Kitty Foster, Mr. Vandergriff, and Student Mischief in the Venable Lane Neighborhood (1834)
    by Emily Richards, Undergraduate Research Assistant (Architecture, 3rd year)

From the earliest years of its existence, the University community was intertwined with neighboring communities, its students in particular interacting with neighborhood businesses and individuals, if not always in peaceful ways. Charlottesville's Venable Lane neighborhood and the area known then as "Canada" were often the site of such "town and gown" interactions. The incident detailed below is a typical instance of relatively harmless "student mischief" of this time period that not only captures the tensions between the disciplining University, its disciplined students, and the citizens of Charlottesville, but also captures important details of this "mixed" environment in which a freed black woman and white neighbors coexisted. 

The Faculty Minutes recorded Mr. Vandergriff's (P44032) account of student misconduct that occurred on the evening of May 22nd, 1834. He relayed that a band of four or five students travelled down to the neighborhood in question. They stopped first at the house of freed black woman Kitty Foster (P44031), where they beat on her door and overturned several flower pots, before moving on to the Vandergriff househould. They threw stones at the dog tied in the yard until Mr. Vandergriff himself came out to scold them, then instead threw their stones at him, forcing him to take cover behind a tree in his yard. When Mrs. Vandergriff came out to stop the trouble, she had to hide behind the house to avoid being struck. Of the students involved, Mr. Vandergriff was able to identify only one, Mr. Thomas L. Patterson (P32066), who he averred threw stones at his dogs several times. 

Patterson did indeed admit to "having been one of a party of students who on the night of the 22nd. inst. made an attack on the house of Mr. Vandergriff, by throwing stones at it & breaking his window," although, interestingly, no mention is made of the mischief done at Kitty Foster's house. On May 31st the Faculty ruled to suspend him for two weeks.

This account reveals minor yet interesting details of this mixed neighborhood, whereby a white couple, the Vandergriff's, lived alongside Kitty Foster, a freed black woman. Both Kitty and Mr. Vandergriff were well known to the Faculty, thanks to their interactions with students. 

The Chairman's Journals for Session 13 (Vol. 6, September 3, 1836 - February 17, 1837), for example, reveals the following arrangement between Kitty Foster and students. Students were caught "firing pistols across the road south of the University, & just out of the precincts, which pistols they allege that they keep out of the precincts. . . But these students on being sent, say that they violate no law - that they neither introduce, keep, nor use pistols within the precincts. The place of deposits is, I understand, the house of Kitty Foster (P44031). Under the law, as it stands, the students may have a magazine of pistols & fire arms across the road, & use them out of the precincts as much as they please." 

Kitty's clearly financial involvement with students is typical of other formal/informal arrangements that other businesses/persons had to make money in these neighborhoods surrounding the University.


University of Virginia. Faculty Minutes. Vol. 3.4 (31 May 1834): n.p.

Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 13, 1836 - 1837

Cite This Entry

Munro, Julia and Richards, Emily. "Kitty Foster, Mr. Vandergriff, and Student Mischief in the Venable Lane Neighborhood (1834)." JUEL, October 13, 2020.

First published: June 18, 2015 | Last modified: October 13, 2020


Faculty Minutes; Volume III: Part IV: Lines 4453-4511