An Early American Christmas in The Revolutionary Era
by: Ginger Christmas
November 1997 Fall Term Paper
In order to write about a Revolution of any kind one needs to look at the events that led up to the revolt. While investigating the motives behind the people joining the Revolution for Independence, I noted that the Navigation Acts of 1763, brought about by Grenville, were laws governing imperial trades. These Acts were laxly enforced at first and caused no real burden. They did however, tend to stifle the economic initiative and left the colonists with annoying liabilities. Grenville's Colonial Currency Act prevented the colonists from paying off their debts in the depreciated colonial currency. Contained in the Currency Act was the "forbidding of all acts of colonial assemblies that were contrary to its terms" and a fine was levied on any Governor participating in such acts. The Colonists soon opposed this act. The acts were known as the "Intolerable Acts." This led to the immortal statement "taxation without representation" and called upon the colonists to unite in opposition. As a result the Nonimportation Resolve was enacted by the colonies. Every one of these acts violated some segment of colonial sensibility. As a large land owner in North Carolina, John Christmas had to purchase many items from Britain to run his sawmill. The finished goods were shipped to England or illegally smuggled into other countries. In 1765 the Stamp Act was enacted and the colonists unanimously reacted against it. This act affected the middle class workers who were lawyers, printers, ship owners, land speculators and tavern owners. They quickly claimed that Parliament had no jurisdiction to place a tax on colonists without representation in Parliament. This brought about the Stamp Act Congress.
The following year some of the Freemasons from Philadelphia moved into the North Carolina area, where Captain John Christmas and his family lived, and started up the Blandford Bute Lodge of Freemasons. On the 29th of July 1765 John made application to the lodge and was accepted on the 25th of September. It is believed by James David Carter that the "Great Seal" of the American Presidency contains a number of Masonic symbols. There is considerable evidence indicating that the American Revolution was inspired by American Freemasons. Ample evidence shows Freemasonry to have been influential in the formation of the America Constitution. John was active with the Masons until 1774. His sons were members after 1784 when the Freemasons of Blandford Lodge resumed their meetings. However, we don't have physical evidence of meetings during the years from 1774 until 1784. We do have meeting notes of the Lodge before 1774 and after 1784 that were uncovered in a storeroom of the Old Bute County courthouse at Warrenton, N.C. in 1908. The meetings of the Freemasons were held in secret and the family meetings would be held quietly as well. John had five grown sons and his three daughters were married. The thought of this family gathering, to discuss political matters, around the home fire, are not unreasonable. Topics of the Acts that were being imposed and reading of the newspaper reports would be discussed. The men would talk of their meetings and the wives would, undoubtedly, voice an opinion as well. The Christmas' were a strong willed group of people. Evidence of this is found in their lives before and after the war. A decision to fight for the rights as British citizens or even an independent government was made in this household as it was all across the colonies.
In 1769 the Townshend Act was enacted by Parliament on the 29th of June. It imposed duties on tea, glass, paint, oil, lead, and paper imported into America. These were items used by many Colonists in their everyday life causing hardship on these lower class citizens. In 1770 the Townshend Act caused another nonimportation resolve to be enacted by the colonists. The merchants of England were pleading again for the repeal of the Townshend Act. All looked good until Lord Frederick North decided that it would seem weak to do away with the entire act. To help his friends in the East India Company, North kept the Tea Act in effect. This act made it an act of treason to be involved in a riot. Herman Husbands led the North Carolina Regulators who took the law into their own hands. These regulators fought against the lack of representation in the Assembly. Governor William Tryon led 1,000 men against the regulators at Alamance Creek near Hillsborough, North Carolina. The Battle of Alamance was the first battle in the war.
Before it was all over six Regulators were hung. The war was in John Christmas' back yard and it was time to make a stand. He chose the Patriot side when the war began in full. In 1774 the Ladies of Edenton took a large step towards the nonimportation resolution. There were 51 ladies who signed a petition in support of the nonimportation resolves. These were the first ladies to openly voice an opinion on political matters. Although the men made important decisions politically, economically and in their own homes, their wives could bring considerable pressure on them, from the peasant to the aristocrat. Women had opinions and for the most part kept those opinions within the confines of their homes. The Christmas family was large and John's wife, Mary, had to provide reasonable comfort for them in the home. This meant purchasing a considerable amount of finished goods from England. To stand behind the Nonimportation Resolve meant more work and hardships for everyone . The cause was worth it.
In 1775 there was a great deal of Parliamentary activity in the Quartering and Quebec Acts. On the 14th of October the Declaration of Rights and Grievances was adopted by the Continental Congress and George Washington wrote that "no thinking man in all of America desires independence." In May Josiah Martin, the governor of North Carolina, fled from New Bern to Fort Johnson and then to the ship of war Cruiser resulting in the end of British rule in North Carolina. In July 500 minutemen burned Ft. Johnson, leaving the Cape Fear River unprotected until the end of the war. In December 1776 the North Carolina Constitution was adopted and Richard Caswell was elected as Governor of the independent North Carolina. That year France and Spain jointly and secretly agreed to support the Colonial government in the war against Britain. What kind of people were the Christmas family? Every schoolchild knows of the Revolutionary sacrifices of men like Samuel Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Not many of us realize that thousands of every-day men and women gave as much of their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor as did any signer of the Declaration of Independence. Any war in history requires far-sighted leaders, but it must also have scores of lower echelon captains and lieutenants as well as hundreds of loyal, dedicated privates if it is to succeed. The American Revolution was no exception to this principle. The people presented in this paper tell a story of heroism and bravery. Their contributions throughout the counties in the thirteen colonies were just as important a part of the Revolution as Jefferson's drafting the Declaration or Washington's wintering at Valley Forge. This family was highly involved in the local Committees and Associations that were the lifeblood of resistance to England. One of those was the Freemasons of Blandford Bute Lodge. This lodge began the 29th of April 1766 in the area that is now known as Warrenton, North Carolina and that year Captain John Christmas joined the Lodge. The family was living in the area of Warrenton and part of his family continued to live there until 1870. The other association was the Committee of Safety in Bute County, North Carolina. This Committee was formed by many of the members of the Blandford Bute Lodge. The Lodge held meetings up until early 1774. After that date no meeting notes can be found until 1784, which leads me to believe that they were busy with the Safety Committee. The Safety Committees were formed as headquarters for the Colonial Militia.
Without the support of people like the Christmas family, and other in the area, there might never have been a 2nd Continental Congress meeting at Hillsborough, North Carolina. These people took risks when joining the organizations throughout the Colonies because of the Intolerable Act that forbade the holding of public meetings that were not sanctioned by the British. The Act, although not originally intended for North Carolina at first, was just as effectual because it could apply any time the British wanted. In 1774 when John Christmas and his sons and relatives began their efforts to start this Committee of Safety, the Declaration of Independence was still nearly two years away. By signing their names to the documents that are collected on the minutes of this committee, the men of Bute County were opening themselves to potential charges of treason. After all, the North Carolina colony was then governed by, Josiah Martin, a professional soldier in the British Army. That army had established itself a decade earlier as the greatest fighting force on earth with the end of the "Seven Year War." Martin was not sympathetic to the Colonists' cause.
Facing up to a country as powerful as England was as large an act of courage as was facing death and confiscation of one's property for treason. Serving the bonds of allegiance to the mother country where many of the Revolutionaries still had relatives was an emotional dilemma, making this a type of Civil War. The British did not want to fight their kinfolk anymore than the Colonists did. However, these men of Bute felt, as did their counterparts in other colonies, that their rights as free men were being disregarded by an arbitrary government in England. They were prepared to make huge sacrifices for this principle. On June 23rd in 1775 there was a meeting of the freeholders of Bute and among the attendants were Captain John Christmas, his eldest son John Christmas Jr., and Thomas Christmas the second eldest son. In the list of signers at that meeting we find another thirty members of this family including in-laws and cousins. This meeting was "to form themselves into an Independent Company and choose their own officers, and that the officers when chosen, shall diligently instruct their men in military exercise for the defense of this country. The committee recommended the people of this county to choose a new committee on the day of the general election, and also nominate delegates to attend the Colony Convention at Hillsborough or whatever place shall be appointed for their meeting." The Military problem was that the individual Colonies had total jurisdiction over their men. Each Colony determined who was of a fighting age and who would fight in which battle. George Washington had trouble with this military concept. The basic problem was that his army was no sooner built up than it began to melt away and there were several limitations on the availability of these men. They could only be required to serve for certain periods of time in certain locations and situations. If a battle took him across a county or perhaps a Colonial line he needed to seek permission to have those men in the battle that did not live in the other jurisdiction. North Carolina, along with several other states, had short term enlistment times. Some were as short as a few days and others were from one to three month terms. (This is evident in the pension records of several of the Christmas family members.)
On the 8th of July in 1775 these same three Christmas men were back at the Committee meeting on Safety in Bute County, North Carolina. They signed their names to a document that read as follows: "we the subscribers adopt accede to and will religiously observe and keep the Association entered into by the general Congress at Philadelphia the 5th of September last, and that we will adopt and endeavor to execute the measures which the General Congress now sitting at Philadelphia may conclude on for the preservation of our Constitution, and opposing the Parliament and that we will readily observe the directions of our general Committee, for the purpose aforesaid, the preservation of peace and good order and security of individuals and private property." As you can see this family was very dedicated to the causes of the Revolutionary War. At this time nine of the eleven Christmas children were old enough to be involved in the efforts to attain independence from Britain. Six of John Christmas' sons were old enough to go to war and five of these sons were Captain or better during the Revolutionary War. Their children are described as follows: John Christmas Jr. was 32 and a member of the Safety Committee; Thomas Christmas was 31 and Captain of the Militia at Bute (Where in 1779 the newly formed County of Warren passed an act establishing Warrenton as the county seat. The court was to be held at the home of Thomas Christmas until the courthouse could be built); Mary Christmas was 30 and the wife of William Green who was a very active member of the Safety Committee; Ann Christmas was 25 and the wife of Nathaniel McLemore another member of the Militia in Bute County; Richard Christmas was 23 and in Nathaniel Greene's forces under his brother, Captain William Christmas, who was 22; Henreitta Christmas was 20 and married to Captain Thomas Power another member of the militia at Bute; Nathaniel Christmas was 19 and a private under Greene's command; Robert who was 15 and went to war for freedom (every able-bodied man was officially part of the militia and subject to call-up in an emergency and many boys during the war went at only 12 years of age); James who was only 7 and his brother Charles age 3 who never entered the war at any time. The two younger boys became a minister and a physician respectively. The family was very active during the five years of fighting between 1775 and 1783. John and Mary spent most of their time near home where they provided sundries and cash for the newly evolved government of North Carolina, John remained a Captain in the Bute Militia. Their oldest son went to Halifax and was killed there in 1777 (I haven't been able to locate the records of his death so I am not sure it was war related.) Thomas Christmas also lived near home and was a Captain in the Bute Militia. He and Sarah (Duke), his wife had seven children from 1766 to 1787 which would indicate that he was around home a considerable amount of time. The county court records show that he sold property, perhaps to help support the war effort much like his father. In 1779, he helped set up setup the county seat of Warrenton, Warren County. At the age of 27 years the County Commission had procured his services as surveyor. "He was a member of a family that had come early from Virginia and several members of this family served in various county and provincial offices" for Warren (Old Bute) County. The courthouse in the newly formed Warren County was built on land donated by Thomas Christmas, containing 100 acres. The decision to build the courthouse on his land and hold court in his home was made that year.
His land was conveniently located near the center of Warren County. Richard Christmas advanced through the ranks in the militia, beginning with Private in 1775 to Major in 1782. He was one of "those boys" that just had to be involved. As a single man with no family ties he enlisted in the army and advanced rapidly. In February of 1780 after his Captain was wounded or killed he was taken prisoner, with a company of militia under the leadership of Col. Hugh Tinning's Regiment of North Carolina. He was held for 16 days and released. In Feb. of 1781 he re-enlisted as a Sergeant with his brother, Capt. William Christmas, and served another three months. After only one month he was sent to fight under Col. Eaton in the Battle near Guilford Courthouse on the 15th of March. By July 15th he had re-enlisted again under Captain Abram Allen and was captured, again, at Charlotte, North Carolina and held on the British ship "Eske" in Charleston harbor in South Carolina. (I have tried to find information on this ship with no results.) The Pension Records state that it was a prisoner ship in Charleston Harbor. He was held aboard the ship Eske for just under a year when his brother, Nathaniel Christmas, acquired his release. William Christmas was a very busy son as well. When he was 18 he qualified as a surveyor, having given bonds in 1770 for this profession. He was actively working with the government in North Carolina stayed in contact with his cousin Richard Henderson, Surveyor, of Transylvania fame. Just before the war William helped lay off the town of Boonsborough, along with Thomas Person. In 1777 he was commissioned Ensign in the militia. He served as staff officer of the Halifax Militia District, Quartermaster Division, as Warren County commissioner for "collecting provisions, tax and securing supplies and provisions for support of the army and navy of this and the United States in the Southern Department." In 1778 he was appointed as surveyor for the county and was one of three surveyors to run the line between Bute, Warren and Franklin counties. Because of the Lord of Bute's involvement in the Revolution on the side of the British, the decision was made to do away with Bute county and make two other counties in its stead.
One was named after General Warren and the other was named after Benjamin Franklin, a well known statesman and inventor. In 1780 he was busy laying off the towns of Warrenton and Louisburg in North Carolina which were the two county seats of the two new counties of Warren and Franklin. On the 15th of March 1781 he was commander of the Independent Rifle Corps under General Nathaniel Greene as who fought in the battle near Guilford Courthouse. This battle was crucial because it was fought very near the homes of the Christmas family. When Cornwallis retreated for rest and supplies he went to Hillsborough where Captain John Christmas lived. After the war William was involved in the Bonus Act which was established to grant land to the men who were fighting in the Revolutionary War. He acquired land for his war efforts in the Mississippi Territory. This act allowed 640 acres of bounty land for privates and up to 12,000 acres for Brigadier Generals. John Christmas, his father, was granted 1,000 acres in Orange County, North Carolina. Nathaniel was busy keeping his brother Richard out of trouble, keeping up with the Committee of Safety in his home state and following his brother William around learning the trade of surveyor. After the war he settled with his younger brother Robert in the Wilkes County area of Georgia where they were district judges. He moved to the Louisiana area to settle down with Mary McLemore, his wife. He Petitioned the new government for pension from the Revolutionary war but was rejected. He reached his rank of Major as a First Major Surveyor.Captain William Christmas, Sergeant Richard Christmas and young Robert Christmas were in the battle near Guilford Courthouse under the Leadership of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Greene. Robert moved to Wilkes County Georgia where he petitioned the government for a pension as a wounded soldier. He was granted 200 acres in Georgia on the 24th of May 1786. He then began a career as District Juror and Judge until his death in 1799. The records on Robert are lengthy in the Wilkes County area of Georgia. Now we must look at the effects that the Revolutionary war had on the lives of these people. At the end of the war Captain John Christmas was sick. It is not known what caused the sickness in his 66th year. He subsequently made out his will, where he was careful to mention each of his children, and the children of his deceased son. Now that he was allowed the pursuit of life, liberty and property he left his land to each of the children.
John Christmas Jr. was killed in 1777 near Halifax, North Carolina and left a will in Bute County naming his wife, three small children, and Thomas Christmas, his brother, as executor of his estate. His death had quite an effect on his wife and small children. Captain Thomas Christmas had also been affected because he was the eldest. He was responsible for his family, his deceased brother's family, and for his widowed mother who had two small sons at home.
Mary Elizabeth Christmas was the wife of Colonel William Green who was active in the Committee of Safety and a soldier in the Revolutionary War. They remained near Warren County and were involved in local politics.
Ann P. Christmas and her husband Nathaniel McLemore were with the group who went to the new territory of Tennessee to settle and make a new home. Nathaniel McLemore was very active with the Militia and fought in the Battle near Guilford Courthouse.
Major Richard Christmas had enough time in and out of British prisons. He decided to marry the widow of General Thomas Butler. He became a representative in the lower house of government in Georgia. Richard achieved rank of Colonel in his surveyor work in the State of North Carolina.
First Major William Christmas was busy with his new wife, Abigail McLemore. He surveyed the new lands in Tennessee, Kentucky and the Mississippi Territory. In 1791 he was one of the men working on the First map of North Carolina with Price and Strothers, served in the North Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate. He resigned his post as a Colonel and then took a party of settlers into the Tennessee area in 1800. Nathaniel and Richard Christmas joined him and opened a land office in the Knoxville area in 1801
Henrietta was married to Captain John Power and settled in Tennessee along with her brothers. Her husband was active in the Safety Committee in Bute County.
Major Nathaniel Christmas had a new wife, Mary McLemore, and joined hisbrother William in Tennessee after a term in the North Carolina House of Representatives. He was instrumental in securing financing for the Price and Strother maps.
Robert Christmas married Marie F. Gilbert and became a District Judge in Wilkes County Georgia with his brother Nathaniel before Nathaniel moved on to Tennessee.
James married Elizabeth Courtney and settled in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his family and mother. He became a Baptist minister for the Cane Creek Church his mother helped to form. Charles became a proponent Physician in Hillsborough and outlived his mother by only one year.
The records of most of these men were destroyed. The Virginia GenealogicalSociety and the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution have reconstructed many of them with letters and other government records. These documents give vital information on the lives of the men of this era. Many of the petitioners were rejected because they had no records to present too the newly formed government. Many of the people who fought in the Revolutionary War were never properly acknowledged for their part in the forming of our great country. I hope this paper will justify a smallpart of that injustice. There are nine generations between Captain John Christmas and myself. I hope that as time passes when I write my book that I can properly portray the lives of all the family members, as well as I have tried to do with this paper.
History of the American People Vol. I (1492-1865) by Oliver
County Commission of Safety Minutes 1775-1776 by B. Ransom McBrids
p.32-Fraternal Organizations by Alvin J. Schmidt p.1213-The People's
Chronology A year-by-year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to
the Present Day by James Trager p.319
© Ginger Beattie-Christmas 1997, 2001
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