CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The story of Chesterfield County begins with a piece of paper.
The “Commission of the Peace” was signed by English official William Gooch on May 12th, 1749 but in the nearly 270 years since the paper’s inception, the document has had its own unique journey.
For about a hundred years it hung inside the county’s courthouse until the Civil War.
As union soldiers headed back north, one soldier decided to take the county’s charter. For nearly one hundred years there was no sign of it. That is until 1954.
By chance, Chesterfield author Frances Earle Lutz, who wrote about the history of the county, came across an ad in a New York bookstore. It was a historical document from Chesterfield. Knowing what it was, he immediately bought it for $43.60.
Lutz returned it to the county making headlines at the time. A county judge kept it for years.
Eventually, he allowed what would become the historical society to take it but around 1987, “It disappeared again. This thing has a habit of now you see it, now you don’t,” said Liess van der Linden-Brusse, a volunteer with the Chesterfield County Historical Society.
She first heard about the missing document from volunteer George “Buddy” Cranford.
“History is my passion,” said Cranford.
It was in 2003 when Cranford, who had just left the Air Force, was asked to organize the society’s artifacts. He noticed their oldest document was nowhere to be found.
“My job in the Air Force was investigator, my wheels are turning,” said Cranford.
For 15 years Cranford looked for the document with no success.
“I kept opening boxes, and opening boxes,” said Cranford.
Last fall van der Linden-Brusse was organizing the society’s library.
“I finally got to a box that said historic newspapers, and hiding at the very bottom of this box was an archival envelope with guess what inside?”
“And I’m not going to repeat what I said when I saw that document. This is not for television,” said van der Linden-Brusse.
She immediately called Cranford. “When she told me what she’d found, I threw papers up the air. I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off me,” said Cranford.
After a long discussion, they decided to return the document to the Courthouse.
“I was really in shock,” said Chesterfield County Circuit Court Clerk Wendy Hughes. Under a court order, Hughes had it locked away.
“Obviously considering the journey that this document has been on, we needed it to have a final, secure resting place,” said Hughes.
For van der Linden-Brusse and Cranford, it’s a relief.
“It’s a quest that I don’t have to keep pursuing,” said Cranford.
“I just wanted to make sure that this particular search came to a good end and it has,” said van der Linden-Brusse.
The charter is now safe and sound in the courthouse. The historical society is still trying to figure out how it went missing. The court is working to find a way the public can view the document, but they will have copies you can see at the courthouse.