Dictionary of Virginia Biography

By Monroe, Elizabeth Brand | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Monroe, Elizabeth Brand, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Volume 3 (Caperton-Daniels) * Sara B. Bearss, John G. Deal, Donald W. Gunter, Marianne E. Julienne, John T. Kneebone, Brent Tarter, and Sandra Gioia Treadway, eds. * Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006 * xxii, 700 pp. * $49.95

I spent the four days of Thanksgiving weekend 2006 reading 700 pages of Virginia biographies (Caperton to Daniels). I lost the weekend in the sense of other tasks, but I savored Virginia history. I doubt if many other Dictionary of Virginia Biography (DVE) readers will choose the cover-to-cover technique. But if they do, they will encounter a twentieth-century governor (John Nichols Dalton) and a seventeenthcentury deputy governor (Sir Thomas Dale); multiple members of the General Assembly, black and white, male and female; and a few state judges. More unusual subjects include Lucy Ann White Cox, a Confederate vivandière or daughter of the regiment; Fighting Dick Colley, a southwestern Virginia frontier character; Chauco, who warned the colonists of Opechancanough's plans to attack in 1622; Ann Pierce Parker Cowper, a principal in a nineteenth-century divorce; August Fletcher Crabtree, a "shipwright of miniatures"; and Francis Langhorne Dade, hero of the second Seminole War in Florida. Along the way there are lots of educators, a sprinkling of Native Americans, and many Baptists preachers.

As readers of this journal will know from the reviews of earlier volumes of the Dictionary (review of volume 1 by Thomas H. Appleton, Jr., in Vol. 108, no. 1 [2000], p. 85, and review of volume 2 by Mark F. Odintz in Vol. 110, no. 1 [2002], p. 98), the editors project twelve volumes containing approximately 6,000 biographies of Virginia men and women who "made significant contributions to the history or culture of their locality, state, or nation" (p. vi). Generally, the subject also lived "a significant portion of his or her life in Virginia" (p. vi), and died before 31 December 2000. Volume three contains the stories of 471 such Virginians. Many public figures gained automatic inclusion. These include high-ranking elected and appointed state officials, Virginia-born presidents, those involved in writing and rewriting the state and federal constitutions, plus general officers from Virginia who served in the American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War, winners of international prizes (like the Nobel Prize), and presidents of Virginia colleges and universities. Other entries identify significant ministers, teachers, presidents of corporations, philanthropists, artists, civic leaders, writers, club women, engineers, doctors, sports figures, and an occasional criminal or two (identified as "notorious" or as a "principal" in a trial). Each biography includes an identifying phrase (member of the Council of State, historian, athletic director), birth date, parents' names, and connections to other profiled Virginians, a paragraph on early life and education, several paragraphs on career, circumstances of death and date, and a list of sources. The source lists are excellent as are the contextual career statements for those subjects about whom little is known. If I had a quibble about the formula for presentation, it would be the absence of a summary paragraph evaluating the subjects' accomplishments.

So, who has been omitted? Among others the editors mention Henry clay and William Clark because their careers "became inextricably linked with other places" (p. vi). I agree on clay. Yet Clark spent almost half of his 68 years in either Virginia or Kentucky (and the editors have included Kentucky and West Virginia before their separations as falling within "Virginia"). He looked upon himself as a Virginian probably more than the actor Joseph Gotten, who left at age eighteen and rarely returned, or baseball player Raymond Emmett Dandridge, who left at twenty and apparently never returned. …

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