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MSS 79-8

The Papers of John B. Minor, 1845 - 1893


Small collection of historical importance to the history of the University of Virginia School of Law. Contains teaching materials, legal documents, correspondence and some memorabilia.

1845-1893 [Inclusive]
.3 Linear Feet (1 archival box)

Scope & Contents

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

Collection Description

    Biographical / Historical

    John B. Minor was born in 1813 in Louisa County, Virginia, and educated by his 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. After graduation, Minor practiced law in Botetourt County and Charlottesville, but he was quite eager to give up practice and 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 29 July, 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 theInstituteswas 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 slightly, 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.

    Physical Description

    This collections contains 50 items

    Conditions Governing Use

    There are no restrictions.

    Preferred Citation

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

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The items in this collection have been collected by the law library over a number of years. Some were found in books, and some were probably given by family members or alumni. The bulk of Minor's papers was donated to Alderman Library by his family. In 2014, John N. Jacob, archivist and special collections law librarian at Washington and Lee School of Law donated the last item added to these papers.

fileLawyers' Commonplace Book and 25 loose pages of handwritten notes on cases, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileJBM to Robert Whittet, Esq., 1877 May 31MSS 79-8, Box 1
Letter from John B. Minor to R. H. Wood, 10 October 1877
John B. Minor
file"The idea expressed in the extract from the Staunton Spectator", n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLiability of Transferor of Negotiable Papers without Endorsement, case stated by Chas. M. Blackford, Esq. of Lynchburg, Nov. 5, 1857, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileTopics for the Board [of Visitors], n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
file"A bill has been presented to both branches of the General Assembly...", n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileDrafts of three letters of recommendation for former students, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileTopic of Enquiry suggested by Dr. Geo. Potts of New York in a letter addressed to Dr. McGuffey touching the University of Virginia, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
file"Plan of battles of Chancelloresville from Thursday, April 30 to Monday May 4, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileCopy of a poem or ballad sent to JBM, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
filePage [from a copybook?] on which are copied two passages about religion, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
file"The University in Court" by Raleigh C. Minor, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileList of Cases, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileRecipe for "Indelible Black Writing Ink", n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileStatement for the Faculty of JBM's ideas , n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from JBM to John Manning with note to "Dear Judge" from Manning, 1893 Feb. 18MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from JBM to A.T. Browning, with receipt and envelope, 1893 Jan. 31MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileDraft of letter to Stephen O. Southall, 1888 Mar. 10MSS 79-8, Box 1
itemAutographed photograph of JBM, 1884 Oct. 1
file[JBM] to Mr. McGowan, 1878MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from [?] Flannagan to JBM, 1877 Aug. 20MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from Baker, Voorhis and Co. [law booksellers] to JBM, 1877 Aug. 14MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileReview of Minor's Institutes of Common and Statute Law, Vol. I, 2nd ed., and Vol. II from The Central Law Journal, 1877 May 4MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileCopy of and correspondence and notes regarding Maria A. Wise's will, 1974MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from E.R. Watson to [John B.] Minor, with Minor's comments on the back, 1870 Sep. 7MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileCorrespondence, notes, brochures, 1867 - 1868MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from Raleigh Colston to JBM, 1891 Mar. 20MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from Charles L. Mosby to Governor F.H. Pierpoint, 1866 Apr. 25MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileMiscellany, 1865, n.d.
file"Some Consideration Tending to Show the Propriety and Necessity of the Continued Support of the University of Virginia by the State", 1865MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileAmnesty oath sworn by JBM, 1865-05-18MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileDraft of a letter by Minor to his former classmate, Edward Stanton, Secretary of War, 1865-05-06MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileBill and receipt for the Albermarle Committee for the Wounded, JBM Treasurer, 1864MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileAppraisal of slaves for the estate of C[harles] Minor upon the request of Franklin and JBM, 1861 Dec. 12MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileDraft of letter in Minor's hand; addressee unknown, 1861-01-30MSS 79-8, Box 1
file"Proposed Law Course, with estimate of time allowed to each subject", 1851MSS 79-8, Box 1
filePrinted 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 11MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileResolution [by Board of Visitors] to hire James P. Holcombe, Adjunct Professor of Law, 1851 JuneMSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLegal Cases with Minor's comments probably used in his teaching, 1850-1860MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileNewspaper clippings; advertisement for law books, 1850, 1880MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLists of Books, 1849-50, n.d.MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileLetter from D. Appleton to John B. Minor (JBM), 1848-08-11MSS 79-8, Box 1
fileInaugural Lecture: "Gentleman of the School of Law...", 1845 Oct.MSS 79-8, Box 1
itemContract between Whittet Shepperson and JBM, 1881 Nov. 4MSS 79-8, Box 1