Valuable colonial-era book back in Urbanna

by Larry S. Chowning

This article appeared in the July 28, 2005 issue of Southside Sentinel.

Valuable colonial-era book back in Urbanna

Every once in a while, a thumb-print of Middlesex County's past surfaces and gives us a glimpse of our Native American, African and English heritage and culture.

Whether it's the bones of our ancestors accidentally dug up by progress, an old Indian spearhead washed ashore by a northeast storm, or the discovery of some long lost writing, each sends a humbling message to us that we too will one day be part of Middlesex County history.

In 1980, the Town of Urbanna celebrated its 300th anniversary and one of the gifts given to the town was one of those discoveries. That year, former librarian Juliet Moody of Richmond found a book that had been part of the Rosegill library and she presented it to the town to be part of its tricentennial celebration.

The May 29, 1980 issue of the Southside Sentinel described the event. It stated, "A surprise gift was presented by Juliet Moody of Richmond. It was a well-preserved book from the original Rosegill library of Ralph Wormeley.

"Mrs. Moody said she found the volume among some old books destined for King and Queen County," stated the article.

"Published in 1731, it is the "History of the British Parliament" and an inscription on the inside cover reads, 'Bought at Ralph Wormeley's sale in Urbanna.' An unidentified Mr. Stevenson signed it," stated the article.

The book was accepted by the town and prominently displayed during tri-centennial festivities in the Bank of Middlesex building, which is now the BB&T bank building in Urbanna.

The book supposedly was being stored in the bank vault. However, during transfer of ownership of the bank from the Bank of Middlesex to First Virginia Bank, the bank gave the book to the Middlesex County Museum for safekeeping.

Recently, after realizing the true owner of the book, Douglas T. Gray, a member of the museum board, gave the book back to the town and it was presented on July 18 to town council.

The Wormeley family and/or descendants owned Rosegill from 1649 to around 1835.

During colonial days, the family was one of the most distinguished and wealthy families in the Southern Colony. The sweet Tidewater Virginia tobacco grown on Rosegill land and the deepwater creek provided a means for the family to prosper and its wealth to grow.

It was mentioned in several early Colonial writings that the library at Rosegill was one of the largest in the colony.

The town plans to put the 274-year-old book on display at the recently renovated Urbanna Visitor's Center, which is located in the historic Old Tobacco Warehouse.