May 10-16, 2002
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Library acquires historic Cabell family papers, creates a Web site highlighting the collection

Joseph Carrington Cabell By Melissa Cox Norris

The University Library has acquired the papers of Joseph Carrington Cabell, a 19th-century Board of Visitors member and rector of the University, as well as a planter, political leader and statesman.

The Cabell papers come to the University Library partly through purchase and partly through gift. In the early 20th century, Joseph Hartwell Cabell placed the Cabell papers in the library for safekeeping. From that time until his death in 1948, he continued to deposit materials relating to Joseph Carrington Cabell and the Cabell family. The University recently purchased this unique collection of 6,500 items held on deposit from the estate of Joseph Hartwell Cabell. In addition, Robert Self, great-grandson of Hartwell Cabell and administrator of his estate, has given the library 4,200 items of the correspondence of Joseph Carrington Cabell and other family members.

“The Cabell papers form one of the most comprehensive looks at education, politics, economics, and social and family life in 19th-century Virginia and the United States,” said Michael Plunkett, director of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

The Cabell Papers (ca. 1731-1917) consist of correspondence, diaries, account books, financial and legal papers and other material. They are chiefly the papers of Joseph Carrington Cabell (1778-1856). However, there is considerable material generated by other members of the Cabell family, including William Cabell, William D. Cabell, Nathaniel Francis Cabell, Mayo Cabell, Joseph L. Cabell and Philip B. Cabell.

The papers include documents regarding the founding and early years of the University. Prominent correspondents include John Quincy Adams, John Hartwell Cocke, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Singleton Mosby, Thomas Jefferson Randolph and George Washington.

The papers shed light on life in 19th-century Virginia and on the politics of the period (Joseph C. Cabell, who lived in a part of Amherst County that now is in Nelson County, served in the state legislature for nearly 30 years). In addition, they contain details about agriculture, slavery, social life, travels in England, France, Holland and Italy from 1802-1806, and about the Cabell family itself.
The Cabell papers are cataloged in VIRGO, the online catalog of the University Library. They are available for study in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and will move to the new Special Collections building soon to be constructed.

Family member Randolph Cabell of Clarke County has provided funds to establish an endowment that will improve access to and help preserve the Cabell family papers. The library is producing a guide to the collection and a Web site that contains digitized images of selected historical items from the papers. A work in progress, the Web site, located at, contains a database of bibliographic references of Cabell holdings across the state, as well as biographical and historical information about prominent members of the Cabell family, including William Cabell, Mary Cabell Horsley, Nicholas Cabell and Joseph Carrington Cabell.


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