Bullitt County History

Colonel William Christian

The following biographical sketch of Colonel William Christian is taken from Appendix III of Life and Times of Judge Caleb Wallace, by William H. Whitsitt, (Louisville: John P. Morton & Company, 1888, pages 73-9).


This gentleman, with whom Caleb Wallace became intimately connected by marrying his youngest sister [Rosanna Christian], requires special attention in the present connection, inasmuch as one of the leading counties of Kentucky has been named for him. As has been shown above, he was the only son and the oldest child of Israel Christian, having been born near Staunton in the year 1743. His training was had in the severe school of the pioneers, and he early became inured to the use of arms. He entered the military service, and already, before he was of age, had reached the dignity of captain in the Second Virginia Regiment, commanded by Col. William Byrd, of Westover. That fact has been affirmed by Collins in his History of Kentucky, vol. 2, p. 127. It is confirmed by a document in the Virginia State Papers addressed to the Hon. Wm. Nelson, Esq., President of His Majesty's Council, and the rest of that Honorable Board. It bears date May 8, 1772, and is entitled "The Petition of William Byrd, Samuel Meredith, James Walker, and William Christian, which Humbly Sheweth, That your Petitioner, Col. Wm. Byrd, served his Majesty during the late war as Colonel of the Second Virginia Regiment, and that your Petitioners, Samuel Meredith, James Walker, and Wm. Christian at the same time served as Captains in the said Regiment; that by the Royal Proclamation, dated at St. James the 7th day of October, 1763, your petitioners conceive themselves entitled to take up and obtain Grants for the respective quantities of land proportioned to their rank as officers, as by the said Proclamation, reference thereunto had, may appear; that your Petitioners have not been able to locate the Lands so designed for them as aforesaid, by reason of the restriction in the said Proclamation Contained on the several Governors on this Continent from giving patents or warrants of survey for any unceded lands reserved for the Indians. By which means the Royal Bounty intended your Petitioners hath been withheld from them. Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that out of the lands lately ceded by the Indians, &c., &c., they may be permitted to take up and obtain warrants for the respective quantitys of land following: Wm. Byrd, 5,000 acres; Samuel Meredith and James Walker and William Christian, 3,000 acres each, on the Eastern Bank of Ohio River at the Mouth of Little Kanawha, otherwise called Elk River, &c., &c." (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, I, 265, 266.)

The following report by Collins, vol. 2, 764, may have some kind of connection with the 3,000 acres of land which Col. Christian obtained in reward for his services in the Braddock war. He says:

"In July, 1774, Col. John Floyd, Hancock Taylor, and James Douglas each made official surveys in what is now Woodford County, as assistant or deputy surveyors under Col. William Preston, surveyor of Fincastle County, Va., of which the whole of the existing State of Kentucky was then a part. Capt. Isaac Hite was with Douglas. Shortly after the date above, Hancock Taylor, while surveying land near the mouth of Kentucky River for Col. Wm. Christian, was wounded by an Indian rifle-ball."

With respect to one of the representations contained in the above petition, it may be allowed to state that Capt. Christian is not mentioned in that character in the list of officers who accompanied Col. Byrd and the Second Regiment on the expedition to capture Fort Duquesne in 1758. At that time he was only fifteen years of age. He must have joined Byrd several years afterward, and before the close of the war in November, 1762.

After concluding his period of military service Capt. Christian went to Hanover to study law under Patrick Henry, who already was attracting much attention. One of the results of this enterprise was, that he became a brother-in-law of Mr. Henry by the marriage of his sister, Anne Henry. The date at which that union occurred is not stated, though it was likely as early as the year 1765.

By the year 1774 Capt. Christian had attained to the distinction of Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Virginia Regiment. In June of that year he made a military expedition against the Indians as far as Clinch' River, in the present limits of East Tennessee. Taking the field again on the 12th of August, 1774, he was in service in connection with the Battle of Point Pleasant on the 10th of October, 1774, where he commanded a battalion composed of the companies of Captains Evan Shelby, William Russell, and Harbert, from Washington, and of Capt. Buford, from Bedford County; but they failed to reach the scene of action until the fight had been concluded.

In the month of July, 1775, Col. Christian was elected by the Convention to be Lieutenant Colonel of the First Virginia Regiment, which had just then been raised to resist Governor Dunmore. Patrick Henry was the colonel and Mr. Spotswood the major of that regiment.

In January, 1776, the First Regiment and five others from Virginia were received into the Continental Line, at which time the Continental Congress re-elected Henry and Christian to the positions which they had previously occupied. For some reason that has hitherto remained without explanation, Henry declined, about the 1st of February, 1776, to accept the position of colonel in the Continental service. The officers of the regiment, as soon as his purpose had been declared, presented him an address, in which they speak of his "spirited resentment of a most glaring indignity" (Burk, History of Virginia, vol. 4, 108); but it has never been declared just what was the color of that indignity.

A dinner of state was immediately given in honor of Henry at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, at the close of which the troops gathered around the building in a mutinous fashion and called for their discharge on the ground that they had not enlisted to serve under any other person than Patrick Henry. This tumult rendered the situation somewhat more grave than a patriot could easily desire. Col. Henry found it necessary to delay the date of his departure from Williamsburg until he could succeed in quieting the troops, an enterprise in which he was actively seconded by Lieut. Col. Christian.

On the 18th of March, 1776, Christian in his turn was elected to fill the position that had been left vacant through the resignation of Henry. (American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. 5, 105.) That compliment on the part of the Continental Congress was doubtless appreciated by Col. Christian, but the place to which he was chosen was not long retained. Brig. Gen. Andrew Lewis, in a letter to the President of Congress, which was presented to that body on the 22d of August, 1776, says: " Since I wrote by General Mercer, Col. William Christian, who commanded the First Battalion, has resigned." (Am. Archives, Fifth Series, 1, 1053.)

The purpose which moved him to this act of resignation was that he might take command of an independent expedition composed of twelve hundred men that was sent against the Cherokee Indians. On the 14th of October, 1776, the House of Delegates in session at Williamsburg received dispatches from Col. Christian, who was then in the Indian country, in which exact information was supplied relating to the existing condition of his command. On the 29th of November further dispatches were received, to the effect that Christian had returned from his expedition, and laying before the authorities detailed information respecting the treaty that he had effected with the Cherokees. (American Archives, Fifth Series, vol. 3, 902.)

There were numbers of Tories in the western section of Virginia, and when occasion appeared to favor them during the war they were much inclined to become insurgent. By consequence, when the above expedition had come to a close, Col. Christian took service in the militia, where he was useful in keeping down such perilous demonstrations for the balance of the lengthy struggle. It is suspected that he was a member of the Virginia Senate in the May term of the year 1781; at any rate there were frequent occasions on which the House of Delegates received messages from the Senate " by Mr. Christian." That circumstance renders it not impossible that he was the person indicated in the citation from Peyton's History of Augusta County, p, 204, as follows:

" In this bitter hour of defeat, when the House of Delegates was in session at Staunton in June, 1781, one of the members, recalling the history of Rome, who, when torn with intestine strife and deluged with blood, put a dictator at her head, suggested the idea of appointing Patrick Henry dictator. It found no countenance with Henry or the members, and one of them, Archibald Cary, meeting Henry's brother-in-law, addressed him with heat in the following terms: 'Sir, I am told that your brother wishes to be dictator. Tell him from me that the day of his appointment shall be the day of his death, for he shall feel my dagger in his heart before the sunset of that day.'"

Col. Christian's place of residence at this period, as it had been for several years before the war, was Mahanaim, in the county of Montgomery, not far distant, it is presumed, from the seat of his father at Dunkard's Bottom in the same county. Here, about the 1st of February, 1781, he was appointed by Gen. Nathaniel Greene at the head of a commission to treat with the Cherokee Indians, the other members of the commission being William Preston, Arthur Campbell, Joseph Martin, Robert Lanier, Evan Shelby, Joseph Williams, and John Sevier. (Calendar Virginia State Papers, 2, 199.)

After the defeat at Blue Licks on the 19th of August, 1782, he proposed to the Governor of Virginia to raise a thousand men in the back parts of Virginia for the defense of Kentucky. (Cal. Va. State Papers, 3, 331—333.) In January, 1783, he also proposed to the Governor the project of building a gunboat on the Ohio for the purpose of fighting the Indians to better advantage. "At Limestone," he says, "or Licking would be a proper station for an armed vessel to cruise from up and down the river. But it ought to be light and manageable for twenty or thirty men, which number, in a properly constructed vessel, would be strong enough to attack any number of Indians in canoes." (Cal. Va. State Papers, 3, 4. 425-)

A circumstance that has hitherto been overlooked may be worthy of mention in this connection. It relates to the fact that Col. Christian was appointed to be County Lieutenant for Jefferson County in the year 1780. A letter from Col. John Floyd to the Governor of Virginia, dated Jefferson, Ky., January 15, 1781, that has been preserved in the Virginia State Papers, bears directly upon the point in question. Col. Floyd says: " My want of knowledge and experience in the Military Department will, I fear, cause me to be more troublesome to Your Excellency than is necessary or than I should wish to be. And as the County Lieutenant may probably not come out for some time to take the command, and as numbers of people are daily removing themselves into the interior parts of the country for safety, it will be highly necessary to adopt some measure early in the spring for the protection of our frontier. I would therefore beg Your Excellency to give me a few general instructions, by which I may regulate my conduct till Col. Christian comes out." (Calendar of Va. State Papers, i, 437.)

Another letter to the Governor of Virginia, relating to the same business, is from no less a personage than Gen. George Rogers Clark. It is dated Richmond, January 21, 1781, and is expressed in terms about as follows: "Excuse the liberty I take in writing to you on a subject that you might think would not concern me so much as it really does. As part of my forces will be from Kentucky, the appointment of the County Lieutenants is an object worthy of attention. I this day learnt that Col. Christy hath resigned the Lieutenancy of Jefferson County. I would beg leave to recommend to you Col. John Floyd, an Inhabitant of the County, as a gentleman that I am convinced will do honor to the appointment, and known to be the most capable in the County, a Soldier, Gentleman, and a scholar whom the Inhabitants from his actions have the greatest confidence in. I hope, Sir, that you will not put any unfavorable construction on this letter, and beg to subscribe myself Your Very H'ble Servant." (Cal. Va. State Papers, I, 452.)

By the close of the year 1776 Col. Christian had acquired a number of claims on the Government in consideration of his services as a military commander. These claims had been discharged by means of Warrants for land in the public domain. Three of them, each calling for one thousand acres, had been granted by Lord Dunmore for services performed in the Braddock war. (Cal. Va. State Papers, I, 288.) Others had doubtless been conveyed for services at the Battle of Point Pleasant in October, 1774, and possibly for the expedition against the Cherokees in the autumn of the year 1776. It is believed, from an expression occurring in a deposition that was made by Col. Christian in June, 1777, that all of these warrants were located in Kentucky during the first six months of that year. Certainly the one at the mouth of Salt River was entered then, and perhaps the others. This opinion is in part confirmed by the circumstance that all the holdings of Col. Christian were entered in the county of Kentucky, which was organized by the Legislature on the 3rst of December, 1776, and dissolved in the year 1780, the three counties of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Fayette being organized out of its territory. Christian is suspected to have visited Kentucky during the first half of the year 1777 for the purpose of making these entries. They stand as follows on the records of the Land Office at Frankfort:

1,000 acres located in Kentucky County.
2,000 acres located in Kentucky County.
3,000 acres located in Kentucky County.
1,000 acres located in Kentucky County.
1,000 acres located in Kentucky County.
1,000 acres located in Kentucky County.

It was natural that as speedily as might be convenient after the close of the war Col. Christian should have been solicitous to turn his steps toward Kentucky. He would have gone at an earlier date, when he was appointed Lieutenant of Jefferson County in 1780, and again when he was appointed at the head of the Committee for Western Expenses in October, 1781, but for imperative considerations that kept him at home. (Cal. Va. State Papers, 2, 540, 541.) The death of his father, Capt. Israel Christian, occurred in July, 1784, and Col. Christian, being named as the executor of his estate, was detained some length of time by the business of that engagement. He was also one of the guardians of his nephew, Charles Campbell, the son of Gen. William Campbell of King's Mountain fame (Journal Oct. Term, 1782, p. 30), and a member of the Council of State (p. 36). At last he got ready in the spring of the year 1785. and laid his journey toward the place which it had long been his purpose to make the scene of his permanent residence.

A letter contained in the Manuscript Collection of Col. R. T. Durrett, and dated at Mahanaim the 13th of April, 1785, abounds with notes of preparation for the journey that was shortly to be entered upon. It is of interest as being one of the last documents that its author composed in his Virginia home. He is supposed to have arrived in Kentucky sometime during the progress of the following month.

In the autumn of 1785 his house was strengthened by an important nuptial alliance. Priscilla Christian, the eldest daughter, was married to Alexander Scott Bullitt, a native of Prince William County, Virginia, and a son of Cuthbert Bullitt, who was a lawyer of note and a Judge of the Virginia Court of Appeals. Young Bullitt was born in the year 1761. He was a member of the House of Delegates in 1783 (Journal for May Term, 1783, p. 21), and came to Kentucky in the year 1784, settling first within the limits of Shelby County, and afterward removing to Jefferson County.

It is suspected that Col. Christian was visited with premonitions of his early decease. On the 13th of March, 1786, he made his last will and testament. On the 9th of April following, just three years lacking three days after the death of Col. Floyd, whose place he was best of all suited to supply, his own decease occurred. A small body of Indians, having crossed the Ohio, had committed depredations on the property of the settlers in the vicinity of Sturgus' Station, which was situated on Christian's estate, and where perhaps Bullitt and Christian were wont to take refuge in case of sudden attacks by the wily foe. Collecting a party of eight or ten men, Col. Christian pursued these marauders beyond the river. Two of them were overtaken about a mile north of the site where Jeffersonville, Ind., now stands, and, finding escape impossible, they turned upon the pursuers to sell their lives as dearly as they could.

"One of them fired upon Col. Christian, who was foremost in the pursuit, and mortally wounded him. Next to Col. Christian were his son-in-law, Alexander Scott Bullitt, and Col. John O'Bannon, who fired simultaneously, bringing both of the Indians to the ground. Under the impression that they were both dead, a man by the name of Kelly incautiously approached them, when one of them, though mortally wounded, still retaining some strength and all his thirst for blood, raised himself to his knees, and, firing with the rifle which had not been discharged, killed Kelly and fell back and expired." (Collins' History of Kentucky, 2, 106.)

The following letter, addressed by Governor Henry to his sister on this mournful occasion, is one of the most touching productions of his pen:

"RICHMOND, May 15, 1786.
"I am at a loss how to address you, my dearest sister. Would to God I could say something to give relief to the dearest of women and sisters. My heart has felt in a manner new and strange to me, insomuch that while I am endeavoring to comfort you I want a comforter myself. I forbear to tell you how great was my love for my friend and brother. I turn my eyes to heaven, where he is gone, I trust, and adore with humility the unsearchable ways of that Providence which calls us off this stage of action at such time and in such manner as its wisdom and goodness directs. We can not see the reason of these dispensations now, but we may be assured they are directed by wisdom and mercy. This is one of the occasions that calls your and my attention back to the many precious lessons of piety given us by our honored parents, whose lives were indeed a constant lesson and worthy of imitation. This is one of the trying scenes in which the Christian is eminently superior to all others, and finds a refuge that no misfortune can take away. To this refuge let my dearest sister fly with humble resignation. I think I can see some traces of a kind Providence to you and the children in giving you a good son-in-law, so necessary at this time to take charge of your affairs. It gives me comfort to reflect on this. Pray tell Mr. Bullitt I wish to hear from him and to cultivate an intimacy with him, and that he may command any services from me. I could wish any thing remained in my power to do for you or yours. And if at any time you think there is, pray let me know, and depend upon me to do it to the utmost. I need not tell you how much I shall value your letters, particularly now, for I am anxious to hear from you, and how every thing goes on in your affairs. As so few of our family are left, I hope we shall not fail to correspond frequently. It is natural for me to increase in affection to the survivors as the number decreases. I am pained on reflecting that my letters always are penned as dictated by the strongest love and affection to you, but that my actions have not kept pace. Opportunity's being wanting must be the excuse. For indeed, my dearest sister, you never knew how much I loved you and your husband. My heart is full. Perhaps I may never see you in this world. O may we meet in heaven, to which the merits of Jesus will carry those who love and serve him. Heaven will, I trust, give you its choicest comforts and preserve your family. Such is the prayer of him who thinks it his honor and pride to be Yr. Affct. Brother, " P. HENRY."

The stout hero was laid to rest at his seat called Oxmoor, a few miles from Louisville, on the Beargrass. The following inscription may be read upon his tomb:

"Col. William Christian was killed in an action with the Indians, April 9, 1786, aged 43. This monument was erected to his memory by the filial piety of his son, John Henry Christian, who died Nov. 5th, 1800, aged 19."

The present sketch may appropriately be concluded with a few genealogical notices of Col. Christian's family.

William Christian was born near Staunton, Va., in the year 1743. He married Miss Anne Henry, a sister of Patrick Henry, about the year 1765. There were born to this couple six children, five daughters and one son, precisely the same number and precisely the same way distributed as in the family of Israel Christian.

Their eldest daughter and child was born about the year 1766, and, inasmuch as the minds of the household were then much affected by the recent death of Priscilla Christian, she received, in honor of her aunt, the name of Priscilla. This daughter married Col. Alexander Scott Bullitt in the autumn of the year 1786, from which union have descended many of the Bullitts of Kentucky.

The second child was called Sarah Winston Christian, as a compliment to Sarah Winston, the mother of Patrick Henry. She married Dr. Walter Warfield, of Lexington, Ky., and left issue. Among these may be mentioned the Rev. William Christian Warfield, a Baptist minister, of Christian County. A biography of him may be found in Spencer's History of Kentucky Baptists, vol. 2, pp. 369—371. He died November 3, 1835, and left descendants in Christian County. William Christian Warfield, perhaps a son of the preceding, is said to be a practicing physician in that portion of the country at the present time.

Another son was named Charles Warfield, who died of consumption at the residence of his cousin, Samuel McDowell Wallace, in Woodford County, about the year 1830.

There was a daughter named Anne Warfield, who also resided with Samuel McDowell Wallace for a number of years. She married Mr. Blair, and left three children, two boys and one girl. The boys both died of consumption in South Carolina, whither they went for the benefit of their health, and were buried at Lawtonville. The daughter likewise died unmarried.

The third child of Col. Christian was named Elizabeth Bowyer, in compliment to her aunt, Elizabeth Starke Christian, who had married Col. William Bowyer, of Staunton. Elizabeth Bowyer Christian married John Dickinson, of Shelby County.

The fourth child and daughter was Anne Henry, named in honor of her mother. She married Gen. John Pope, one of the most distinguished statesmen of the early days of Kentucky, and left issue.

The fifth child was John Henry Christian, called in honor of his grandfather, John Henry, the father of Governor Patrick Henry. He was born in the year 1781, and died unmarried November 5, 1800. With his decease the name of Christian in this branch of the family became extinct.

The youngest child was Dorothea Fleming Christian, who is said to have been called in honor of the Flemings, that being the name of Col. William Fleming's mother. She married the Rev. Dr. James Fishback, of Lexington, and left no issue. He was a Baptist minister, and a person of distinction in his time. A biographical sketch of him may be found in Spencer's History of Kentucky Baptists, vol. 2, pp. 28—30, as also in Ranck's History of Lexington, pp. 309, 310, i.

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 11 Sep 2020 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/christian_wm.html