Statue land title is murky

Published 12:39 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Monument stays or land may revert

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

As the debate over Isle of Wight County’s Confederate soldier monument continues on The Smithfield Times’ Facebook page, it seems the property it sits on has conditions of ownership.

If the piece of land is no longer used for the Confederate monument, it reverts back to the heirs of O.L. Batten, according to Isle of Wight County attorney Mark Popovich, who researched the deed for the property.

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The property on which the monument sits is in front of Isle of Wight County’s historic courthouse building,

O.L. Batten was Isle of Wight County’s commissioner of revenue from 1895 – 1904, according to the Isle of Wight County website.

The Confederate statue was erected in 1905, the year after Batten was no longer commissioner. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

It appears the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors in 1907 wanted to give the property to the Confederate Memorial Association, but according to the minutes from the Dec. 9 meeting, the Virginia General Assembly the previous year had eliminated the option of conveying the land to the Association. Instead, the Board decided to allow its use and upkeep by the Association for the monument.

“It appears as though there was some confusion as to who actually owned the land on which the statue was erected, but the best I can tell you is that based on the deed I found the land became county property on April 2, 1908 so long as the land was continued to be used as a memorial, otherwise it reverts back,” said Popovich.

Surry County has a similar Confederate monument in front of its historic courthouse building, and retired judge Gammiel Poindexter recently sent a letter to the Surry Board of Supervisors asking that it be removed.

Surry County attorney Bill Hefty said he has not looked into the ownership of the property or other details of the statue as of yet, as no request to do so has been made.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans sent out an email Aug. 19, and received by members of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, asking them to follow a list of instructions concerning Confederate monuments in Virginia.

The instructions include seeking out monuments in person to make sure they have not been vandalized and to check on them frequently, to contact law enforcement to remind them of their duty to protect those monuments and to research the legal standing of particular monuments and to document all information gathered with photos and other records. 

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, which formed in 1894, apparently had a role in raising money for Confederate monuments, as well as shaping the historical interpretation of the Civil War as the Lost Cause, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, which is published by the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities.

Virginia’s Confederate statues have come under increased scrutiny after a woman was killed and 19 more injured during a white supremacist rally earlier this month in Charlottesville. White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups were in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the renaming of Lee Park to Emancipation Park.

The events sparked a nationwide debate over Confederate statues and whether they should remain, be taken down or moved to locations such as cemeteries or museums.  The issue came home after Poindexter sent her letter in Surry and Isle of Wight NAACP Chapter President Valarie Butler asked the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors Aug. 17 to remove the county’s Confederate soldier statue.

The recent debate over Confederate iconography can be traced back to 2015, when 21-year old Dylann Roof went to a black Bible study meeting in Charleston, S.C. and killed nine people. His goal was to start a “race war,” and photos of Roof surfaced showing him holding a Confederate battle flag and a gun.

After the massacre, South Carolina officials passed legislation removing the Confederate flag from State House property where it had flown since the 1960s. Officials in some southern states responded in kind, removing signs of the Confederacy, from flags to statues, while others began to take a second look at those symbols and what they portray.  


Couldn’t give it away

It appears the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors was eager to give the land for the Confederate soldier statue to the Confederate Memorial Association.


In 1905, the Board asked the county commonwealth’s attorney to convey the small parcel upon which the statue stood to the Confederate Memorial Association.

However, it appears that the Virginia General Assembly blocked that effort in 1906, according to Board meeting minutes of Dec. 9, 1907.

“… The said bill having failed of passage for some cause unknown to this Board,” according to the minutes.

The Board decided instead to allow the Confederate Memorial Association to enjoy the parcel of land for its monument.

The next year, the land was officially deeded to Isle of Wight County, according to Isle of Wight County attorney Mark Popovich.

There is a national Confederate Memorial Association located in Washington, D.C. with its mission being to preserve the traditions of the South.

According to its website, it began at the end of the 19th century as the United Confederate Veterans, which later established a Washington presence as the Confederate Memorial Association.

Its connection to local Associations is unknown and efforts to reach its current leader, John Hurley, were unsuccessful.

At one time, there was an iron fence around Isle of Wight County’s Confederate monument, which along with a World War I cannon was sold for scrap to help the effort during World War II, according to the Oct. 1, 1942 issue of The Smithfield Times.  {/mprestriction}