“General Contingent Fund” Records in the Library of Virginia

Library of Virginia, Record Group 48, Auditor of Public Accounts, Inventory Entry 139: General Contingent Fund, Accession 1081005 (23 feet, arranged chronologically by year).

The historical note for the General Contingent Fund, reproduced in the LVA online catalog, reads: “The term contingent fund encompasses a wide variety of funds set aside for special purposes by the General Assembly. Contingent expenses included those for office supplies, printing, and maintenance of public buildings.”

There are two basic points to be made with respect to the General Contingent Fund. First, the records encompass 23 feet (!) in the LVA collection, spanning the era from the Revolution to just before the outbreak of the Civil War. This makes it quite a large collection which, it should be underscored, is entirely unindexed. The collection begins in 1776 and the body of records relating to the Revolutionary era are all in the first box. These are the records with which we are concerned.

The second general point to be made about the General Contingent Fund is that, as the title implies, its contents are more than a little “random” in nature. As stated in the general note above, the contingent fund from the Revolutionary War years show expenses relating to “office supplies, printing, and maintenance of public buildings.” Indeed, there are many vouchers/certificates for payment issued to individuals for providing blank books for public offices; for supervising the printing of paper money; for cleaning the Capitol and government offices; etc. Ho-hum, right? Not so fast. The records from the Revolution go far beyond merely these kinds of expenses. There are a great many certificates for men who rode express, mostly for pressing issues related to the militia and mostly in the western counties. For example, on 1 Oct 1780, Col Walter Crockett certified that John Criger rode express “from my house” to Col William Preston’s on publick service fifty miles going and forty miles returning (in folder “1781”). If you’re looking for more drama than this, there are accounts to a handful of county jailers for men (who are named) jailed in their respective counties on charges of treason. The account of the jailer of Henry County shown below is the most spectacular of these accounts. These kinds of records are quite rare.
General Contingent Fund, Henry County

There are also a great many certificates issued to reimburse those who assisted public officials in the execution of their public duties, such as (1) those who furnished supplies to men removing the public records from Charlottesville to Staunton in advance of British troops; (2) those who furnished supplies to militiamen guarding the Surveyor running the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Virginia; etc.

Finally, there are items in the collection that simply defy categorization. We may cite the account of an 18 Dec 1780 court proceeding in James City County by which slave Matthew, belonging to Benjamin Bryan, was convicted on charges of burglary and sentenced to death by hanging (in folder “1783”). The best example of “randomness” that I can offer, by far, is the steamy poem written by some unknown Casanova to his beloved Phebe in file “1783.” These last two items are shown below, along with one of the many certificates in the collection signed by Thomas Jefferson. This collection is another box of chocolates among many boxes of chocolates in the Auditor of Public Accounts Record Group. While I have extracted some of the more interesting items from the Revolution from the General Contingent Fund in my blog index, the collection is begging for a thorough indexing. Without one, it will continue to be ignored and/or underutilized.
General Contingent Fund, slaveGeneral Contingent Fund, PhebeGeneral Contingent Fund 1