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 colonial
south, Virginia was the most likely place of first settlement. The earliest
immigrant most often mentioned in southern genealogical literature is Thomas
Christian, 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 if ever mentioned in genealogies as “the immigrant ancestor.” With the exception of Gilbert and Israel of Augusta County during the second quarter of the eighteenth century, the other proven and probable immigrants of the era are best known for being left out of “the immigrant ancestor” category than for mention of their status or lineage – notably Oliver Christian, who left will in Lancaster County in 1702, and Michael Christian, who wrote his will in Northampton County in 1725 leaving male issue.
How these Christians were related to the more prominently mentioned Mr. Thomas Christian remains to be established; but it is likely that all came from the British Isles, with possible earlier connections on the Isle of Man.
As editor of Christian Family Chronicles, I have been frequently questioned about the identity of the immigrant ancestor of the Charles City, Henrico, Goochland, and New Kent line. “Was he Thomas Christian, as James Christian Lamb believed when writing for the William and Mary Quarterly shortly before his series of articles was reprinted in Americans of Gentle Birth in 1909?” or was he William Christian, as A. W. Moore suggest in his Manx Worthies in 1901?” “What is the evidence to support the various claims regarding 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 who usually accepted the authority of one or the other should do much to answer the questions of readers. Furthermore, knowing the basis of the historians’ conclusions will aid future researchers in evaluating the secondary or tertiary sources they may encounter and about which I am frequently asked.
Following is the beginning paragraph of Lamb’s article, which has numbers assigned to each individual:
The Virginia progenitor of the family is 1, Thomas CHRISTIAN. As “Mr. Thomas Christian” he patented, Oct. 21, 1687, 1080 acres in Charles City county. While the family did not assume in the eighteenth century the important position it has enjoyed in the nineteenth, the term “Mr.” accorded to the immigrant, is indicative of social standing. In 1694 “Thomas Christian, Sen.,” got a patent for 193 acres south of Chickahominy Swamp. The “Sen.” Here shows that there was another Thomas Christian, who was probably a son of the elder Thomas and already of age…
From the foregoing, it is apparent that Lamb used land records to infer that Thomas Christian was the immigrant and used a qualifier when stating that the younger Thomas was “probably” a son; however, the genealogy as given is based on that assumption and on family tradition. Lamb seems to dismiss any doubts that another was the progenitor of the line he presents:
It seems to be beyond questions that “Mr. Thomas Christian” was the progenitor of the Virginia family. Independently of the records, tradition has affirmed 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 Chickahominy river from Windsor shades to Squirrel Park.”
Perhaps it is the above statement, more than anything else, that is responsible for the convictions that “all” the Christians trace back to Thomas. Of course, it is the families along the Chickahominy and their descendants to who the author 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 that they are descended from the family of that name in the Isle of Man, who, as is well known, were for centuries the Dempsters or Judges of that Island….. Perhaps this belief, until a few years ago, had no more substantial basis than tradition, but it seems to have the support of evidence at least a little more satisfactory – especially to those who, very naturally, are not unwilling to be convinced.
In this Lamb was referring to the announcement that a silver spoon engraved with the Christian Coat of Arms Crest had been discovered during remodeling of the Christian home at Cherry Bottom, then in the possessions of Thomas Llewellyn and Louisa (Christian) Christian. Clearly, his tone implies reservation. Today, the knowledgeable skeptic might be quick to point out that the arms were not granted until long after Thomas Christian reached America. So how 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 been avoided in subsequent works were it not for the following misleading information published in 1901 in Manx Worthies regarding Man’s emigrants:
The next Manx emigrants we hear of left the island in 1655, their destination being Virginia. They consisted of two brothers, WILLIAM and JONATHAN CHRISTIAN, from the parish of Maughold, and a family named COTTIER from the parish of Lazayre. One result of their emigrating together was that the brothers Christian married two of the Cottier girls. WILLIAM received a grant of land from the Crown, which is still in the possession of descendants.
Comparison of known connections and conditions with the above quotation points to a number of errors in this brief passage. One of the earliest corrections came from Mrs. Rita Brown, born 1 Nov 1878, who relied on and added much to the genealogical work of her mother Violet, the fourth wife of the Reverend William Bell Christian of the Isle of Man. Mrs. Brown has been quoted as saying that the two brides’ surname was “Collier,” not “Cottier,” as Moore had stated. What Mrs. Browne failed to note is that the Christian brothers who married the Collier sisters were descendants of and several generations removed from the immigrant. William Christian of Cherry Bottom on the Chickahominy River was born about 1740 and died before 31 July 1808; he married as his first wife, Elizabeth Collier, and secondly, Sally Atkins. By Elizabeth he was the grandfather 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 William Christian who first married Elizabeth Collier did, indeed, have a brother John who married Mildred Collier. Naturally, here again, John was of a later generation and died in 1801; and he was not an immigrant. Moore also errs when he states that William received the land grant when, in fact, Thomas received it.
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 Manx patriot and martyr, married Elizabeth Cottier in 1630. On Man her name is pronounced roughly “Cotcher” and sometimes appears in the records as “Cockshutt.” This William never came to the colonies although he was reputedly the ancestor of the Augusta County Christians.
Moore does not give his source for the information he published about the émigrés from Man, but internal evidence is some of his other articles about the Christians 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 the present. Verbatim reference will be made to only a few of the many more recent publications which make reference to “the immigrant ancestor” and his Manx heritage since so many readers have asked me specifically about them. Invariably, the source goes back to Mrs. Rita Browne’s qualified opinions or speculation – at times being misinterpreted or being repeated as fact.
For example, in Ruth Nelms Hooker’s article, “Christians of Virginia and Kentucky,” published in 1949 in the Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, is the following:
B. R. S. Megaw, B. A., F. S. A., Director & Librarian of the Manx Museum, Library and Art Gallery, Douglass, Isle of Man, considers Mrs. Rita Browne of Somerset, England, the best authority on the Christian family of Milntown, 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 research on this family. This Wm. (1) Christian’s son, Thos. (2) Christian was patenting land in Virginia in 1657. Mrs. Browne believes Wm. (1) Christian to have been the grand-son of Daniel Christian of Baldroma, Isle of Man, who was son of Demster John McCrystyn IV of Milntown, living 1498-1511. She further states that in 1913 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 original grant to Thos. (2) Christian (Wm. 1), was having her house repaired, when in a rat’s nest a silver teaspoon engraved with the Milntown Crest was found. This would seem to indicate a connection between the family of Wm. (1) Christian and the Christians of the Isle of Man.
Using the above as her source, Mrs. Eunie V. Christian Stacy presents her interpretation in Christians of Charles City, published in 1982:
The identity of the father of William Christian is unknown, but his grandfather was Daniel McCristyn of Baldroma, Isle of Man, according to a very good authority.
The source, as indicated, was Hooker’s article; and the authority was none other than Mrs. Rita Browne.
Mrs. Hicks Beach, author of The Yesterdays Behind the Door, originally published in 1956, credits Mrs. William Bell Christian and daughter Rita Browne as 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 Daniel Christian of Baldroma Isle of Man, son of John (IV) McCrystyn (1420-1511). Since Letitia Christian, daughter of Robert Christian and Mary Brown, is recorded in this country stemming from Thomas Christian, the earliest known Christian to America who patented land in Virginia in 1647, then all others also 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 a footnote on page 22:
A notable landed family of Christians in Virginia claim to descend from Daniel 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, with repetition a claim becomes certain and a belief may suddenly appear as fact.
Significantly, nothing in the texts of any of the quoted works offers further information about Daniel and his family other than he was the “second son” of John. As such, he had to have been born many years before his father’s death in 1511 at age 89. Therefore, at least four or five unknown generations would have appeared in the interval before any Christians landed on Virginia’s shores – before Thomas Christian acquired land in Charles City County or William Christian’s sponsor received land in Northumberland County. I wonder, then, how any claim of descent made 450 years later could be considered reliable without some indication as to the identity of the intervening generations.
Every time I have been led to writings purportedly offering evidence about the immigrant’s forebears, close examination of the data shows nothing more than reassertions of previous undocumented statements or misinterpretations of the source due to unclear syntax. Indeed, all conclusions regarding ancestry of the immigrant I have seen in published form can be attributed to one of the sources mentioned herein.
So, in response to the question, “Does anyone have proof of ‘the immigrant ancestor’s identity or ancestry?” I can only say, “Not as far as I know!” I just hope some undiscovered documents will yet come to light.
Agnes Branch Pearlman, Editor