"...only look to Frederick, and see what Fortunes were made by the Hites and first takers up of those lands: Nay how the greatest Estates we have in this Colony were made..."
~ George Washington, June 24, 1767
JOST HITE (MATERNAL GRANDFATHER)
Shenandoah Valley Pioneer
Hans Justus (Jost) Hite (1685-1761) was born in Bonfeld, Germany to Johannes Heyd (born about 1650) and Anna Magdalena (1653-1695). Johannes was was a butcher and church warden who, according to a 1687 tax assessment, owned a two-story house with barn, as well as fields, meadows, a vineyard and a garden.
In addition to Jost (pronounced Yost), the family included five girls - Anna Maria and Maria Dorothea (born about 1680), Anna Catharina (born 1683), Anna Barbara (born about 1690), and Anna Rosina (born about 1691). A second boy, Johann Jeremias, had been born in January 1688, but the child lived only two months.
Various spellings for Jost Hite's first name include Joost, Joist and Yost.
In 1704 at age 19, Jost Hite married Anna Maria Merckle. Five years later the young couple and their infant daughter Maria Elisabetha left Germany bound for Holland, England, and ultimately New York. They traveled by land and sea with Johannes Heyd and his family, which now included Jost's stepmother, Anna Maria. Anna Maria was a widow of Caspar Schultze when she married Johannes Heyd in 1697 after the death of his first wife. Between 1699 and 1707 she and Johannes had three daughters and one son (Anna Eva Catherine, Anna Maria, Anna Barbara and Johannes Martinus).
Pregnant women, children and the elderly were especially susceptible to the diseases that resulted from the unsanitary conditions encountered during the months-long trip. Jost Hite, his wife and daughter were among those who successfully landed in New York, but other members of the Heyd family were not so fortunate. Records made upon arrival at Governors Island in New York list "Maria Hayd" as head of family next to her stepson's name. This simple recorded statement reveals the sad truth that like so many others, Johannes and his four youngest children did not survive the treacherous ocean voyage. With the loss of his stepbrother, Jost Hite became the only surviving male heir of Johannes Heyd.
Constantly searching for more land and a better way of life, Jost Hite was an intensely ambitious and successful man who conducted multiple land dealings involving thousands of acres in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 1719-1720, Hite built a stone house and gristmill on Perkiomen Creek in Pennsylvania. By 1730 Hite was already looking ahead to Virginia, so on the 8th of January of that year he sold his 500-acre tract which included the stone house and mill (later called Pennypacker Mill), to John Pawling for 540 pounds.
In August 1731 he secured 40,000 acres of Virginia wilderness from Dutch brothers, John and Isaac Van Meter who, like Hite, were determined visionaries. The land grant required the successful settlement of 40 families within two years (one family per 1,000 acres).
The grant was approved in June 1730 but Hite and the Van Meters soon discovered that it was opposed by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1693-1781) who claimed the land was his, originally granted to his family by King Charles II in 1649. Now, nearly 100 years later, Lord Fairfax claimed that he was rightful heir to the more than five million acres. It would be a long, bitter legal battle and it had just begun.
The following year Jost Hite and partners Robert McKay, Robert Green and William Duff obtained an additional grant of 100,000 acres in the same area. As with the first grant, they agreed to settle 100 families within two years.
Hite personally saw that the requirements of both grants were met - he sought out families to join him and even led the way to what is now Frederick County Virginia. Beginning in late 1731 or early 1732 he guided more than a dozen families, including his own children and their families, from Pennsylvania to the new land and thereby secured his place in history as one of the earliest pioneer settlers of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
At the time of the trip Hite's immediate family consisted of his wife Anna Maria, their three married daughters - Maria (age 23), Elizabeth (age 20) and Magdalena (age 18), and five sons - John (age 13), Jacob (age 12), Isaac (age 8), Abraham (age 2) and baby Joseph. The difficult journey took several months. Years later Hite wrote:
"...For the greatest and most Difficult Parts of the way they were Obliged to make Roads and once settled Obliged to Live in their Waggons till they Built some small Huts to shelter themselves from the Inclemmacy of the Weather and so far distant from any settlement but especially from any such as could supply them with any Provisions or Necessaries, they could scare procure any one thing nearer than Pennsylvania or Fredericksburg..."
Since Hite was in Williamsburg, Virginia on October 31, 1731 to sign legal documents for the 100,000-acre grant, it is probable that the first wagon train trip with his own family took place the following spring. It was a long and physically demanding journey that involved traveling with women and children, livestock and heavy wagons full of supplies; a late autumn departure with winter looming would have made it even more more challenging.
According to T. K. Cartmell's Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants, records in the Register of Lands office prove that by Christmas 1735 Hite had already successfully settled more than fifty families on the 140,000 acre tract.
In John W. Wayland's The German Element of The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (1907), the author states that "the county deed books of Orange, Frederick, and Augusta contain almost innumerable records of land sales by Jost Hite." (Frederick County was created from Orange County in 1743.)
In 1748 Lord Fairfax hired a surveying team to settle the land dispute with Jost Hite. One of the surveyors was 16 year-old George Washington, future president of the United States. During the trip to the Shenandoah Valley, the team lodged at the inn owned by Jost Hite’s son (and George Chrisman's uncle), Captain John Hite. The Hites obviously made an impression on young Washington as nearly 20 years later he recalled their success in a letter addressed to John Posey (see quote at top of this page).
The legal battle between Lord Fairfax and Jost Hite went on for nearly 40 years. There were countless debates followed by various decisions and appeals. Hite passed away in 1761 at age 76 without ever knowing the outcome and although Lord Fairfax fought another 20 years before dying in 1781 at age 88, even he didn't live long enough to hear the final decision. It wasn't until five years later that the court ruled in favor of Hite.
JACOB & MAGDALENA HITE CHRISMAN (PARENTS)
Among the families who accompanied Jost Hite on the 1731/32 Pennsylvania to Virginia journey were his 18 year-old daughter Magdalena (b. 1713, d. 1771), her twenty-five year old German-born husband, Jacob Chrisman (b. 1706, d. 1778), and their first child, Jacob Jr. who had been born in 1730.
The Chrisman surname is alternately spelled Christman, Crissman and Crisman in 18th and 19th century documents.
Jacob Chrisman came to America around 1710 as a young boy and resided in Pennsylvania for several years. It is unknown where and when Jacob first met Jost Hite, but by the time the wagon train started for Virginia, Jacob had married into the Hite family. In his book, T. K. Cartmell surmises that Jacob and Magdalena were newlyweds when they left Pennsylvania.
Jacob's parentage has not been verified. There is speculation that his mother was Elizabeth Christmann, a German immigrant widow who arrived in New York in 1710. For more on that theory, click here.
FREDERICK COUNTY, VIRGINIA
The counties of Frederick and Augusta were divided from Orange County in 1738.
On May 14, 1740 Jacob Christman's father-in-law sold him 750 acres, which included a large spring, and the Christmans settled about two miles from Hite's home, in what is now Stephens City, Virginia (Frederick County). The house is still occupied and privately owned and for more than 270 years the old Christman homestead has been known as "Chrisman Springs" (or "Chrisman's Spring").
It was here that Jacob and Magdalena Christman raised their eleven children, all born between 1730 and 1749.
Children of Jacob and Magdalena Hite Chrisman:
- Jacob Jr.
- Sarah (m.  Thomas Sperry III;  John Barlow/Barley)
- Anna Maria/Mary (m. Peter Stephens Jr.)
- Rebecca (m. James Scott)
- Margaret (m. ? Goody/Goudy)
(George's older brother)
*In the fall of 2010, the NBC documentary/reality series Who Do You Think You Are? guided Country singer/actor Tim McGraw through his personal genealogical quest, which brought him to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Research led to the discovery that George Chrisman's older brother Isaac was McGraw's 6th Great Grandfather, and that McGraw is therefore a direct descendant of Jost Hite.
In 1774 Isaac Chrisman and his family migrated southwest to Rye Cove, Virginia, which at that time was home to the Cherokee and Shawnee tribes. Two years later Isaac and two of his children, allegedly his two oldest sons, were killed by Indians when they left the safety of the fort. Click for more information
McGraw's lineage to his 8th great grandfather, Jost Hite, progresses as follows:
Jost Hite (b. 1685, d. 1761) > Magdalena Hite Chrisman (b. 1713, d. 1771) > Isaac Chrisman (b. 1736, d. 1776) > Gabriel Chrisman (b. 1767, d. 1852) > Gabriel Chrisman (b. 1799, d. 1848) > James Monroe Chrisman (b. 1834, d. 1900) > Amelia Chrisman Nave (b. 1860, d. 1886) > Ella Mae Nave McGraw (b. 1881, d. 1962) > Frank Edwin "Big Mac" McGraw (b. 1911, d. 1991) > Major League pitcher Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw (b. 1944, d. 2004) > Samuel Timothy "Tim" McGraw (b. 1967).
The second season "Who Do" episode that featured Tim McGraw first aired on Friday, February 11, 2011. The Pinnells provided assistance to the production's research team (they were sworn to secrecy at the time) and received credit at the end of the episode. As of its fourth season (2013) the show airs on The Learning Channel.
In 1745, the year his son George was born, Jacob Christman went to Williamsburg, Virginia to become a naturalized citizen. Records identify him as a native of Worms, which is the oldest city in Germany, located on the west bank of the Rhine River.
Like his resourceful father-in-law, who must have been a tremendous influence in his life, Jacob Christman also desired and purchased additional land. He bought 500 acres from Thomas Linville in November 1746 for 100 pounds and 5 shillings, and in June 1755 he paid 150 pounds for another 500 acres from Joseph Bryan. Both tracts were on Augusta (now Rockingham) County land that had been originally acquired in 1739 by tHite, McKay, Duff and Green partnership.
Some of Jacob's land must have been devoted to the growing of tobacco as the crop was used in payment of a court-imposed penalty. In John W. Wayland's The German Element of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (Chapter XI, Rum and Slavery), Wayland relates:
"As early as 1745 Jacob Christman, a German, and a son-in-law of Jost Hite, was fined 2,000 pounds of tobacco for keeping a tippling house and for retailing liquors without a license."
A tippling house was also known as an ordinary or more recently, a tavern. Webster's 1828 American dictionary defines a tippling house as one in which "liquors are sold in drams or small quantities, and where men are accustomed to spend their time and money in excessive drinking."
HITE FAMILY STONE HOUSES IN FREDERICK COUNTY
In 1751 Jacob Chrisman's two-story limestone house was completed in Frederick County (see next three photos). Although some of the dates of birth are not confirmed, it appears that all eleven Chrisman children were born between 1730 and 1749, before the house was finished.
Jost Hite and sons John and Isaac also built stone houses nearby, as did Jost's other sons-in-law John Paul Froman and George Bowman, who were married to Magdalena's sisters Elizabeth and Maria/Mary, respectively. More than 250 years later several of these structures, including the "Chrisman Springs" house are still intact.
Belle Grove, the historic limestone mansion near Middletown, VA was built between 1794 and 1797 by George Chrisman's first cousin, Major Isaac Hite (b. 1758, d. 1836). Major Hite's wife was Nelly Madison, sister of president James Madison.
Jacob Chrisman's limestone house. The 1751 date stone is at the top of the north wall as shown below. The house is privately owned and is not open for tours.
ACCOLADES FROM GEORGE WASHINGTON
In a June 24, 1767 letter from George Washington to his neighbor Captain John Posey, Washington wrote that he was "surprised" and "concerned" that Posey (who already owed Washington money) had recently borrowed another five hundred pounds.
Washington told Posey how an adventurous and "enterprising Man with very little Money may lay the foundation of a Noble Estate in the New Settlemts" by securing as much land as "in the course of 20 yrs woud sell for 5 times yr prest Estate." He added, "For proof of which only look to Frederick, and see what Fortunes were made by the Hites and first takers up of those lands: Nay how the greatest Estates we have in this Colony were made..."
(NOW ROCKINGHAM) COUNTY
On May 5, 1761 Jacob and Magdalena Chrisman deeded 376 acres on Linville Creek in Augusta County, Virginia to their 16 year-old son George and 300 acres to George's older brother Johannes/John (b. 1739, d. 1773). The adjoining pieces of property were cut from a 7,009 acre tract that the boys' grandfather Jost Hite had obtained in 1739 in partnership with Robert McKay, William Duff and Robert Green.
Though their land was 60 miles south of the Frederick County homesteads of their parents and other family members, George and John (then 22 years old) would be neighbors and could support each other as needed. Abraham Chrisman, their 28 year-old brother, was also living in Augusta County at the time, but by 1766 he would move his family to the Christiansburg, Virginia area where he settled permanently.
The marriage date for George Chrisman and Hannah McDowell (daughter of General Joseph and Margaret O’Neil) is not currently known; however, it may be presumed that they were wed no more than a few years before the birth of their first child, which was in 1766. George would have most likely relocated to his Linville Creek property within five years of his marriage to begin building a home for his family.
John Chrisman was only 34 years old when he died in 1773; the neighboring land (called a plantation in John's will) then conveyed to his widow Mary and their four sons. The will also specified that Mary would receive three tons of hay annually until the four boys reached the age of 21.
In 1777 Rockingham County was created from the northern part of Augusta County. The first court of Rockingham County was held in April 1778.
George's limestone dwelling was built in a similar style to his father’s house in Stephens City and it provided plenty of room to accommodate his growing family, which included:
Joseph (b. 1766, d.1828), m. Jane Ann Hopkins in 1788
Hugh (b.1769, d.1849), m. Hannah McKinney in 1792
John "Gentleman Jack" (b.1773, d.1815), m. Ann Harrison in 1796
Charles (b.1775, d. 1812), m. Catherine Custer
Margaret (b.1777, d.1855), m. John Spears in 1793
Elizabeth (b.1779, d.1835), m. Conrad Custer in 1799
Hannah (b.1784, d.1841), m. Joshua Kring in 1801
Until 1948 a simple one-room log cabin was extant on the Linville Creek property, just a few feet to the south of the kitchen. It was razed in the early 1960s when the house underwent a major restoration.
A simple structure like this could have been George's temporary shelter while the stone house was under construction. Once the main house was completed the cabin would have been relegated to another purpose, such as a summer kitchen or slave quarters. (It is known that George Chrisman owned slaves.)
DEATH OF JACOB CHRISMAN (1778)
On August 8, 1777, Jacob Chrisman signed a deed of gift of all of his property to “my beloved sons, George Christman and Henry Christman for natural love and affection I have come to bear these sons…” With the American Revolution well under way, Jacob may have worried about the possibility of British control. This deed of gift granted George and Henry “all and singular my slaves, goods, chattels, ready money and personal estate whatsoever in whose hands, custody or possession, and other the premises, soever they may be within the Thirteen United States of America.” One month later, on September 6, 1777 Jacob signed his last will and testament “being very sick and weak of body but of perfect mind and memory.” George and Henry were named as co-executors of the estate.
Jacob Chrisman died in the late summer or early fall of 1778. Although his will was signed after the deed of gift, it superceded it as a legal document. Henry, a private in Captain Joseph Bowman's company, was killed in late 1778 during the George Rogers Clark expedition to Vincennes (Indiana), therefore it fell to George to settle his father’s estate.
Among the 42 items listed in a November 4, 1778 appraisal of Jacob’s personal property, are “one Negro wench, one mare and two colts, three cows, half doz chairs and arm chair, four chests, two tables, one man saddle, thirty pains (sic) of window glass, a quantity of old pewter, one old bed and bedstead, one large bible and three small books and one dressed deerskin.”
It took George 26 years to completely settle his father's estate; the final papers were filed in Frederick County on April 4, 1804. The total value was 1,583 pounds, 19 shillings and 6 pence. An 1804 to 2008 conversion* using the retail price index results in 111,000 British pounds, which then converts to a 2008 US value of $170,855.00.
CAPTAIN GEORGE CHRISMAN
CITIZEN & SOLDIER
George Chrisman was an active citizen who apparently spent a great deal of time in the courtroom. His name appears numerous times in Rockingham County Court records between the years 1779 and 1813. Documents show that he acted as bondsman, administrator, guardian, jury member and court appointed official.
On April 26, 1779 when two neighbors took their right of way dispute to the Rockingham County Court, the court “ordered that John Hinton, John Johnston and George Chrisman, being first sworn, do view the said passage and report to the next court…”
On July 26, 1779 George was named as one of seven “securities” bondsmen present when Abraham Smith was sworn in as Sheriff of Rockingham County (the County’s third Sheriff since its creation from Augusta County in October 1777).
In 1780 George Chrisman signed as witness on a deed for his neighbors Abraham and Bathsheba Herring Lincoln (grandparents of the president) when the Lincolns sold 250 acres of their land in preparation for the family’s removal to Kentucky.
REVOLUTIONARY WAR SERVICE
On March 26, 1781, thirty-six year-old George Chrisman was in court once again as he took the oath of captain in the Rockingham militia. Three months after receiving his commission Captain Chrisman and his militia men were involved in two engagements near Williamsburg - the Battle of Hot Water aka Spencer's Ordinary (June 26th) and the Battle of Green Spring (July 6th). For more, click here.
The 1784 Heads of Families census in Virginia identifies Captain George Christman of Rockingham County as the head of a household with nine “white souls” and the owner of one dwelling and three other buildings. Twenty-six years later the 1810 federal census for Rockingham County reveals that George was a slave-owner as he and his wife are listed at home with 15 slaves. George and Hannah’s son Charles is listed in the same census as head of household, with six slaves.
Although three of George and Hannah Chrisman’s children migrated to Kentucky as young adults (Joseph, Hugh and Margaret), the Chrisman name remained prominent in Rockingham County for well over a century.
HUGH & JOSEPH CHRISMAN (SONS)
MARGARET CHRISMAN SPEARS (DAUGHTER)
ON TO KENTUCKY: THE PIONEERING CONTINUES
Keeping true to their pioneer heritage, George and Hannah Chrisman's sons Hugh and Joseph, and their wives, left Virginia in 1790 bound for Kentucky; their sister Margaret and her husband John Spears followed ten years later.
Hugh's wife was his first cousin Hannah McKinney (daughter of his mother's sister Elizabeth and John McKinney) and Joseph married Jane Ann Hopkins, daughter of Irish immigrants Archibald and Janet (nee Love) Hopkins.
The Kentucky land on which the Chrismans settled was separated out from Fayette County in 1798, creating Jessamine County.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Hugh Chrisman built a mill on his 1,000 acres along Hickman Creek, and like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather Hite, he built a stone house. The house still stands in Nicholasville and is included on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) for Jessamine County, Kentucky. There is no official Chrisman connection, however. It is known only as the "Stone House on West Hickman."
The stonemason was Virginia-born Thomas Metcalfe (nicknamed "Old Stonehammer") who was the Governor of Kentucky from 1828 to 1832. In Bennett Young's 1898 bio on Hugh's youngest son Henry (from A History of Jessamine County From Its Earliest Settlement to 1898), the author states that Henry "was born in the old stone house on Hickman Creek in 1800" and that he and his wife are buried on the cliffs near the house. In Connelley and Coulter's 1922 book, History of Kentucky (Volume III), they note that the stone house served the Chrisman family for at least three generations.
Joseph broke Chrisman tradition with the two-story brick house he built in 1802. His home is also on the NRHP for the same area, but unlike his brother, he receives credit for his former residence, which is known as Joseph Chrisman House. See photo
Both Joseph and Hugh are listed as heads of household on the 1810 federal census for Jessamine County. Joseph had eight in his family and no slaves; Hugh's household consisted of nine free whites and thirteen slaves.
Hugh and Joseph were distinguished men who were very involved in the community. They were part of the early history of Jessamine County, KY as their father George Chrisman was for Rockingham County, VA, and as their grandfather Jacob Chrisman and greatgrandfather Jost Hite were for Frederick County, VA. The next generation of Chrisman men continued the family tradition of service to community and country.
Hugh and Hannah's son George T. Chrisman (1794-1873) was an 18 year-old soldier in the War of 1812 (see end of page 2) who later became sheriff of Jessamine County, Kentucky and Hugh's younger son Henry McDowell Chrisman (1800-1876) was a general in the state militia. Henry married his cousin Margaret Custer (abt 1807-1852), daughter of Elizabeth and Conrad Custer.
Among Joseph and Jane's nine children (six girls and three boys) were another George Chrisman (1792-1826) who fought in the War of 1812 as a private and Lewis (Louis) Hopkins Chrisman (1813-1866) who was elected sheriff of Jessamine County in 1858.
Several of the Kentucky Chrismans migrated even further into Missouri and the Chrisman surname is still very well known in both of these states.
GEORGE HARRISON CHRISMAN (GRANDSON)
In his 1935 book, Settlers By The Long Grey Trail, J. Houston Harrison relates that George Chrisman’s son, John (1773-1815) who was known as “Gentleman Jack” was a large landowner who resided on his father’s land, at what was once called Chrisman Post Office. On March 10, 1796 John married Ann Harrison (1777-1839) and in 1810 the Chrisman household consisted of 4 "free white persons" under the age of 16 and 4 over the age of 25, in addition to 9 slaves. John Chrisman lived just 5 more years after that census was taken, dying at the age of 42 years. The cause of his death at such an early age is not known.
J. Houston Harrison further stated in Settlers that John’s son, George Harrison Chrisman (1799-1870), was a “large planter and slave owner of Rockingham...a prominent resident of the county and a splendid type of the gentleman of the old school.” In 1822 George Chrisman married Martha Davis Herring (1799-1866). Martha Chrisman's grandfather, William S. Herring, was a brother of Bathsheba Herring who was to become the grandmother of President Abraham Lincoln. (Her son Thomas was the president's father.) George and Martha Chrisman raised six children (Herring, Burke, Margaret, George, William and Martha), who were all born between 1823 and 1840.
For more information about how the Chrisman and Lincoln families are connected, click here.
To view a scanned image of an 1843 letter written by George H. Chrisman to Mr. John Shaw Jr. in Clermont County, Ohio and read a transcription, click here.
On page 493 of the Virginia Slave Births Index for 1853-1865 is a report of information George H. Chrisman and other slave owners were asked to provide (name of slave, name of slave's mother, date of birth, and place of birth). The nine births reported by Chrisman included five by one mother (Phebe), two by another (Esther) and one each by Betsey and Harriet. All of the children were born in Rockingham County, presumably on Chrisman's property, and all were named in the record except for two males. Phebe's was the mother of Fannie (born Sep 1, 1853), two unidentified males (born Dec 1955 and Oct 1857), Jane (born Jun 1858) and William Henry (born Oct 1859); Esther's children were De Witt (born Nov 1855) and Ann (born May 1858); Betsey's son was Erasmus (born Apr 1, 1853) and Harriet's daughter was Mattie (born Sep 1860).
After the Civil War, George H. Chrisman was one of thousands of southerners who requested presidential pardons. In his letter dated June 5, 1865 he states that he did not vote for secession and repeatedly voiced his opposition to "the rebellion." He also admits that when his son (CSA Major George Chrisman) was "compelled" to join the army he tried his best to "get him out of it." To read the complete letter and his signed (and required) Oath of Amnesty, click here.
In the Tuesday, September 20, 1870 of the Staunton Spectator (Staunton, VA) the sudden deaths of three "good and valuable citizens" from Rockingham County were reported. Among them was Geo H. Chrisman, Esq. whose age was listed incorrectly as 73. The dates on his tombstone are September 23, 1799 to September 15, 1870 so he was 8 days shy of his 71st birthday. To read the death notice, click here.
CSA MAJOR GEORGE CHRISMAN (GREAT GRANDSON)
During the Civil War, George Harrison and Martha Chrisman’s youngest son, George (b.1832, d.1915), was a commanding officer for the Confederacy. Captain George Chrisman led “Chrisman’s Infantry” (CO. H, 10th VA VOL INF) and later, “Chrisman’s Boy Company,” (CO. A, 3rd BAT VA RESERVES), a unit of sixteen and seventeen year-olds that was mustered into service on April 3, 1864. After his promotion to major in August 1864 George Chrisman commanded all of the infantry and cavalry reserves of the Upper Shenandoah Valley.
On Wednesday, November 13, 1867 in Harrisonburg, VA, the major married Lucy Gilmer Grattan (b.1835, d.1923) who was born at Contentment, the 1823 home of her father, Robert Grattan (b. 1797, d. 1855). To see marriage notice, click here. George and Lucy had one child, a daughter Mattie, who was born on July 27, 1873 and died August 11, 1874.
Chrisman Post Office, which was once situated on land that originally belonged to his great grandfather, was so named in honor of Major George Chrisman.
At age 52, Major George Chrisman was one of the "eminent Virginians" featured in the 1884 special Virginia edition of Hardesty's Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia. Unfortunately his biographical sketch contains incorrect information and since the bio was used as a source for his obituary, the inaccuracies have been perpetuated. The composition begins with this faulty section: "Major George Chrisman is of a family whose genealogy is thus traced for five generations: George Chrisman, his great grandfather, founder of the family in America and Virginia, came to America about 1740 from Germany, a native of Swabia, and settled in Pennsylvania. A few years later he came to what is now Rockingham county, and settled on Linville Creek."
This erroneous information is attributable to misinterpretation of the epitaph of the major's great grandfather (born 1745). It reads: George Chrisman Son of Jacob Chrisman a native of Swabia in Germany who emigrated to Virginia about 1740. He died Aug 29, 1816 Aged 71 years." Many assume that George was the German immigrant and the year 1740 is often assigned to an arrival in America (instead of Virginia as is clearly stated). The biographical sketch is corrected as follows:
The first of the five generations of Chrismans was the major's great, great grandfather, Jacob Chrisman (1706-1778). He emigrated from Germany around 1710 as a child and was the progenitor of the family in America and Virginia. He initially settled in Pennsylvania where he married Magdalena Hite in 1728 or 1729 and where their first child (Jacob Jr.) was born in 1730. When their son was less than two years old the Chrismans left Pennsylvania bound for Virginia as part of the Jost Hite-led wagon train and settled permanently in what is now Frederick County. (Jost Hite was Magdalena's father.) The Chrismans' ninth child, George (the major's great grandfather), was born 1745 in Frederick County and it was he who settled along Linville Creek after receiving 376 acres in Augusta (now Rockingham) County from his father in 1761. George and his older brother John had adjoining properties which were about 60 miles south of their parents' homestead.
In 1898, Major Chrisman, Captain Frank A. Byerly and James B. Stephenson became the three founding members of the Rockingham County Historical Society (now the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society) when they drafted a constitution and bylaws for the organization.
Major Chrisman passed away at 1:00 PM on Tuesday, November 23, 1915 at age 83; he outlived all of his siblings and was survived by his wife. The major died at his home, which was described as being eight miles northwest of Harrisonburg and burial was two days later, on Thanksgiving. His very lengthy obituary started on page one of the November 24, 1915 Harrisonburg Daily News Record and continued on page six. It began with this headline:
MAJOR CHRISMAN'S CAREER NOW ENDED - PROMINENT CITIZEN OF WEST ROCKINGHAM DIES AFTER BRIEF ILLNESS - LIFE-LONG COUNTY RESIDENT - Distinguished Confederate Soldier, Leader in Improving Live Stock Breeds, and Active in Many Walks of Life - Was in 84th Year - Funeral Tomorrow Morning From Cooks Creek Church.
Though Major Chrisman's heath was "feeble" just prior to his death, he spent part of his last day tending to farm-related duties on his extensive estate and fell ill (stricken with neuralgia of the heart) at 10:00 PM that evening. His health declined quickly after that and 15 hours later, he was gone. The obituary was a highly favorable treatise of the major's life that included short chapters titled "Injured in Runaway Last Year," "Of Old Rockingham Family," "Organized Chrisman's Infantry," "Married Miss Grattan," "Introduced Many New Breeds," and "Highly Regarded Citizen."
The 1914 runaway accident (he had been thrown from a vehicle) certainly must have contributed to his weakened state. He had suffered a fractured leg and for some time internal injury was also suspected. Although he had "practically recovered" from the accident, such a traumatic event must have been especially taxing on someone of his advanced age.
The family history, while an impressive read ("five generations of the Chrisman family lived in this county"), is partially false because it again credits the wrong Chrisman ancestor (George instead of Jacob) and quotes the wrong year for arrival in America (1740 instead of 1710). That information as well as details of the major's military career, which was recounted chronologically, was obviously taken from Hardesty's flawed 1884 article and included a comment that he sustained a severe wound to the right hand during the Battle of Piedmont (Augusta County, VA, June 5-6, 1864). In an 1865 Rockingham Register an anonymous writer stated that Chrisman "acquitted himself with credit at the first battle of Manassas" and further claimed, "At the battle of Mount Meridian (the first phase of the Battle of Piedmont), this company of young boys, led on by their Captain (George Chrisman), did a good service and distinguished themselves by their gallantry. They were charged by the enemy, and their Captain coming to the rescue shot two Yankees who were sabering his boys. They threw up their hands, fell from their saddles and his boys were saved." (No inaccuracies in the report of Major Chrisman's Civil War service have been discovered to date.)
Additionally, it recorded in the obituary that the major "enjoyed a wide reputation as a breeder of thoroughbred stock" and quotes from Dr. John W. Wayland's History of Rockingham County (1912) about Major Chrisman's expertise and invaluable contributions in stock breeding were included. He is credited with introducing Short Horn cattle, Berkshire and Poland China hogs into the county and was a frequent livestock exhibitor (and first prize-winner) in annual fairs for many years. It was reported in a January 27, 1901 article for the Richmond, VA Times newspaper that during the 1900 Horse Show Major Chrisman had refused an offer of $2,400 for his "beautiful young horse Montrose Squirrel" who was "by Montrose, out of Romola, by Black Squirrel." To read an 1880 newspaper article authored by Major Chrisman on the subject of Percheron versus Norman horses, click here. (In the article he cites a recent correspondence with his brother Herring who was then a resident of Illinois.)
The final section noted that he had taken a prominent part in many "public spirited enterprises," citing his four years on the Board of Supervisors, his service as director for the "old" Rockingham Horse and Colt Show, and his involvement in creation of the historical society. The obituary concluded with more praise for the fifth generation Virginian, prominent citizen and Confederate veteran who had lived more than four score years in Rockingham County.
The post-funeral report in the Friday, November 26, 1915 Daily News Record carried this headline: "Services at Cooks Creek Attended by Hundreds - Confederate Flag Drapes Casket." The hundreds in attendance included many members of Col. S. B. Gibbons Camp, United Confederate Veterans (commander Col. D. H. Lee Martz).
A more abbreviated obituary for Major Chrisman was published in the November 25, 1915 Richmond Times-Dispatch. To read the obituary, click here.
In his 1935 volume Settlers By The Long Grey Trail, J. Houston Harrison described the major and his brother Herring as “gentlemen of the highest type, splendidly connected and educated, and well deserving of the honors bestowed upon them by their fellow citizens.”
No images identifying Major George Chrisman have been made public. Although John Heatwole devoted years of extensive research to his 2000 book, Chrisman's Boy Company, the book contains no photographs of the unit's "no-nonsense" leader.
DR. BURKE CHRISMAN (GREAT GRANDSON)
Burk(e) Chrisman (b. 1827, d. 1895) was the middle son of George H. and Martha Chrisman. He was educated at Virginia Military Academy and later studied medicine in Philadelphia where he met his wife, Henrietta Warder (b. 1834, d. 1889).
In 1872, Dr. Chrisman was one of several men who purchased Taylor Springs Farm located at the base of the Massanutten mountain range (just a few miles east of Harrisonburg) and turned it into a very popular, and profitable, hot springs resort.
This report was published in The Daily State Journal (Richmond, VA) on Friday, July 26, 1872 announcing the venture and the officers for the first year. Burke Chrisman was president and the directors were John F. Lewis, Beverly B. Botts, John Lincoln, J. A. Lowenback, and George Chrisman. The latter, Burke's brother, also served as treasurer.
Dr. Chrisman changed the name from Taylor Springs to Massanetta Springs by taking the first part of the word Massanutten and combining it with the last part of his wife's first name. The resort, which offered therapeutic hot springs, bottled mineral water, and a hotel, was a great success. As early as 1816 it was used as a Methodist camp meeting site and it is still in operation today as Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center. The historic hotel that currently stands was built in 1910, fifteen years after Dr. Chrisman's death. The Massanetta Springs Historic District was placed on the Virginia and National Historic Registers in 2005.
Dr. and Mrs. Chrisman's only child, George Warder Chrisman, was born on July 3, 1858 and died on August 24, 1879 at the age of 21. The following report appeared in the September 2nd edition of the Staunton Spectator: "From the Old Commonwealth we learn that Geo. Worder Chrisman, son of Dr. Burke Chrisman, of Rockingham county, died at Taylor Springs, on Sunday morning last, of typhoid fever, and was buried at New Erection on Monday. The affliction is a heavy one for the family, as he was an only child, and possessed to an unusual degree the tenderest affections of his parents and friends." To see the notice, click here. His tombstone reads as follows:
On his early and sad death bed he said “I am not afraid but I want to prepare.” Will not you pious friend ask in prayer that his Divine Saviour Judge and Father in Heaven will in mercy grant his prayer for his soul’s salvation of which this was a part “May all sins against the Father, Son and Holy Ghost be forgiven him. May all sins be forgiven him and you forever” so let it be, Lord.
On July 10, 1895, sixteen years after his son's death and five years after the loss of his wife, the same newspaper reported the "Sudden Death of Dr. Burke Chrisman." The notice continued, "Dr. Burke Chrisman, a highly respected and intelligent citizen of Rockingham County, the proprietor of Massanetta Springs, died suddenly of heart disease at the Revere House in Harrisonburg at 10 o’clock last Friday morning, July 5th in his 69th year of age. The circumstances attending his death, are given by the Harrisonburg Daily Glance as follows –
“Dr. Chrisman was complaining last night of an affliction of the heart, and this morning he sent, about 9:45, for Dr. Neff. When the doctor arrived he found Dr. Chrisman in a state of collapse He spoke and said, “Doctor it’s my heart, I am gone.” Dr. Neff tried to cheer him but he said, “If I am not dying I am very near it.” Finding him so much collapsed Dr. Neff sent for some spirits, but before it arrived his patient was unable to swallow. So hypodermic injections of whiskey and strychnia* were tried, but to no avail, and Dr. Chrisman passed peacefully and quietly away.”
His next of kin were listed as his brothers, George, Will, and Herring Chrisman, and his sister, Mrs. Dr. Williams, of Orange, NJ (Margaret). Though not mentioned in the article, another sister, Martha, predeceased her siblings in 1873.
The death notice closed with this about Dr. Chrisman: "He was much respected for his amiable and charitable qualities. He was a man of excellent understanding and sound judgment and will be much missed in Rockingham.”
*Strychnia (strychnine) is a deadly poison that was once used to treat all manner of ailments by stimulating the central nervous system.
HERRING CHRISMAN (GREAT GRANDSON)
Above image is from 1930's Memoirs of Lincoln
The eldest son of George H. and Martha Chrisman, Herring (b.1823, d.1911), was the Commonwealth Attorney of Rockingham County from 1847 until 1852, before he relocated to Illinois.
For the 1860 census, recorded July 24th (less than a year before the war broke out), Herring Crisman was an attorney-at-law in Galesburg (Knox County) Illinois whose household included his wife "E. H." (Emma Hunt Berry, b. 1830, d. 1916), their sons Nathaniel (age 4) and William (age 1), and 16 year-old domestic servant Jane Collies. Nathaniel and his father were the only native Virginians in the home. Mrs. Chrisman was born in Connecticut, young William was born in Illinois and the servant girl was a native of New York.
The Chrismans two youngest children were born in Illinois in 1863 (Virginia) and 1869 (Charles) and both appear on the 1870 census along with a new domestic servant, 15 year-old Mary Cronin. Like the lady of the house, Mary was a native of Connecticut. On this census the surname was spelled Christman.
Herring Chrisman was pro-Union and a personal friend of President Lincoln's, which was in opposition to other members of his family, notably his younger brother George, the Confederate major.
In a December 28, 1868 appeal that was published in the Staunton Spectator on January 5, 1869, Herring urged the County Court of Augusta to procure (at public expense) and hang a likeness of recently deceased representative John Bell in the courtroom, in honor of his service. The appeal, made with what is surely one of the longest sentences ever, may be read by clicking here.
Fourteen years after the war had ended, a letter Herring wrote to the editor of the Chicago Tribune was reprinted in the November 11, 1879 edition of the Virginia newspaper, the Staunton Spectator and General Advertiser. The article titled "Reminiscence of Lincoln" began under this heading: "HIS LETTER TO VIRGINIA - 'SLAVERY IS SIN AND OUGHT NOT TO BE EXTENDED, AND I CAN'T GO BACK ON MYSELF.'" To read the complete article, click here.
Between 1880 and 1885, Herring relocated to Iowa where he died in 1911 at age 87. In 1930, nearly twenty years after his death, William Herring Chrisman (b. 1858, d. 1956) posthumously published his father's Memoirs of Lincoln, which may be read online here. Go to our page, The Lincoln Connection for additional information.
The introduction to Memoirs was written by J. Houston Harrison. Five years later in his Settlers By The Long Grey Trail, Harrison described Herring Chrisman and his brother Major George Chrisman as “gentlemen of the highest type, splendidly connected and educated, and well deserving of the honors bestowed upon them by their fellow citizens.”
ADDITIONAL CHRISMAN INFORMATION
For additional detailed genealogical information on the Chrisman surname, click here.
Above: Molly at George Chrisman House. Below: Gentleman Jack & Clementine.