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The Papers of John B. Minor, 1845 - 1893

Identifier: MSS-79-8

Scope and 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.


  • Creation: 1845 - 1893


Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions.

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.


.3 Linear Feet (1 archival box)

Language of Materials



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.

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.

Physical Description

This collections contains 50 items

Inventory of the Papers of John B. Minor1845-1893; 1974 MSS 79-8
Minor, John B., Papers, 1845-1893; 1974MSS 79-8
© 2001 By the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. All rights reserved.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is inEnglish
Web version of the finding aid funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections Repository

Arthur J. Morris Law Library
580 Massie Road
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22903 United States