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Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers

Identifier: Ms-1974-003

Scope and Content

The Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers, 1779-1984 (bulk 1821-1948) documents the families of Blacksburg and Marion, Virginia. The collection comprises Civil War letters of Dr. Harvey Black, Civil War diaries of John Apperson, records and correspondence pertaining to nineteenth-century Blacksburg residents Edwin Amiss, his sister Arabella Amiss Kent, and her husband Germanicus Kent, cotton trader and Rockford, Illinois pioneer; and account books, correspondence, and photographs of several members of the Black, Kent, and Apperson families of Blacksburg and Marion, Virginia. The collection is divided into the following major series: Harvey Black Papers, Black Family Papers, Germanicus Kent Papers, Black Family Business Records, John S. Apperson Papers, Mary E. Apperson Papers, Alexander Apperson Papers, and Harvey B. Apperson Political Scrapbooks.

Series I. Harvey Black Papers, 1847-1888, contains the following subseries: Diaries, Civil War Letters, General Correspondence, Medical Career Records, and Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. It also includes one photograph, ca. 1865, of Harvey Black.

Dating 1861 to 1864, the Civil War Letters document Black's experiences as a regimental surgeon in the Stonewall Brigade and as surgeon in charge of the Second Corps field hospital. The series comprises letters Black wrote to his wife Mary (Molly) in Blacksburg. Black usually wrote to his wife two to three days after a major battle and reported who, from Blacksburg, had been killed or wounded. He describes the effects of disease on the troops, looking for his brother-in-law Lewis Kent among the Union wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, the delirium of Stonewall Jackson as he lay dying at Guinea Station, and the difficulties of keeping his family clothed and fed during the war.

The Diaries consist of a short diary Black kept of his journey from Christiansburg to Mexico to fight in the Mexican War and a diary of a four-month journey, on horseback, from western Virginia through West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Tennessee in the fall of 1849. The Mexican War diary details Black's trip from Christiansburg to Norfolk and eventually Buena Vista, but provides little information about serving in the war. Both diaries contain mainly Black's observations about the towns and cities he passes through. The diary of the trip west compares culture and society in Virginia and the West and references encounters with Virginians who had moved west.

General Correspondence, 1847-1871, comprises two letters Black wrote while he was studying medicine at the University of Virginia, his proposal of marriage to Mary (Molly) Kent, and a folder of letters Black received from family members between 1848 and 1871. One letter describes pioneering in Island County, Washington Territory, in 1853; and two letters from Virginia State Senator John Penn regard the establishment of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, forerunner of Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg.

The Medical Career Records, dating 1848 to 1888, documents Harvey Black's medical career before and after the Civil War and letters of recommendation for the position of Superintendent of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum of Virginia and the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum of Virginia. This series also contains an 1887 annual report for the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum of Virginia.

The Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College Records span the years 1870 to 1873. This small series consists of a subscription list for the Preston and Olin Institute, an early history of the founding of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, and certificates of appointment to the college’s Board of Visitors.

Series II. Black Family Papers, 1779-1911 (bulk 1845-1911): Materials include an 1845 bill of sale for an enslaved girl named Adaline; an 1856 letter from Charles to Alexander Black; photographs of Alexander Black, Kent Black, and Kent’s wife Mary Bell Black; a 1911 letter from Mary Kent to her children; and a quilt given to Kent Black by his medical patients, ca. 1890. Additionally, the series has the wedding register of Mary and Kent Black and an invitation to the 1885 Blacksburg Grand Annual Ball.

Series III. Germanicus Kent Papers, 1818-1899: The series comprises Germanicus Kent's cotton books and correspondence with his sons Lewis and John, his brother Aratus Kent, and his brother-in- law Edwin Amiss. The cotton books document Kent's experience as a cotton merchant based in Huntsville, Alabama, 1821 to 1823. They provide lists of cotton prices and copies of correspondence to clients in Nashville and New Orleans. The correspondence describes life in Blacksburg in the 1830s, the Kent family's decision to settle in Virginia after living in Illinois, and Kent's business investments in the west and in Blacksburg. Letters from Edwin Amiss to Arabella and Germanicus Kent pertain to Arabella Kent continuing to enslave people by inheriting her mother's estate. An 1860 letter from Germanicus Kent to Aratus Kent discusses Germanicus Kent's desire to establish contact with the man he formerly enslaved Lewis Lemon Kent, then living in Iowa.

Series IV. Black Family Business Records, 1832-1924: Account books for mercantile establishments in Blacksburg make up the bulk of this series.. It also contains an account book for A.W. Luster; a 1908 inventory for W. Stone & Son; and a copy of an undated newspaper advertisement for A. Black and Company.

Series V. John S. Apperson Papers, 1858-1915: John Apperson's Civil War Diary is the centerpiece. The diary consist of Apperson's account of his journey, in 1859, from his home in Locust Grove, Virginia to Smyth County in Southwest Virginia. In the Civil War diaries, he describes medical care of soldiers and lists monthly figures of wounded and dead for the Second Corps field hospital. He discusses going onto the battlefield after the fighting stopped at First Manassas, the scene on the morning of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862; performing his first amputation; and his efforts to continue his medical education during the Civil War. Additionally, this series contains correspondence about Apperson's business career, 1900 and 1910, a catalog for the Marion Foundry and Machine Works, and photographs of John Apperson, Elizabeth Black, and their children.

Series VI. Mary E. Apperson Papers, 1889-1977, and Series VII. Alexander Apperson Papers, 1827-1984: Research files on the Black, Kent, and Apperson families of Blacksburg and Marion compose the bulk of these two series. Materials also include publications pertaining to family history; correspondence with the Rockford, Illinois Historical Society regarding research on Germanicus Kent; correspondence related to other genealogy research; the recollections of Elizabeth Black Apperson about Blacksburg history and buildings; family photographs and a photograph, ca. 1900, of the Alexander Black house in Blacksburg; and family artifacts.

Series VIII. Harvey B. Apperson Political Scrapbooks, 1933-1950: The scrapbooks largely consist of newspaper clippings detailing Harvey B. Apperson's political career and Democratic Party politics in the Roanoke area in the 1930s and in Richmond in the 1940s. Additionally, there are letters and telegrams of congratulation Apperson received when he was appointed Attorney General of Virginia in 1947, telegrams and letters of condolence his wife received upon his death four months later, photographs, and political ephemera.

Series IX. Blacksburg Mining and Manufacturing Company, 1826-1965: Legal documents and correspondence pertain to the division of proceeds of mining investments among the Apperson descendants of Harvey Black. The series also contains maps of Black and Apperson property in Blacksburg, ca. 1949.

Series X. Assorted Papers, 1872, 1912: The last series includes two items, the Louise Caton Travel Diary, 1912, and The Christian Union publication, 1872. The diary of Louise Caton's four-month tour of Europe in 1912 describes her voyage from New York to Genoa on the Laxmia and from Liverpool back to New York on the Celtic. The relationship of Louise Caton to the Black, Kent, and Apperson families is unknown.


  • 1779 - 1984

Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

In 1889, Elizabeth Black of Blacksburg, Virginia, married John Apperson of Marion, joining the Black and Kent families of Blacksburg with the Apperson family. Elizabeth Black's father Harvey Black and John S. Apperson served together in the 4th Virginia, 1st Brigade during the Civil War. Black was a regimental surgeon and Apperson was a hospital steward under his command.

Harvey Black (1827-1888) was a native of Blacksburg and a grandson of town founder John Black. (Harvey Black did not use the e in his given name, but as an adult he regularly signed his name as H. Black and he was almost always identified publicly as Harvey Black.) After attending local schools, he began studying medicine under two local doctors. In 1847, he volunteered to serve in the Mexican War in the 1st Regiment Virginia Volunteers; three months later, he was made a hospital steward. He entered medical school at the University of Virginia in 1848 and graduated in June 1849. That fall, he took a four-month journey, on horseback, from western Virginia through the upper Mid-West as far west as Iowa. He decided to settle in Blacksburg and opened a medical practice there in 1852. The same year, he married Mary Kent of Blacksburg.

On August 2, 1861, Harvey Black was appointed regimental surgeon in the 4th Virginia, 1st Brigade, known as the Stonewall Brigade. John Apperson, who had enlisted with the Smyth Blues of Smyth County, Virginia, in April 1861, was appointed hospital steward under the command of Harvey Black in March 1862. Black and Apperson served together with the 4th regiment until late 1862. They provided medical care to the wounded at first Manassas, second Manassas, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. In late 1862, Black was appointed surgeon of the field hospital of the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, and brought Apperson with him. Both served in this hospital until the end of the war, taking care of recuperating soldiers who were wounded of the Second Corps' major engagements, including the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 and the Spotsylvania Campaign in 1864. Black assisted Hunter Holmes McGuire with the amputation of Stonewall Jackson's arm on May 3, 1863.

After the Civil War, Harvey Black resumed his medical practice in Blacksburg. He was elected president of the Medical Society of Virginia in 1872. He played an instrumental role in the founding of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in Blacksburg in 1872. He was the first rector of the Board of Visitors.

From 1786 to 1882, Harvey Black was Superintendent of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg. In 1884, he was appointed to the board of a proposed state mental hospital for southwestern Virginia. In 1885, he was elected to represent Montgomery County in the House of Delegates and served two sessions. In the House, he influenced the decision to locate the new hospital in Marion. In 1887, Black became the first superintendent of the new Southwestern State Lunatic Asylum in Marion. He appointed John S. Apperson assistant physician there. Harvey Black died in Richmond in October 1888 and was buried in Westview Cemetery in Blacksburg.

John S. Apperson (1837-1908) was born in Locust Grove, Virginia, and moved to Smyth County in 1859. He took a job splitting rails and began to study medicine under local physician William Faris. In 1861, Apperson enlisted in the Smyth Blues, organized as Company D, 4th Virginia. After the Civil War, he studied medicine at the University of Virginia, earning a degree in 1867. He returned to Smyth County and married Victoria Hull in 1868. They lived in Chilhowie, and Apperson practiced medicine and farmed. They had seven children.

John Apperson's first wife died in 1887. The same year, he took a job as assistant physician under Harvey Black at the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum of Virginia in Marion. When Harvey Black died in 1888, Apperson resigned his position at the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum and established a medical practice in Marion. In 1889, he married Elizabeth, daughter of his friend and mentor Harvey Black. They had four children: Harvey, Alexander, Kent, and Mary.

After his second marriage, John Apperson pursued a career in business. He was one of eight founders of Staley's Creek Manganese and Iron Company. In 1906, he expanded the operations of the Marion Foundry and Milling Company into the Marion Foundry and Machine Works. He also promoted the building of the Marion and Rye Valley Railroad.

In 1892, the Virginia Board of World's Fair Managers employed Apperson to collect items and transport Virginia exhibits to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. John Apperson died in Marion in 1908. His wife Elizabeth died in Blacksburg in 1942.

Harvey Black Apperson (1890-1948), the oldest child of John Apperson and Elizabeth Black, lived in Salem, Virginia, and practiced law in Roanoke for thirty years. He became active in Democratic Party politics in the 1920s. In a special election in 1933, he was elected to represent Floyd, Franklin, Montgomery, and Roanoke counties and the cities of Radford and Roanoke in the State Senate. He served on the State Corporation Commission from 1944 to 1947 and was Chairman of the Commission from June 1944 to 1947. Governor William Tuck appointed him Attorney General in August 1947, and he took office October 7, 1947. He died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Richmond on February 2, 1948. Alexander Apperson worked at the Marion Foundry and Machine Works for a period and later moved to Birmingham, Alabama.

Germanicus Kent (1791-1861) and Arabella Amiss Kent (1809-1951), parents of Harvey Black's wife Mary, are also documented in this collection. Germanicus Kent was born in Suffield, Connecticut, and attended Yale College. Circa 1822, he moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and worked as a cotton merchant. In 1827, he married Arabella Amiss of Blacksburg. According to a family account, Germanicus Kent left Huntsville in 1834 at the insistence of his brother Aratus Kent, a missionary in Illinois who opposed slavery. Aratus Kent was a founder of Beloit and Rockford colleges in Illinois. The family moved to Illinois in 1834. Lewis Kent (also known as Lewis Lemon), who was enslaved by Germanicus Kent in North Carolina when he was a boy, moved with the family and later purchased his freedom and settled in Iowa. Germanicus Kent is considered a founder of the town of Rockford, Illinois, and served in the Illinois state legislature. Mary Kent, born in 1836, was the first child of European ancestry born in Rockford. The family returned to Arabella's hometown of Blacksburg in 1843.


  1. Glenn L. McMullen, "Tending the Wounded: Two Virginians in the Confederate Medical Corps," Virginia Cavalcade, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Spring 1991), 172-183
  2. A Surgeon with Stonewall Jackson: The Civil War Letters of Dr. Harvey Black, edited by Glenn L. McMullen (Baltimore: Butternut and Blue, 1995)
  3. Biographical sketches of John S. Apperson by Glenn McMullen and of Harvey Black Apperson, by Crandall Shiflett in John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tartar, and Sandra Gioia Treadway, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1 (The Library of Virginia, 1998), 181-183
  4. "Germanicus A. Kent: Founder of Rockford, Illinois," published by the Rockford Historical Society, n.d.


7 Linear Feet (18 boxes)


This collection contains the papers and artifacts of an interrelated family prominent in Blacksburg's history. It includes the Civil War letters of Confederate surgeon Dr. Harvey Black, the Civil War diary of hospital steward John S. Apperson, cotton books and correspondence of Germanicus Kent, nineteenth-century account books of a Blacksburg general store, 1912 European travel diary, and the political scrapbooks of State Senator and Attorney General Harvey B. Apperson.


The papers are arranged into series corresponding to the creators of the material and subseries by type of material.

Series include the following:

  • Series I. Harvey Black Papers
  • Series II. Black Family Papers
  • Series III. Germanicus Kent Papers
  • Series IV. Black Family Business Records
  • Series V. John S. Apperson Papers
  • Series VI. Mary E. Apperson Papers
  • Series VII. Alexander Apperson Papers
  • Series VIII. Harvey B. Apperson Political Scrapbooks
  • Series IX. Blacksburg Mining and Manufacturing Company
  • Series X. Assorted Papers

Source of Acquisition

The Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers were donated to Virginia Tech from 1955 to 1990. The Civil War letters of Harvey Black and the Civil War diaries of John Apperson were donated in 1974.

Existence and Location of Copies

Some of this collection has been digitized and is available online.

A microfilm edition of the diary, 1847-1850, of Harvey Black and the Civil War diaries of John S. Apperson was made by the Library of Virginia in January 1976 and is available at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. The Civil War letters of Harvey Black were published in 1995 in a volume edited by Glenn L. McMullen, which is available in the Rare Book Collection and in Newman Library.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The papers were previously organized into three collections: the Black Family Papers, Ms1974-003; the Kent Family Papers, Ms1974-017; and the Kent Family Papers, Ms1974-018. They were further processed and merged into one collection in 2002. Additional description was completed in 2021.

Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers, 1779-1984
Catherine G. O'Brion, Staff
2002 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2017-12-19: Instances were updated following the conversion from Archivists' Toolkit to ArchivesSpace, which created a number of issues. In addition, folders previously not included in the finding aid, but in the boxes, were added. kad
  • 2020-07-30: Finding aid notes updated to new department standards. juliags
  • 2021-02: LM Rozema updated sources for bio note; corrected dates and notes in inventory; added series numbers to series; edited scope note; created "Assorted Papers" series with Louise Caton's diary and the Christian Union (the latter was unaccounted for in the scope note); and fixed discrepancies in collection name to Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers (appeared three ways prior: Black, Kent, and Apperson Family Papers, PAPERS OF THE BLACK, KENT, AND APPERSON FAMILIES, and Black, Kent, and Apperson, Families, Papers).
  • 2022-10: Updated description to person-first language when discussing enslaved people. adw

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US