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Using Women's History Sources in the Archives at the Library of Virginia

Legislative Petitions

Petitioners often used legislative petitions to seek legislative action, financial aid, and divorce. Melinda Jones submitted a petition from Richmond in 1850. Her husband had coerced her into an acting career, fathered two daughters by her, and then left for Europe. “Alone, unaided, and uncheered by a single ray of hope for the future,” Jones saw her marriage as nothing more than “a torturing tie.” After reviewing her moving testimony, the General Assembly approved her request.

Some women requested exemption from the 1806 law requiring free Blacks to leave the state. In 1819, Richmond resident Judith Hope, the daughter of a free Black barber, sought permission to remain in Virginia. Other women asked for financial assistance after their husbands were killed or disabled in military service. Norfolk resident Mary Webley received compensation herself in 1776, after her leg was broken by a cannonball fired from a British warship.

The Legislative Petitions Digital Collection (1776–1865) can be searched by keyword, locality, and subject. Legislative petitions are also available on microfilm. Some early petitions have been abstracted in W. Randolph Church's book Virginia Legislative Petitions, 1776–1782 (Richmond, 1984).