State Highway Marker

State Highway Marker

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A County's Records Lost To Fire . . . And It's Not New Kent.

The following piece might seem of peripheral interest to those interested in New Kent history, but beside the physical proximity there is the fact that King William County was formed out of King and Queen County in 1702 which itself had been part of New Kent until 1691.

And it shows how county records could be lost to fire even in the post-bellum era.


King William County-Clerk's Office Burnt on Sunday Morning. The clerk's office of King William County Court was destroyed by fire about 6 o'clock Sunday morning with all the records and papers of the County and Circuit courts. Nothing was saved.
Mr. Winston, the clerk of both courts, was in the city yesterday buying new books, &c., and he states his belief that the fire was the work of an incendiary. A window-blind usually kept closed was found open when the fire was first seen, and this, with other circumstances, he thinks removes the probability of an accidental fire. There were no stoves used in the building. The heating was done by the use of wood in a big open fire-place, in front of which there was a hearth near about five feet square. Mr. Winston's deputy was the last to leave the place Saturday night, and he informs Mr. Winston that he left the fire very low. The fire seems to have broken out on the lower floor, and when discovered was far beyond control.
The building was of brick, two stories high, and covered with slate, It had been burnt once before (about 1840), but then most of the records were saved. It was insured for $1,200 in the Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company, and that sum will go a considerable ways towards replacing it; but the loss of records is irreparable. Many of these dated back to 1715, and with them were evidences of debt, deeds and deed-books, and business paper that cannot be replaced, and which will entail a world of trouble upon the people of the county. There was no fire-proof safe for the keeping of precious records.
The loss is complete.
Mr. Winston estimates his own loss in evidences of debt and other property, at |$2,500, All the deeds, except one sent to his house, had been put on record, but originals, by hundreds, were burnt with the books.
There are plenty of other counties in the State with papers of equal value as poorly protected against fire as was King William. Well would it be if they took warning from her misfortune.

-The Richmond Dispatch, January 20, 1885

(Oh, and I'm sure the open fire left unattended over night had nothing to with the loss.)

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