Annie Henry Christian (d. 4 May 1790), pioneer, was born in Hanover County, probably late in the 1730s or early in the 1740s. She was the daughter of Sarah Winston Syme Henry and her second husband, John Henry, a Scottish immigrant. Her siblings included Patrick Henry, orator and governor of Virginia, and Elizabeth Henry Campbell Russell, a Methodist lay leader in Washington County.
The good education Henry received from her parents enabled her to compose during the 1770s and 1780s a series of informative letters written in a clear, steady hand and characterized by the straightforward tone and easy narrative flow of one comfortable with the written word. Sometime between mid-January and mid-March 1768 she married William Christian, who later briefly served on the Council of State. Between 1770 and 1785 they had five daughters and one son. In the first year of their marriage, the Christians lived in the Roanoke River Valley in that part of Augusta County that was organized in 1770 as Botetourt County, where Annie Henry Christian became close to her sister-in-law, Anne Christian Fleming, who lived nearby. In 1770 the Christians moved to Mahanaim in Dunkard's Bottom, thirty-five miles to the southwest in the area that in 1772 became Fincastle County, and Christian began a correspondence with her sister-in-law that continued for the rest of her life.
Christian was not one of the women politicized by the American Revolution, even though in 1776 she accompanied her husband to Williamsburg, where he was serving as lieutenant colonel and then colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment. Later that year while he commanded an expedition against the Cherokee on the southwestern frontier of Virginia, she complained to her brother the governor about her husband's frequent absences from home and the consequent inattention to his own business affairs.
In the spring of 1785 the Christian family, including their children, and an undetermined number of slaves moved to Kentucky, but William Christian's widowed mother turned back before reaching Cumberland Gap. Christian's letters to her sister-in-law chronicled the trek along the Wilderness Road and her early months in Kentucky and contain the best first-person accounts of that portion of the westward movement that survive from the pen of any woman. Her letters, which her sister-in-law preserved, strongly influenced later generations' understandings of the effects on women of the westward movement and life on the frontier.
By August 1785 the Christians had settled on Beargrass Creek, near the site of present-day Louisville, Kentucky. Her husband sent some of the slaves to work in his saltworks, known as Bullitt's Lick or Saltsburg, near present-day Shepherdsville, Kentucky, before he was killed on 9 April 1786 while participating in an expedition against the Indians north of the Ohio River. Christian retreated southeast to near Danville, Kentucky, where she stayed with a sister-in-law, Rosanna Christian Wallace, and her husband Caleb Wallace. Christian settled at Cove Spring, near Danville, in the autumn and moved her five youngest children there. Deciding she would prefer to rent a plantation because it would be less expensive than having to stock and supply her own, she moved again in September 1787. Christian managed the family's financial affairs with two goals in mind: protecting her children's inheritances and returning to Virginia.
In September 1788 Christian and five of her children, together with a few slaves, returned to Virginia. Her daughters eventually moved back to Kentucky, but it is not certain whether she intended to go back. In the spring of 1789 Christian became ill with consumption, probably tuberculosis. She wrote a will in October of that year, providing for her children, and then sailed to the West Indies in order to recover her health. She apparently spent the winter on the island of Antigua and returned to Virginia in the spring. Annie Henry Christian died in Norfolk on 4 May 1790, shortly after she landed. Family tradition provides contradictory evidence about the place of her burial; in his will her son set aside £400 for erecting a fine tombstone over the grave of his parents at Beargrass Creek.
Gail S. Terry, "Family Empires: A Frontier Elite in Virginia and Kentucky, 1740–1815" (Ph.D. diss., College of William and Mary, 1992), 132–133, 191–204, 247, 254–255, 298–305; principal collections with Christian letters include Lyman C. Draper Papers (Draper MSS) 2U140, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wis., Bullitt Collection (including plantation accounts), Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Ky., Breckinridge Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., William Fleming Papers, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., and Hugh Blair Grigsby Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.; approximate marriage date in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence, and Speeches (1891), 1:122, and Augusta Co. Deed Book, 14:312–313; Prince Edward Co. Will Book, 2:103–104; account of illness and death in Eliza Ramsey (husband's niece) to Lyman C. Draper, 22 Feb. 1843, Draper MSS 8ZZ4; death notices in Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle, 8 May 1790, and Richmond Virginia Independent Chronicle, and General Advertiser, 12 May 1790 (with date).
Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Gail S. Terry.
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