Elusive Connections: The Immigrant Ancestors
Christian Family Chronicles, July 1983, p. 848-853
By Agnes Branch Pearlman, Editor
For Christian descendants with roots in the colonialsouth, Virginia was the most likely place of first settlement. The earliestimmigrant most often mentioned in southern genealogical literature is ThomasChristian, granted land in Charles City County, Virginia, in 1657.
Although there is record of earlier Virginia Christian immigrants that Thomas –Richard as early as 1642, William in 1652, possibly of Northumberland County,and Christopher or Christians in Norfolk County in 1656 – they are seldom ifever mentioned in genealogies as “the immigrant ancestor.” With the exceptionof Gilbert and Israel of Augusta County during the second quarter of theeighteenth century, the other proven and probable immigrants of the era arebest known for being left out of “the immigrant ancestor” category than formention of their status or lineage – notably Oliver Christian, who left will inLancaster County in 1702, and Michael Christian, who wrote his will inNorthampton County in 1725 leaving male issue.
How these Christians were related to the more prominently mentioned Mr. ThomasChristian remains to be established; but it is likely that all came from theBritish Isles, with possible earlier connections on the Isle of Man.
As editor of Christian Family Chronicles, I have been frequentlyquestioned about the identity of the immigrant ancestor of the Charles City,Henrico, Goochland, and New Kent line. “Was he Thomas Christian, as JamesChristian Lamb believed when writing for the William and Mary Quarterly shortlybefore his series of articles was reprinted in Americans of Gentle Birthin 1909?” or was he William Christian, as A. W. Moore suggest in his ManxWorthies in 1901?” “What is the evidence to support the various claimsregarding the immigrant’s identity?” “Does anyone have proof of his forebears?”
Analysis of the articles of Lamb and Moore as well as of later writers whousually accepted the authority of one or the other should do much to answer thequestions of readers. Furthermore, knowing the basis of the historians’conclusions will aid future researchers in evaluating the secondary or tertiarysources they may encounter and about which I am frequently asked.
Following is the beginning paragraph of Lamb’s article, which has numbersassigned to each individual:
The Virginia progenitor of the family is 1, Thomas CHRISTIAN. As “Mr. ThomasChristian” he patented, Oct. 21, 1687, 1080 acres in Charles City county. Whilethe family did not assume in the eighteenth century the important position ithas enjoyed in the nineteenth, the term “Mr.” accorded to the immigrant, isindicative of social standing. In 1694 “Thomas Christian, Sen.,” got a patentfor 193 acres south of Chickahominy Swamp. The “Sen.” Here shows that there wasanother Thomas Christian, who was probably a son of the elder Thomas andalready of age…
From the foregoing, it is apparent that Lamb used land records to infer thatThomas Christian was the immigrant and used a qualifier when stating that theyounger Thomas was “probably” a son; however, the genealogy as given is basedon that assumption and on family tradition. Lamb seems to dismiss any doubtsthat another was the progenitor of the line he presents:
It seems to be beyond questions that “Mr. Thomas Christian” was theprogenitor of the Virginia family. Independently of the records, tradition hasaffirmed for more than a century that “all the Christians trace back to Mr.Thomas Christian, who owned all the land on both sides of the Chickahominyriver from Windsor shades to Squirrel Park.”
Perhaps it is the above statement, more than anything else, that is responsiblefor the convictions that “all” the Christians trace back to Thomas. Of course,it is the families along the Chickahominy and their descendants to who theauthor alludes.
Lamb later turns his attention to the subject of the immigrant’s ancestry:
It has always been firmly believed in the Virginia family of Christians thatthey are descended from the family of that name in the Isle of Man, who, as iswell known, were for centuries the Dempsters or Judges of that Island…..Perhaps this belief, until a few years ago, had no more substantial basis thantradition, but it seems to have the support of evidence at least a little moresatisfactory – especially to those who, very naturally, are not unwilling to beconvinced.
In this Lamb was referring to the announcement that a silver spoon engravedwith the Christian Coat of Arms Crest had been discovered during remodeling ofthe Christian home at Cherry Bottom, then in the possessions of ThomasLlewellyn and Louisa (Christian) Christian. Clearly, his tone impliesreservation. Today, the knowledgeable skeptic might be quick to point out thatthe arms were not granted until long after Thomas Christian reached America. Sohow and when did the spoon find its way into the rat’s next of the attic?
I believe much confusion about Christian immigrants to Virginia would have beenavoided in subsequent works were it not for the following misleadinginformation published in 1901 in Manx Worthies regarding Man’semigrants:
The next Manx emigrants we hear of left the island in 1655, theirdestination being Virginia. They consisted of two brothers, WILLIAM andJONATHAN CHRISTIAN, from the parish of Maughold, and a family named COTTIERfrom the parish of Lazayre. One result of their emigrating together was thatthe brothers Christian married two of the Cottier girls. WILLIAM received agrant of land from the Crown, which is still in the possession of descendants.
Comparison of known connections and conditions with the above quotation pointsto a number of errors in this brief passage. One of the earliest correctionscame from Mrs. Rita Brown, born 1 Nov 1878, who relied on and added much to thegenealogical work of her mother Violet, the fourth wife of the Reverend WilliamBell Christian of the Isle of Man. Mrs. Brown has been quoted as saying thatthe two brides’ surname was “Collier,” not “Cottier,” as Moore had stated. WhatMrs. Browne failed to note is that the Christian brothers who married theCollier sisters were descendants of and several generations removed from theimmigrant. William Christian of Cherry Bottom on the Chickahominy River wasborn about 1740 and died before 31 July 1808; he married as his first wife,Elizabeth Collier, and secondly, Sally Atkins. By Elizabeth he was thegrandfather of Letitia (Christian) Tyler through son Robert. Coincidentally,Moore does identify this Robert Christian as a “descendant” of William,apparently not realizing that he was dealing with a son and father. The WilliamChristian who first married Elizabeth Collier did, indeed, have a brother Johnwho married Mildred Collier. Naturally, here again, John was of a latergeneration and died in 1801; and he was not an immigrant. Moore also errs whenhe states that William received the land grant when, in fact, Thomas receivedit.
What of the possibility of “a grain of truth” in the reference to someone named“Cottier,” a common Manx name? William “Illiam Dhone’ Christian, the Manxpatriot and martyr, married Elizabeth Cottier in 1630. On Man her name ispronounced roughly “Cotcher” and sometimes appears in the records as“Cockshutt.” This William never came to the colonies although he was reputedlythe ancestor of the Augusta County Christians.
Moore does not give his source for the information he published about theémigrés from Man, but internal evidence is some of his other articles about theChristians would intimate that some material came through Mrs. Browne’s mother,who was apparently also in contact with members of the Virginia family.
The chain of misinformation and mixing of the generations continues to thepresent. Verbatim reference will be made to only a few of the many more recentpublications which make reference to “the immigrant ancestor” and his Manxheritage since so many readers have asked me specifically about them.Invariably, the source goes back to Mrs. Rita Browne’s qualified opinions orspeculation – at times being misinterpreted or being repeated as fact.
For example, in Ruth Nelms Hooker’s article, “Christians of Virginia andKentucky,” published in 1949 in the Register of Kentucky State HistoricalSociety, is the following:
B. R. S. Megaw, B. A., F. S. A., Director & Librarian of the ManxMuseum, Library and Art Gallery, Douglass, Isle of Man, considers Mrs. RitaBrowne of Somerset, England, the best authority on the Christian family ofMilntown, Isle of Man…
…Mrs. Rita Brown of Somerset, England, says that descendants of William (1)Christian, who m. Elizabeth Collier (not Cottier as stated in A. W. Moore’s“Manx Worthies”) and who settled in Virginia in 1655, have done much researchon this family. This Wm. (1) Christian’s son, Thos. (2) Christian was patentingland in Virginia in 1657. Mrs. Browne believes Wm. (1) Christian to have been thegrand-son of Daniel Christian of Baldroma, Isle of Man, who was son of DemsterJohn McCrystyn IV of Milntown, living 1498-1511. She further states that in1913 Louisa Christian, gr-gr-gr-dau. of Thos. (2) Christian (Wm. 1), who had m.her cousin Capt. Thos. Llewellyn Christian, and lived on part of the originalgrant to Thos. (2) Christian (Wm. 1), was having her house repaired, when in arat’s nest a silver teaspoon engraved with the Milntown Crest was found. Thiswould seem to indicate a connection between the family of Wm. (1) Christian andthe Christians of the Isle of Man.
Using the above as her source, Mrs. Eunie V. Christian Stacy presents herinterpretation in Christians of Charles City, published in 1982:
William Christian, who married Elizabeth Collier, is believed by someauthorities in Christian genealogy to be the father of Thomas Christian.William Christian was among 40 persons transported to Virginia in 1652 by Mrs.Jane Harmer. At that time, 50 acres of land were allotted for the transportationof one person to the colony. Mrs. Harmer was granted 2000 acres in the countyof Northumberland in Virginia for transporting 40 persons to the colony.
The identity of the father of William Christian is unknown, but his grandfatherwas Daniel McCristyn of Baldroma, Isle of Man, according to a very goodauthority.
The source, as indicated, was Hooker’s article; and the authority was noneother than Mrs. Rita Browne.
Mrs. Hicks Beach, author of The Yesterdays Behind the Door, originallypublished in 1956, credits Mrs. William Bell Christian and daughter Rita Browneas the source of the material for her book. In the preface to the 1973 reprint,Christine Carthew-Yorstoun refers the reader to page 22 with these words:
Letitia Christian who married President John Tyler, descends From DanielChristian of Baldroma Isle of Man, son of John (IV) McCrystyn (1420-1511).Since Letitia Christian, daughter of Robert Christian and Mary Brown, isrecorded in this country stemming from Thomas Christian, the earliest knownChristian to America who patented land in Virginia in 1647, then all othersalso stem from Daniel Christian of Baldroma, Isle of Man, son of John (IV)McCrystyn (1420-1511).
Exact words, to which Carthew-Yorstoun had referred the reader, are found in afootnote on page 22:
A notable landed family of Christians in Virginia claim to descend fromDaniel McCrysten of Baldroma, a younger son of Deemster John IV (died 1511).The legal strain has come out strongly in them. A daughter, Letitia Christian,was the wife of President Tyler.
Nowhere is supporting evidence given for the claim; and here as elsewhere, withrepetition a claim becomes certain and a belief may suddenly appear as fact.
Significantly, nothing in the texts of any of the quoted works offers furtherinformation about Daniel and his family other than he was the “second son” ofJohn. As such, he had to have been born many years before his father’s death in1511 at age 89. Therefore, at least four or five unknown generations would haveappeared in the interval before any Christians landed on Virginia’s shores –before Thomas Christian acquired land in Charles City County or WilliamChristian’s sponsor received land in Northumberland County. I wonder, then, howany claim of descent made 450 years later could be considered reliable withoutsome indication as to the identity of the intervening generations.
Every time I have been led to writings purportedly offering evidence about theimmigrant’s forebears, close examination of the data shows nothing more thanreassertions of previous undocumented statements or misinterpretations of thesource due to unclear syntax. Indeed, all conclusions regarding ancestry of theimmigrant I have seen in published form can be attributed to one of the sourcesmentioned herein.
So, in response to the question, “Does anyone have proof of ‘the immigrantancestor’s identity or ancestry?” I can only say, “Not as far as I know!” Ijust hope some undiscovered documents will yet come to light.
Agnes Branch Pearlman, Editor