Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Paradise was an antebellum home that fronted the west side of the 100
block of North George Street, the unpaved street seen in the foreground.
– Jefferson County Museum
Edward Christian is quite a mysterious figure in my Jefferson-Roberson research. I have been unable, so far, to determine where he was born and who his parents were. The Christian family was prolific in southern Virginia, mostly around Richmond. He likely is a relative to that clan, but trying to unravel those family threads can be a dizzying effort. #ColonialVirginiaGenealogyConfusion
It’s possible his family lived in Winchester, Virginia, which is just south of Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties in today’s West Virginia. Records indicate he worked as a deputy clerk in Winchester government before holding the job of deputy clerk for Berkeley County, and later Jefferson County. Christian was involved in the effort to create Jefferson County from the southern half of Berkeley in 1801. Shortly after the state legislature approved the formation of the new county, he was one of 11 men admitted to the bar there.
Robert Jefferson said his master, Christian, and Thomas Jefferson were “warm personal friends,” and that during the president’s visits, his mother, Millie, was charged with caring for Jefferson’s apartment in Christian’s home. The fact that Jefferson did visit Charles Town several times was confirmed sometime after the 1879 Journal article was published. A reader had written a letter to the editor about the article, and the editor went around town to ask the elder residents if they recalled Jefferson visiting the area. They confirmed the story.
Historian and Spirit of Jefferson and Farmers Advocate columnist Bill Theriault published a column on March 6, 2002, marking what would have been the 200th anniversary of Robert Jefferson’s birth. In the column, he quotes from a June 21, 1879, response to a letter written to Charles Town’s Virginia Free Press newspaper regarding Robert’s story, which had been published in an issue the Albany, N.Y., Express a few days earlier:
“We have made inquiry of several of our old citizens, and learn that Thomas Jefferson frequently visited Charlestown [sic]. In company with General Darke he visited the printing office of Mr. William Brown (father of our fellow-citizen, Mr. Jos. Brown) in 1800. The office of Mr. Brown was in the stone building on the corner of Lawrence Street and Academy Alley. Capt. Christian was Deputy Clerk of this County in 1804, and from the information we have, must have been a resident several years prior to that time, and resided at ‘Paradise,’ now the residence of Isaac Fouke, Esq., and Mr. Jefferson was frequently his guest.”
The writer of the letter that the paper responded in 1879 to is not identified in Theriault’s column, in which Theriault explains that “Paradise” was a large house located on the southwest corner of Liberty and George streets in Charles Town. Built in 1807, it was razed in 1930.
Of course, Jefferson also was a friend of George Washington; one of Washington’s favorite places was the famed mineral springs in the town of Bath, now known as Berkeley Springs, now the seat of Morgan County, about 60 miles west of Charles Town. Being an hour from D.C., it would seem plausible for Jefferson to stay overnight in Charles Town when traveling to and from the springs.
Besides a brief mention in a book on Jefferson County’s history – “A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia (1719-1940)" by Millard Kessler Bushong, there are few documents that put Christian in that town at that time. But those documents are significant and hint at the possibility that Christian’s life may have fallen apart sometime before 1820.
In the 1810 U.S. Census, Christian is listed as a resident of Charles Town with a family that includes a young son, three young daughters, a wife, and three slaves. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the U.S. census, only the heads of household were identified by name until 1850, when the names of other members of the household (except slaves) were listed by enumerators.
The 1820 census shows Edward Christian living alone in Bath, or Berkeley Springs. What happened to his wife and children is unclear; I have found no documentation, so far, that would shed light as to their fates.
But one other document, a mortgage dated in September 1817, shows that Christian had given Millie and, by then, her four sons – Albert, Robert, Richard and Henry – as collateral to resolve a debt of $325 he owned to a man named John Dixon:
“Whereas the said Edward is indebted to John Dixon Esq., in the sum of three hundred and twenty five dollars, and being desirous of securing the payment thereof, and for the further consideration of one cent in hand paid by the said Flood at or upon the sealing and delivery hereof, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged: Now this indenture witnesseth that aforesaid Edward for and in consideration of the premises, hath bargained sold transferred set over and confirmed unto the said William P. Flood a Negro woman named Milley and her four children to wit: Albert, Robert, Richard and Henry to have and to hold the said negroes (they being slaves for life) to the only proper use and behoof the said William P. Flood his heirs and assigns. Upon this special trust and confidence nevertheless that should the said Christian fail to pay the said Dixon the said sum of three hundred and twenty five dollars on or before the first of June next with interest from this date, that then and in that case it shall be lawful for the said Flood, and express authority is hereby given him, after having advertised the place and time of sale for at least four weeks, to sell the said Negroes for cash to the highest bidder, and after having paid all costs and charges of carrying this trust into execution, pay to the said Dixon the said sum of three hundred and twenty five dollars with interest from this date, the balance of the money if any to remain in the hands of the said Wm. P. Flood for the use of the children of said Edward in equal proportions.”
For clarification, $325 in 1817 is the equivalent of just over $5.300 in today's economy. What the indenture itself seems to indicate is that, in 1810, the three enslaved people counted in Christian’s household were Millie, her eldest son Albert, and then Robert, who would have been 7 years old when that census was taken. The indenture also implies that Millie had two more sons sometime between the 1810 census and the 1817 indenture. Who fathered the other three boys? That's unknown, but Robert does mention in the 1879 article that when his mother was an unmarried woman at the time he was born. The brothers may have been the progeny of Edward Christian himself, someone else entirely, or quite possibly also fathered by Jefferson. Finding more about them has proven difficult, as there is no way to know (yet) whether whose surname the were given (or took, when adults) – Christian, Millie’s surname of Rutherford, Jefferson or another name altogether.
The indenture orders that any money Flood would have made from the sale, or from the work of Millie and her sons if hired out to others, was to be held for “the children of said Edward in equal proportions” – less, of course, the amount Christian owed to Dixon, plus interest. Sadly, the document doesn’t name the children individually, and makes no mention of the mother of those children.
Did Edward Christian fall onto hard times? Did his wife become ill and die, leaving him with the children he somehow was unable to provide for? And why, if he had been successful previously, would he be in such a financial situation that he needed Flood to help him repay his debt to Dixon?
So far, I’ve found very little to determine the exact identities of Flood or Dixon; I have no idea when, exactly, Flood would have sold the family, but I would assume it was sometime after the judge's deadline of June 1818; from Robert’s article, that the buyer likely was a man named Stovall who, later, sold at least Robert and Millie to Asa Dearing, a planter living of Wilkes County, Georgia, in 1820.
Mr. Dearing will be the subject of the next installment of this blog. Stay tuned.
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