



A low-lying Coastal Plain spans the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Georgia, extending westward from the ocean to a point where the flatness of the landscape stops and in Virginia the terrain rises 300 feet above sea level. As with all of the Virginia regions, its Coastal Plain was sculpted by hundreds of millions of years of geological evolution. At its core is a solid rock foundation formed 250–500 million years ago. The surface is covered by a thick wedge of eroded clay, sand, and gravel—two thirds of which was carried eastward by Virginia’s many rivers. When sea levels rose and fell with the repeated melting and growth of large continental glaciers, this plain was alternately submerged and exposed. During the last Ice Age, 25,000 years ago, sea levels were dramatically low and the Coastal Plain extended far eastward—fifty miles or more than it does today. When the ice sheets melted, 5,000–6,000 years ago, the Chesapeake lowland filled to form a bay, and the Coastal Plain slowly uplifted.


“Piedmont” is a French word meaning “foot of the mountains.” The American Piedmont extends from Pennsylvania to Alabama. Virginia’s Piedmont is separated from its Coastal Plain by a “Fall Line,” where rivers, small waterfalls, and rapids cascade or “fall” off hard, resistant rocks as they make their way to the ocean. Those rivers give the state its unique geography that has strongly affected its history and economy. The “Fall Line” runs through the port cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg—beyond which the water is too shallow for deep-bottom ships to navigate.

The Piedmont is Virginia’s largest region. It is rolling hill country that gently rises to 1,000 feet, then doubles that height at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where its topography becomes more rugged.  The region’s bedrock—part of the ancient Appalachian mountain belt—is composed of a variety of rocks formed 541–2,500 million years ago, under extreme pressure and heat. Its geologic history is complex because during that time the bedrock was moved—some of it from outside of North America—by the shifting of oceans. This bedrock is covered by a twenty-meter blanket of deeply weathered rock (called “rotten rock”) that has been chemically changed by the Piedmont’s humid climate. Outcrops (exposed rock) are rarely found.


The Blue Ridge region runs nationally from southern Pennsylvania to the northern tip of South Carolina and Georgia. It is a rounded mountain range that looks blue from a distance. Its rugged appearance resulted from collisions there long ago of the most powerful geological forces. In Virginia, the rocks that form its core date from 1,000–1,600 million years ago; the oldest rocks in the region are more than a billion years old! Mountains were formed when rocks were pushed westward over the top of rock layers by an enormous force that was generated when two land masses to the east were squeezed together. Those two land masses later were ripped apart to become the continents of North American and Africa, an ocean formed, and as its sea level rose, sedimentary rocks were deposited in the Blue Ridge. That was 700–750 million years ago. The folding and faulting of this process of mountain formation left rocks deformed through heat and pressure. The continents were shoved together and split apart many times 245–540 million years ago, causing rocks to be deposited on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are covered with thick forests and rise to elevations more than 4,000 feet in the central and northern part of the state. Virginia’s southern Blue Ridge is a broad, relatively flat region, but the tallest peak in Virginia, Mount Rogers, is there (5,729 feet high).


Virginia’s Valley and Ridge region is part of a gigantic trough that runs from Quebec to Alabama and is called “the Great Valley.” Virginia’s portion is distinctive for its size (greater than that of any other state); its narrow and elongated parallel ridges (3,000–4,000 feet high); flat, lush valleys with gentle topography; and caves, caverns, and hot springs. The region developed its identity when bands of sedimentary rock that had been formed 252–541 million years ago were disturbed by a continental collision that produced a fold and thrust belt. Bands of rocks were caused to fold and move westward along thrust faults. They eroded differently, causing both ridges and valleys to be created. Sand and gravel washed down from the mountains of the Blue Ridge region; the sand and gravel in time turned into rock. At the end of this complex evolution, the surface of the Shenandoah Valley in central and northern Virginia emerged as both picturesque and fertile. Sandstone in the easternmost portion was overlain by carbonate deposits that in time produced caves and caverns in the subsurface.


The southwestern portion of Virginia is part of the great Appalachian Plateau that stretches from New York to Alabama. Virginia’s plateau is the smallest of the state’s five regions and contains only three counties (Wise, Dickenson, and Buchanan). The visible slope at its eastern edge gives the impression that it is a mountain range, but instead it is an eroded plain of sedimentary rock that has a high elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level—higher than that of the Valley and Ridge region. Thrust faults from the Valley and Ridge formed huge folds of rock beneath the plateau that failed to reach the surface. What resulted was a hilly and rugged terrain, strongly dissected by stream erosion, with many valleys and some portions of flat land. The upper layers of the plateau are covered with forests and are rich in coal, natural gas, and petroleum formed 250–540 million years ago.

Recommended reading:

William M. S. Rasmussen is lead curator and Lora M. Robins curator at the Virginia Historical Society.


Stamp Act Spoon, 1766


One in 8.5 Million

250 years ago today, the British Parliament repealed the controversial Stamp Act of 1765.


In order to help fund the expense of defending its American colonies, Great Britain instituted a tax on printed paper used by the colonists. Many in America opposed the Stamp Act, not because the tax was high, but because without representation in Parliament they had no voice in the decision. In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry introduced the “Virginia Resolves,” which argued that Virginia was subject to taxation only by a parliament to which the colony itself elected representatives. Eight other colonies followed Virginia’s lead and passed similar resolves by the end of 1765.


Among those opposed to the act was Landon Carter (1710–1778) of Richmond County. His form of protest was more personal. When he directed his agent in London to purchase several tablespoons for his home, he ordered that if the Stamp Act was repealed, the spoons should be made of silver. If the act was not repealed, the agent was to send him cheap bone or horn spoons.


The act was repealed on March 18, 1766, and Carter’s agent had the silver spoons engraved with Carter’s initials, the date 1766, and the triumphant inscription “Repeal of the American Stamp Act.” The controversy over the Stamp Act brought to light a growing schism between the colonists and their king.


Stamp Act Spoon

Gift of Elizabeth Carter Guest Hollerith and John Wellford Guest in memory of their mother, Carol Randolph Wellford Guest (Accession number 1972.12)

The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at

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