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MSS 79-6

The Papers of Duke and Duke


Large collection of law practice records that document a small-town law office. There is correspondence, case files, legal, insurance and financial records, ledgers, 1854-1956.

1854-1956 [Inclusive]
108.5 Linear Feet (232 boxes)

Scope & Contents

The Duke Law Firm papers are stored in 232 boxes (108.5 linear ft.) dating from 1854-1956. They provide extensive documentation of a small-town family practice. Since the insurance business and the Dukes' family business affairs were handled in the same office as the law practice, these files have remained with the legal files. The family correspondence found with these papers was transferred to Special Collections in Alderman Library. The collection documents details the activities in the Duke Law Firm for a century of law practice.

The Duke Law Firm papers were transferred from the first Duke Law Firm office to the second Duke Law Firm office and to the third Duke Law Firm on Park Street, where they apparently were shifted more than once. Things were unavoidably jumbled, but the order within the cartons, the types of file boxes and folders, and the dates made it possible to reconstruct the original filing arrangements.

This collection is rich in source material for scholars of legal, social, or local history. The first area of research focuses on the changes in the character of this small-town law practice from the post- Civil War to the post-World War II periods. There are well-documented accounts in the shifts in the type of legal work the Duke Law Firm handled, the daily office operations over the years, the economic vicissitudes of the practice, and the attitudes of 3 generations of lawyers. There is information on the political, economic, and social conditions of the Charlottesville area during the time span of the Dukes' law practice.

The Addition to the Papers of the Duke and Duke law firm was donated to the Law Library in October of 1985 after the death of Helen Duke, donor of the original gift. These papers consist of legal files from the law firm for the years 1904-1954 and financial records of the Duke family. They were donated by William E. Duke and Lucy D. Kinne.

Collection Description


    The papers are organized into 8 series: 1st-6th series concern the law practice; 7th series, the insurance business; and the 8th, family business.

    Series I. Incoming letters (boxes 1-43) -- From 1869 to 1923 (and occasionally through the 1940's) incoming letters were filed separately from other material. From 1899 to 1923 all incoming letters were stored annually in special file boxes arranged alphabetically by correspondent's name. The papers in this series are arranged as they were found.

    Series II. Copies of outgoing letters (boxes 44-57) -- From the 1870's through the teens copies of outgoing letters were kept chronologically in letterpress books. The books are stored in chronological order.

    Series III. Case files (boxes 58-125) -- The case files date back to 1874, but are concentrated between 1920 and 1955. While the dates of these case files overlap the chronological ones described above, case files were by no means regularly created until the early twenties when the other system was virtually abandoned. Since many, but not all, of the case files were numbered, it was impossible to restore them to numerical order. Therefore, they have been grouped into decades and then arranged alphabetically by title found on the original folder. If the original folder was numbered, that number is noted on the new one. The cases concern principally the settlement of debts, property and divorce, as well as, for the last few decades, insurance claims.

    Series IV. Legal documents (boxes 126-145) -- These documents, originally stored apart from case files, are organized chronologically according to type of document, the largest groups of which are deeds (1885-1929) and titles (1876-1936). Also included in this series are documents related to specific cases (ca. 1870-1925), to the coal business, and to miscellaneous matters (ca. 1800-1950).

    Series V. Financial papers (boxes 146-167 and oversize) -- The financial papers were likewise apparently filed separately in the office. They include notes, bonds, collections, accounts, bills, taxes, etc., and are arranged alphabetically (ca. 1870-1950). Ledgers containing the same sort of financial records are organized by size.

    Series VI. General office correspondendence and cases (boxes 168-185) -- This alphabetical file, ca. 1920-1955, was apparently created for routine correspondence concerning clients and office matters. For some reason, certain cases were also incorporated into the alphabetical system, despite the fact that numbered case files continued to be created until the practice closed. (To complicate matters a bit further, there seem to have been two alphabetical files used consecutively. These have now been merged into one.) This series contains correspondence and case files, desk diaries, memoranda, unfiled office papers, and files relating to the insurance companies Eskridge represented.

    Series VII. Insurance agency files (boxes 186-217) -- These files of the Insurance Agency of Charlottesville, 1923-1927, cover the period in which W.F. Carter, Jr., was agent. At the beginning of the series are documents concerning the audit of the agency and the subsequent incorporation.

    Series VIII. Family business files, civic material and miscellany (boxes 218-232) -- These records, dating from the 1880's, provide a good deal of information about the financial affairs of the Charlottesville Dukes as well as their relatives.

    Biographical / Historical

    Richard Thomas Walker Duke, son of Richard and Maria Walker Duke, was born 6 June 1822 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he spent his childhood. After attending private schools, he entered Virginia Military Institute and finished second in the class of 1845. Upon graduating he taught school in Lewisburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), but returned to Charlottesville when his father died in 1849, and began studying law at the university. In 1850 he started his own law practice, and over the next ten years built a law office, was chosen one of Charlottesville's first aldermen, served briefly as mayor, and became Commonwealth's attorney. He married Elizabeth Scott Eskridge of Staunton, and they had two sons, William and R.T.W., Jr. (Tom), and a daughter, Mary, all of whom lived to adulthood; two other children died in childhood.

    As colonel of the 48th Regiment of the Virginia Volunteers, R.T.W. Duke took an active role in the Civil War. In 1864 he resigned his commission because of a dispute with a superior officer, but re-enlisted thirty days later. He surrendered with his troops at Silas Creek in 1865, and returned to his law practice and position as Commonwealth's attorney. From that time on Duke was known as "the Colonel," and in honor of his service in the recent war, the local camp for the Sons of Confederate Veterans was named for him.

    In 1863 Duke bought Sunnyside, a 70-acre tract of land northeast of Charlottesville (on which the Law School is now located), and farmed this property until his death. He was chosen secretary/treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the Samuel Miller Fund, established in 1869. In 1870, Duke assumed the fifth district's Congressional seat for two terms as a member of the Conservative party. Lobbying for a strong South throughout his term, Duke actively opposed the 14th Amendment. R.T.W. Duke died after a lingering illness in the summer of 1898.

    William R. Duke, born in 1849, possessed his father's farming instincts and commitment to political involvement. Together they farmed and resided at Sunnyside, whose ownership William shared with his brother Tom after their father's death. Although William studied law at Virginia, and in 1883 joined his father's law practice, he devoted more energy to farming and such groups as the Virginia Cattlemen's Association. In 1897 he was elected delegate to the Virginia General Assembly. Like his father, William was also involved in local affairs, serving, for example, as clerk of the Miller Fund Board of Trustees for many years. William died in 1929 and was survived by his sons, William (Billy) and Camman.

    Since he was born in 1853, Richard Thomas Walker Duke, Jr., (Tom) witnessed the Civil War during his impressionable boyhood years and later wrote about those experiences. A gifted writer and student of languages, Tom studied classics, French, German, and English literature when he entered the University of Virginia in 1870. He was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Prize for the best essay in 1872, and then turned his attention to the study of law in 1873-74. It is likely that he later read law for a time in his father's office before passing the bar. Although the practice of law became his career, Duke wrote prose and poetry the rest of his life, and was published in the New York Herald and such magazines as Century, Lippincott's, and Illustrated American.

    Throughout his long career, Tom was active in town, university, and state affairs. Among the organizations in which he held office were the Masons, Zeta Psi fraternity, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Miller Board, the U.Va. Alumni Association, and the state Democratic Committee. He served from 1886 to 1901 as judge of the Corporation Court (now called the Circuit Court), as Commonwealth's attorney from 1916 to 1920, and as a member of the Committee to Revise the Virginia Code in 1908. In addition, he sat on the boards of a variety of corporations, including the Charlottesville Ice Company, the First National Bank, and a number of Kentucky and West Virginia coal development companies in which his family had invested. From 1907 to 1910, Tom edited the Virginia Law Journal.

    Tom Duke married Edith Ridgeway Slaughter in 1884, and they produced six children, of whom five grew to maturity: Mary, R.T.W. III (Walker), John Flavel Slaughter (Jack), William Eskridge, and Helen Risdon. He built a spacious home for his family at 616 Park Street. A frequent traveller because of his practice, Duke also travelled for pleasure. As the children grew up, Edith often accompanied him to New York or Washington to shop, visit friends and attend plays, or she took journeys alone to visit children and other relatives. All the Duke children, as they reached their teens, attended boarding school, and all received at least some college education. Edith Duke died suddenly in 1921, and two years later, Tom married Maymee Richardson Slaughter, his wife's sister-in-law from Lynchburg. In March of 1926 Tom died at the age of 76.

    Walker, after a few years in the Navy, joined the Army and became a career officer. Jack served in the Army during World War I, and then began a career in business. In 1917, Eskridge took a law degree at Virginia and joined his father's practice. He was plagued by ill-health throughout his career, and soon after their father's death, his sister Mary, a former social worker, began assisting in the law office. Helen, a librarian, worked in New York and Norfolk for a year or so before moving back to the family home. Eskridge and his wife, Lucy Lee, had three children, of whom two, William Eskridge, Jr., (Bill) and Lucy Marshall, grew to adulthood. Jack died in 1933; Eskridge, in 1959; Walker, in 1960; Mary, in 1966; and Helen, in 1984.

    The Charlottesville law practice established by R.T.W. Duke in 1850 remained in the family for two succeeding generations. After studying law with John B. Minor at the University of Virginia, Duke practiced alone until 1858, when he built his office at 20 Court House Square and took James D. Jones as a partner. Another lawyer, Louis G. Hanckel, joined the firm in the early seventies and handled insurance business. When Tom finished his legal studies in 1874, he assisted his father, whose partner by then was Stephen V. Southall. In the 1880's the firm was called Duke and Duke, William having joined his father shortly before Tom became judge.

    The early work of the firm was limited to real estate, debt collection, and probate work, with an occasional criminal case. In addition, there was ample time for all three lawyers to pursue their assorted outside interests. At the office each man wrote his own letters, Tom switching to a Remington typewriter in 1889, before the days when they could hire a stenographer. The Dukes handled property rentals for some of their clients, the wealthiest and best known of whom was Jefferson Levy, owner of Monticello, the Opera House, and a great deal of other property in town.

    With the combination of "the Colonel's" death, the social and economic changes in town around the turn of the century, and the energetic leadership of Tom, the workload of the practice increased and became more diverse. Loan and bond operations were added to the civil and criminal work and property management. Around 1917 Eskridge and Clarence E. Gentry joined the firm, now called Duke, Duke and Gentry. The law office was torn down in 1922, and the firm moved to a building shared with other lawyers at the corner of Fifth and Jefferson Streets. The practice flourished, and the Dukes often hired Virginia law students or graduates as clerks or associates, including Elizabeth Tompkins (the first female graduate of the Law School), Bernard Chamberlain, Anna Dinwiddie, and John Yancy.

    It has not been determined whether the Dukes sold insurance after Hanckel left, but some time after Eskridge joined the firm in the late teens, the Insurance Agency was established. The title was changed to the Insurance Agency of Charlottesville in 1923, when W.F. Carter, Jr., as agent. After Carter misappropriated funds, he was relieved of his job, the agency was incorporated, and the Dukes' interest in the business was eventually bought out by William B. Murphy.

    Eskridge carried on the law practice with the assistance of Mary and an occasional associate. In 1937, he wrote that his firm "is regional and local counsel for a number of insurance companies, Virginia counsel for the Pike Coal Company, and does a general legal business, specializing in insurance, real estate, corporation and probate law, also maintains a collection department." With his failing health in the late forties, the practice dwindled until 1955, when Duke and Duke closed a little over a hundred years after it began.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The collection was a gift of Helen R. Duke in 1979.

seriesIncoming Letters, 1869-1923, occasionally through 1940
subseriesOffice Correspondence
Slaughter, John Flavel, Jr., n.d.
seriesLetterpress Books, 1875-1919
subseriesCase Files for the 1920's and 1930's
seriesCase Files, 1874-1955
subseriesCase Files for the 1940's
seriesLegal Documents, 1885-1950
subseriesCase Files for the 1950's:
seriesFinancial Records, 1870-1950
subseriesLegal Documents:
seriesGeneral Office Correspondence and Cases, 1920-1955
subseriesFamily Business Records:
seriesRecords of the Insurance Agency of Charlottesville, 1923-1927
seriesFinancial Records of the Duke Family (see also Bound Financial Records), Records of Civic Activities, Miscellaneous Materials, Photographs, 1863-1952
seriesAddendum to the Papers of Duke and Duke law firm [a] , 1904-[1942-1948]-1954