Who is Who?

While we may not house revered documents like the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States, our Collection does include some interesting nuggets of local history.

One such document is a power of attorney between "J.M & H.C.W." The document was a gift from Mr. William T. Willis in 1981. I am always curious about who individuals are that are referenced in these old local documents and tend to want to know their story.

The first thing to note is that there are no signatures, thus this was probably a draft because the names are not fully spelled, which would be legally required. Now, let's look at the initials of those involved. "J.M." is easy as the envelope was addressed to:



"James Madison Esq.

Rector Univ: Va

Montpelier"

Madison was rector of the university following Jefferson's death (7/4/1826) until his failing health forced him to step down in 1836; same year as his death on June 28th. He was more involved than having been a rector; Madison aided Jefferson with the founding of the university. UVA has letters that were written between Jefferson and Madison providing strong evidence of Madison's involvement with the university's founding. There is one letter expressing Jefferson's view of Madison's retirement from public life: "The Sage of Monticello was anxious to have the Sage of Montpelier back in the neighborhood because [Jefferson] had already staked out a significant retirement project for them: the creation of the University of Virginia." (Jim Todd, UVA, Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, Feb. 2020)

"J.M" is solved, but, "H.C.W." is a mystery thus far. It would be great if it were a member of the Willis family, but I’ve not been able to link a “Willis” through UVA to Madison. I reached out to the Special Collections Library of UVA to see if there is any roster of professors for 1827 to see if I can match a name with the initials. I was provided with a link listing UVA professors and others and after a lengthy search I found several possible names: Hugh Walker, Henry C. Ward, H. Watson, and William H. C. Whiting. No “Willis”. These individuals were all at UVA in 1827. I have not received any further response from the "Ask a Librarian" link, so I'm still investigating.

This particular power of attorney empowers their (Madison and HCW) legal representative ("J.H.L.") to recover all money or moneys due to them through a "covenant of agreement entered into on the tenth day of April" 1815. After sifting through several Internet-based digital archives, I have found a potential match for J.H.L. John Law was an attorney in Orange in 1827. He was the Prosecutor during the 1826 (Benjamin) Bolls-(John) Gilliand murder trial. I found reference to Law serving as a prosecutor in the earlier 1820's, but nothing (yet) about the man himself.

The last paragraph reads Majr. Cowherd can give come acct. of the Origin & location of our claim for land on Sandy Big(?) or Little. He gave me a memorandum on the (illegible) which I do not now find. Major Cowherd was Major Francis Cowherd, born in Orange County in 1753 making him a contemporary of James Madison (b. 1851). Following his service as an officer in the American Revolution, Cowherd served Orange County as Justice of Peace, High Sheriff and Major of the Orange County Militia. He died in his home, "Oak Hill" near Gordonsville, which I believe is still owned by his descendants.

As you can see, a lot can be learned from routine documents of the past. However, as you also read, I'm not sure yet who a couple of these individuals were...yet.