Francis L. Berkeley, Jr.
From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
Francis Lewis Berkeley, Jr. (1911-2003), was a native of Albemarle County where he was born at Red Hill on April 9, 1911, the son of Francis Lewis Berkeley and his wife, Ethel Crissey Berkeley. Frank had three siblings, older sisters Cynthia and Helen, and a younger brother, Edmund. He graduated from Red Hill High School, long gone today.
At the University of Virginia, he received his bachelor’s degree in 1934. As a student, he was active in the Jefferson Society, and was gratified to become its secretary, a post once held by Edgar Allan Poe and by Woodrow Wilson, among others. He taught in Virginia high schools in Gloucester County and Roanoke for the next four years, returning to the University each summer to take graduate courses in history and to work with manuscripts in the Virginia Room of the Rotunda, then the library of the University.
Frank was married June 12, 1937, at Moorland Baptist Church in Albemarle County to Helen Wayland Sutherland. Frank and Helen were wonderful hosts, avid gardeners, and great travelers who went all over the world together during their marriage of fifty-six years, which ended with her death in 1993.
Appointed in 1938 as the University’s first assistant in manuscripts in the new Division of Rare Books and Manuscripts in Alderman Library, he devised a cataloguing system based on the British Museum’s Catalogue of Additional Manuscripts, a system that proved indispensable in the immense post-war expansion of the manuscripts’ collections. He also began the creation of a central archives for the University, bringing together, in the newly constructed Alderman Library, the non-current records from the storerooms of widely-scattered administrative and departmental offices. He continued his graduate work, and received his M.A. degree in history in 1940. By the time that World War II broke out, he held the title of curator of manuscripts, the first to hold it.
He was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy on August 1, 1942, and was trained in gunnery at several stations. He volunteered to join the Navy’s Armed Guard Service that provided gun and communications crews for civilian merchant vessels transporting war materials in convoys. This dangerous service took him around the world on a number of voyages. He later was detached form the Armed Guard and trained for amphibious operations, taking command February 23, 1945, of the LSM 171. He took this vessel through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, and served there to the end of the war. He remained in the U.S. Naval Reserve after the war and retired as a captain in 1971.
In the post-war years, Virginia’s historical, literary, and business records were aggressively collected by research libraries in North Carolina and several middle-Western states that had once been Virginia counties. To counter this development, Frank launched a massive five-year campaign to keep Virginia’s manuscript resources in Virginia. Millions of documents were added to the University’s collections, as he summarized in his published Annual Reports.
Frank had an avid interest in colonial America and an acute awareness of Virginia’s poverty in documentation of that era, the result of the destruction of the parish records in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1677, the Civil War losses of Virginia’s eastern counties’ records, and the burning of the General Court records in Richmond in 1865. In 1951-1952, with the aid of a Fulbright fellowship, he undertook a county-by-county recovery of public and private manuscripts in England and Scotland relating to Virginia between 1580 and 1780. His field notes, sent weekly to the Alderman Library, were reproduced and distributed to America’s colonial historians.
Upon returning to Virginia, he assisted in organizing the Virginia Colonial Records Project, directed by a committee of representatives from Virginia’s four research libraries and funded by state and federal grants relating to Virginia’s impending 350th anniversary. Nearly 20 million Virginia documents for the years 1580-1780 were recorded and microfilmed by the committee’s agents in London. The films are available to the public at the University of Virginian Library, the Virginia Historical Society and the Library of Virginia in Richmond, and at Colonial Williamsburg research library.
As noted, colonial Virginia history was Frank’s particular interest, and when seven letter books and a diary of colonial Virginian, Robert “King” Carter (1665-1732), were acquired by the University Library and Virginia Historical Society after World War II, he began research on them in expectation of publishing them to join one of Carter’s letter books that had been published in 1940. In 1961-1962, he held a Guggenheim fellowship that he used to search English archives for the records of merchants who might have corresponded with Carter in Virginia. He worked on this project sporadically until his retirement when he devoted much more time to it. Sadly, the deteriorating condition of his eyesight in the early 1980s made it impossible for him to continue the work, and he most generously turned it over to his nephew for completion.
In the years after the war, Frank began to assist with University administration, and carried out many official and unofficial tasks for University President, Colgate W. Darden. He served as secretary of the University’s Board of Visitors, 1953-1958, while continuing his full-time work for the Library. In 1963, President Edgar F. Shannon persuaded Frank to leave the Library to become his executive assistant where he served the University until his retirement in 1974. The University Press of Virginia was established on Frank’s initiation, and he insisted on its being a state-wide press sheltered by the University, but dedicated to service as a scholarly publishing house serving all of Virginia’s learned institutions. Frank also helped to establish the two principal documentary publications of the new press: The Papers of James Madison and The Papers of George Washington. Until his death, Frank served on the editorial advisory boards of both of these continuing publications and also on the advisory committee of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University.