Collection Summary

Creator: Minor, John B.
Title: The Papers of John B. Minor 1845-1893
Accession: MSS 79-8
Description: 50 items
Location: Special Collections
Photograph Collection: View 1 digitized photographs
Digitized Content: 100 objects
Use Restrictions: There are no restrictions.

Collection Description & Arrangement

The collection includes lectures and other teaching materials, correspondence, clippings and other printed matter, legal documents, an appraisal of slaves, a commonplace book, and a recipe for making indelible ink.

Biographical & Historical Information

John B. Minor was born in 1813 in Louisa County, Virginia, and educated by well-read family at home. At age seventeen he went off to Kenyon College in Ohio to study moral and natural philosophy. Dissatisfied there, he left after a year and enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1831 where, over the next three years, he studied ancient and modern languages, mathematics, chemistry, and law. His parents and older brother were strongly supportive of his studies and encouraged him to be a disciplined and serious-minded student. He, like only eight other law students from a total of forty-four, passed the final examinations and graduated in 1834. During his college years Minor also found time to tutor Professor Davis's children and to fall in love with his future wife, Davis's sister, Martha.

The Masters Thesis of Holly Beth Fitzsimmons, relevant to the papers of John B. Minor, is located in the Law School stacks.

After graduation Minor practiced law in Botetourt County and Charlottesville, but he was quite eager to give up practice to try teaching when he learned in 1845 that the University's Board of Visitors was searching for a law professor. Their first choice turned them down, and on July 29, the Board appointed thirty-two year old Minor to the professorship.

In October Minor began teaching and rigorously followed the traditional curriculum. Student notes indicate that his Blackstone lectures followed Davis's in plan and emphasis. His first innovation was the moot court which provided students a structured introduction to local, state and federal practice. Enrollment in Minor's classes was low at first, dropping to eighteen his second year, and then rising to sixty-one by 1850. In the spring of 1851 Minor received a letter from James P. Holcombe, a legal scholar from Cincinnati, who wrote Minor that he had a great interest in teaching at the University if an adjunct professorship could be created for him. Minor explained to the Board of Visitors that he found the current teaching arrangement "far short of satisfying my own ideas of what is to be desired," since he felt the curriculum was too wide for one person to cover. Holcombe accepted the light teaching load and low salary initially offered by the University and began teaching in October 1851. Within a year the two men had revised the curriculum and the number of students enrolled in law steadily climbed through the 1850s. As he had proposed, Holcombe enhanced the curriculum by offering expanded lectures in commercial and civil law, as well as equity. Minor concentrated on common and statute law.

By 1860 Minor and Holcombe had 142 students. The following year Holcombe, an outspoken advocate of secession, resigned to run for the state legislature, and Minor carried on alone during the war with just five or six students per year. In 1866 Stephen O. Southall, who had studied law under John A.G. Davis and practiced ever since in Prince Edward County, was hired to replace Holcombe. By 1867 there were over one hundred law students once again, a post-war boost in enrollment the Law School would also experience in the twentieth century. After the war the number of graduates also rose. Soon after the war Minor worked closely with officials in Richmond to set up the state's first free public education system. His dedication to this long overdue legislation testifies to Minor's commitment to the widest possible education. We may assume that these efforts grew in part from his concern over University students' lack of preparation.

In 1875 Minor published the first two volumes of the Institutes of Common and Statute Law, followed quickly by volumes three and four. The publication of the Instituteswas certainly one of the high points of Minor's career and established him as the leading legal scholar in the South. Always enterprising, Minor in his late fifties started a private summer law course designed as an introduction for novices and a refresher for practicing lawyers. Immensely popular, this course attracted scores of students each summer. After the post- war boom, the number of regular law students dropped a bit but then steadied to an average of 83 per class between 1875 and 1895. About 30% of those students were awarded LL.B. degrees.

Stephen Southall died suddenly in 1884 and was succeeded by James H. Gilmore the following year. By this time Minor was in his seventies. Although he would continue to teach year-round until the end, he was slowing down. As soon as his sons, John B., Jr. and Raleigh, passed their law exams in the early 1890s, they were hired to assist their father in his classes. Minor's fiftieth year at the University was celebrated in early July of 1895, and he died later that same month.

Acquisition Information

Donor Information Donors known for two items only.

Content List

  • Inaugural Lecture: "Gentleman of the School of Law..." 1845 Oct.
  • Letter from D. Appleton to John B. Minor (JBM) 1848 Aug. 11
  • Lists of Books 1849-50, n.d.
  • Newspaper clippings; advertisement for law books 1850, 1880
  • Legal Cases with Minor's comments probably used in his teaching 1850-1860
  • Resolution [by Board of Visitors] to hire James P. Holcombe, Adjunct Professor of Law 1851 June
  • Printed sheet describing course of law as taught by JBM and J.P. Holcombe; includes reading lists and costs of tuition, room and board 1851 July 11
  • "Proposed Law Course, with estimate of time allowed to each subject" 1851
  • Draft of letter in Minor's hand; addressee unknown 1861 Jan. 30
  • Appraisal of slaves for the estate of C[harles] Minor upon the request of Franklin and JBM 1861 Dec. 12
  • Bill and receipt for the Albermarle Committee for the Wounded, JBM Treasurer 1864
  • Draft of a letter by Minor to his former classmate, Edward Stanton, Secretary of War 1865 May 6
  • Amnesty oath sworn by JBM 1865 May 18
  • "Some Consideration Tending to Show the Propriety and Necessity of the Continued Support of the University of Virginia by the State" 1865
  • Miscellany 1865, n.d. 4 items
  • Letter from Charles L. Mosby to Governor F.H. Pierpoint 1866 Apr. 25 Letter recommends Minor for a judgeship
  • Letter from Raleigh Colston to JBM 1891 Mar. 20 Concerns Mosby letter of April 25, 1866
  • Correspondence, notes, brochures 1867-1868 Re cultivation of grapes for wine
  • Letter from E.R. Watson to [John B.] Minor, with Minor's comments on the back 1870 Sep. 7
  • Copy of and correspondence and notes regarding Maria A. Wise's will 1974
  • Review of Minor's Institutes of Common and Statute Law, Vol. I, 2nd ed., and Vol. II from The Central Law Journal 1877 May 4
  • Letter from Baker, Voorhis and Co. [law booksellers] to JBM 1877 Aug. 14
  • Letter from [?] Flannagan to JBM 1877 Aug. 20
  • [JBM] to Mr. McGowan 1878
  • Autographed photograph of JBM 1884 Oct. 1 Reads "With great regard, I am, dear Mr. McGuire, Your Affectionate friend..." (in photo file)
  • Draft of letter to Stephen O. Southall 1888 Mar. 10
  • Letter from JBM to A.T. Browning, with receipt and envelope 1893 Jan. 31
  • Letter from JBM to John Manning with note to "Dear Judge" from Manning 1893 Feb. 18
  • Statement for the Faculty of JBM's ideas n.d. Re the YMCA and the University's Chapel ("A law examination in progress, preventing me from attending in person...")
  • Recipe for "Indelible Black Writing Ink" n.d.
  • List of Cases n.d.
  • "The University in Court" by Raleigh C. Minor n.d.
  • Page [from a copybook?] on which are copied two passages about religion n.d.
  • Copy of a poem or ballad sent to JBM n.d.
  • "Plan of battles of Chancelloresville from Thursday, April 30 to Monday May 4 n.d.
  • Topic of Enquiry suggested by Dr. Geo. Potts of New York in a letter addressed to Dr. McGuffey touching the University of Virginia n.d.
  • Drafts of three letters of recommendation for former students n.d.
  • "A bill has been presented to both branches of the General Assembly..." n.d. Re free tuition for some of the students at the Medical College of Virginia
  • Topics for the Board [of Visitors] n.d.
  • Liability of Transferor of Negotiable Papers without Endorsement, case stated by Chas. M. Blackford, Esq. of Lynchburg, Nov. 5, 1857 n.d.
  • "The idea expressed in the extract from the Staunton Spectator" n.d.
  • Lawyers' Commonplace Book and 25 loose pages of handwritten notes on cases n.d.
  • JBM to Robert Whittet, Esq. 1877 May 31 MSS 79-8a
  • Contract between Whittet & Shepperson and JBM 1881 Nov. 4
    Re the printing of more copies of Volumes I, II, and IV of the Institutes
    MSS 79-8A

Use Policy

Access There are no restrictions.
Use Restrictions There are no restrictions.
Preferred Citation

The Papers of John B. Minor, 1845-1893, MSS 79-8, Special Collections, University of Virginia Law Library.

Unless otherwise stated, digital materials in our collections are available for use under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 License (CC-BY-4.0). For Use and Citation guidelines, see Special Collections Use Policy.