Garth Paper Inventory at Swem Library
    by Kim Uglum


Friday, July 28, I made a trip to the Special Collections at the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. Earlier in the sessions, I had stumbled across a collection of over 1,200 letters, receipts, logs, and other documents that were in a collection at the Swem Library. Unfortunately, only one letter from the whole group was scanned and online, so we decided we had to see if there was anything that would help us in our research of the Birdwood Planation, the construction of the house, the evolution of the name “Birdwood”, the Garth family, enslaved and agriculture records, and plats or maps of land that the Garths had owed in Albemarle. After searching through descriptions in the collection finding aid, I made a list of which sections I needed to see, scheduled for the collection item to be pulled, and made my way to Williamsburg.

It was initially overwhelming to start searching because each folder had a large conglomeration of pieces that may or may not be useful for our research, were organized in a large period of time, and I had to decipher the handwriting. Some of the collections proved easier to overcome than others. All in all, I found a variety of items that didn’t seem very useful at first, until they were later connected to information found in “The Garth Family 1734-1986” by Rosalie Davis. I found requests for planks with their measurements, other orders for shingles, window frames, door frames and doors, and a letter about sending extra plaster.

I also found receipts for the purchase of enslaved peoples, recording names, ages and gender. Perhaps most exciting were the plats recording the different pieces of land that either Thomas or Jessie Garth purchased. Finally, I found one reference to ‘Bird Wood” scrolled along the bottom of a letter from 1836, with a few doodles of the letter ‘B’ around it. Birdwood was not referenced in the letter itself. This particular finding correlates with the information from Davis’s book, recorded from Ada Payne Bankhead’s memoir about the construction of the house, stating that the current Birdwood house was built in 1833.

Courtsey of the Swem Special Collections. 


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