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Hening, VA Statutes at Large

Since about, oh, 99.8798 percent of my ancestors lived in Virginia or, at a minimum, passed through the Old Dominion at one point or another, one of my favorite people in the whole wide world is William Waller Hening. Not a chap I’ve met personally, mind you; he’s been dead for, oh, give or take a few days, 184 years. And yes, before you ask, you should already know the answer: of course, he was another law geek. Thank heavens.

This particular law geek was born around 1750 and died 31 March 1828.1 He was admitted to practice law in Virginia in 1789, became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1804, and served in public office until his death in 1828.2

And this particular law geek didn’t write a dictionary. What he did, instead, was collect and compile a monumental 13-volume work containing the laws enacted by Virginia’s legislative bodies (the House of Burgesses and the General Assembly) between 1619 and 1792.

These 13 volumes are cited collectively as William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619, 13 vols. (Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York, 1809-1823). For short, they’re referred to as Hening’s Statutes at Large. They were published by acts of the Virginia General Assembly dated 5 February 1808, 10 March 1819 and 24 January 1823 3 and have been referred to by a former Virginia State Archivist as “a signal contribution to southern scholarship” and “a work known to all historians.”4

Just about anything you may ever need to know about the colonial and early Commonwealth laws of Virginia, you can find in Hening’s Statutes at Large. Need to know when the town of Stevenburg was founded in Culpeper County? It’s in Volume 11, Laws of 1782.5 Want to see how the militia was organized in 1777? No problem. Volume 9, Laws of 1777.6 Trying to figure out when Randolph County was formed? Volume 12, Laws of 1786.7

Now, the volumes of the original Hening’s Statutes at Large are available online in digital image format. Through Google Books, you can find:

     • Vol. 1 (1619 – 1660)
     • Vol. 2 (1660 – 1682)
     • Vol. 3 (1684 – 1710)
     • Vol. 4 (1711 – 1736)
     • Vol. 5 (1738 – 1748)
     • Vol. 6 (1748 – 1755)
     • Vol. 7 (1756 – 1763)
     • Vol. 8 (1764 – 1773)
     • Vol. 9 (1775 – 1778)
     • Vol. 10 (1779 – 1781)
     • Vol. 11 (1782 – 1784)
     • Vol. 12 (1785 – 1788)
     • Vol. 13 (1789 – 1792)

And a search for “Hening Statutes” at the Internet Archive will turn up these digital images as well.

There’s also a reprint series available in most major libraries: William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619, 13 vols., reprint (Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, 1969).

All of these resources are terrific, but even better for us online-in-our-jammies genealogists, there is Freddie L. Spradlin. Fred is the Virginia state coordinator for the USGenWeb Project and, in that capacity, keyed in a transcription of Hening’s statutes in a fully word-searchable format that is just wonderful. This labor of love is titled, simply, Hening’s Statutes at Large, and is one of the best online resources for Virginia legal research that exists.

Fred is not a law geek. He describes himself as a 1963 graduate of Virginia Tech who served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring. Then, he writes:

I began a second career with TRW in Redondo Beach, CA. A “victim” of the end of the cold war, my job was terminated and I resumed the genealogical research begun in 1976 and suspended in 1983. Typically obsessive in retirement activities as I was in previous employment, my “other” hobby is duplicate bridge.8

I think we can safely say that Fred’s a genealogy geek. And aren’t all of us with Virginia roots so glad he is?


SOURCES

  1. G. Brown Goode, Virginia Cousins: A Study of the Ancestry and Posterity of John Goode of Whitby, a Virginia Colonist of the Seventeenth Century, with Notes Upon Related Families, a Key to Southern Genealogy and a History of the English Surname Gode, Goad, Goode Or Good from 1148 to 1887 (Richmond : J. W. Randolph & English, 1887), 225; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 11 Apr 2012).
  2. William J. Van Schreeven, “William Waller Hening,” 22 William & Mary Quarterly 2d (April 1942) 161-164.
  3. William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619, preface to the Second Edition, vol. I (New York : 1823), xxiii-xxiv.
  4. Van Schreeven, “William Waller Hening,” 161.
  5. Laws of 1782, chap. XIX, in Hening, Hening’s Statutes at Large, 11: 36-38.
  6. Laws of 1777, chap. VII, in Hening, Hening’s Statutes at Large, 9: 291-297.
  7. Laws of 1786, chap. CI, in Hening, Hening’s Statutes at Large, 12: 394-395.
  8. “Introduction of page owner,” Freddie Lee Spradlin, Maj, U.S.A.F., Ret (http://home.earthlink.net/~fspradlin/intro.htm : accessed 11 Apr 2012).
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