My friend looked at the VDOT map of Mecklenburg and wondered what the difference was between the shaded town areas and the rectangles. We investigated and learned that the dotted rectangle areas are magisterial districts. Then my friend discovered townships listed on the Library of Virginia website! I went back to my last post, and deleted the sentence “Virginia does not have townships.” I believe Virginia first had townships as part of the reconstruction period. But it is also possible for a place in Virginia to be a township today, which I will explain in this post.
A magisterial district is a voting area and also an area to record land ownership. There is no government entity as part of a magisterial district, and they only exist inside of counties. (Not in cities). There are nine magisterial districts in Mecklenburg. The VDOT map shows six of the nine magisterial districts. The magisterial areas in Mecklenburg are presently not the same as the voting districts according to current voting district maps.
The time period from the French and Indian war through the Civil War, militia officers performed the collection of taxes in Virginia. Instead of electing county officials, militia regimental officers acted as the county officials. “The Army Appropriation Act of 1867″ disbanded the militia in Virginia. The French and Indian war lasted 1754-1763. Mecklenburg formed in 1765. This means from the beginning of Mecklenburg county’s formation to 1867, Mecklenburg was organized by the militia.
Reconstruction in Virginia would have included many expensive undertakings, such as rebuilding roads, railroads, and bridges that were destroyed during the war. Education for children cost money, with parents paying all expenses. This excluded education for those who could not afford it. The Freedmen’s Bureau included funding for education of all newly freed enslaved, and all people of color. Public schools for white children began during this same time period. Newspapers at this time reported very heated debates over who should pay for education: parents, or use tax money?
During the time they existed, townships in Virginia could collect revenue. Schools would have been organized and funded by townships.
The Library of Virginia explains this transitional time period and the need for temporary townships. (during Virginia’s reconstruction). “The 1870 Virginia Constitution required that each county in the state be divided into no less than three townships (see Article VII, section 2). Based on the New England administrative organization of a county, each township would elect the administration officials for the offices of supervisor, clerk, assessor, collector, commissioner of the roads, overseer of the poor, justice of the peace, and constable. The supervisors of each township would comprise the board of supervisors for the county, and would be responsible for auditing the county accounts, examining the assessors’ books, regulating property valuation, and fixing the county levies. The Acts of Assembly provided that each township be divided into school and electoral districts (see Acts of Assembly 1869-1870, Chapter 39). A constitutional amendment in 1874 changed the townships into magisterial districts and each district elected one supervisor, three justices of the peace, one constable, and one overseer of the poor. The supervisors of the districts made up the county board of supervisors whose duties were identical as those set out in 1870. The published Acts of Assembly appended a list of township names by county following the acts for every year that townships existed in Virginia.” (A Guide to the Mecklenburg County (Va.) Report of commissioners appointed to lay off county into townships)
Mecklenburg County had 8 townships in 1870.
When I saw these place names, I realized the map I previously thought was an 1870 Census enumeration district map, was actually a map showing the townships. I wondered why, when so few maps existed for Mecklenburg, two maps were created less than 7 yeas apart. (The Civil War Gilmer map and this 1870 Finch map below) This record is for my ancestor John Gray, on the 1870 Census. The word “township” is in the place name! The post office was Boydton.
This map below was created in 1870, the same year as this 1870 Census image above. Note that the map shows this area as South Hill, which matches the heading on this Census page. Today this area is in the Bracey magisterial area.
My Ancestor John Gray, and his wife Sarah Jones lived in this circled area, which is Hall Rd, near the intersection of Nellie Jones Rd.
Today, Virginia has population minimums for cities and towns. If a city’s population drops below the defined minimum, it can temporarily become a township. Townships have government similar to a city but without a population requirement. A township is an interim government until it can transfer record keeping to the county and until there can be an election for town officers. (Virginia code § 15.2-3916)
There are currently no townships in Mecklenburg. Townships only existed for four years in the county’s history, during the reconstruction time period. The townships that became magisterial districts in 1874 are not the same as today. The railroad had not yet crossed the county in 1870. The map below shows the projected rail road path. South Hill, La Crosse and Brodnax were not yet towns. Those townships in 1870 defined areas, and a map was created to show those defined areas. Today, towns and magisterial districts are the only defined areas in Mecklenburg County.