Richmond newspaper makes fun of Christiansburg’s name

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By Jim Glanville

Noting that the Parks-and-Rec Department of the Town of Christiansburg canceled a bus trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky after a complaint by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked Christiansburg’s citizens in an editorial (Feb. 24), “Taking the town’s name a little too literally, aren’t you, folks?”


Someone on the staff of the Times-Dispatch should have done some homework before taking that cheap shot. A study of Christiansburg’s name reveals some interesting history and geography.

History does not unambiguously record how Christiansburg got its name. However, it was almost certainly named after one of two men named Christian, the father and son named Israel and William.

Wikipedia says it was named for the son. Frances Earle Ford wrote in 1934 that it was probably named for the father. My guess is that she was right.

Israel Christian (circa 1720–1784) was a Virginia immigrant from Northern Ireland who arrived in Augusta County around 1740 and became a successful merchant in what is now Botetourt County. He married Elizabeth Starke around 1741 and they had six children.

Israel Christian (circa 1720–1784) was a Virginia immigrant from Northern Ireland who arrived in Augusta County around 1740 and became a successful merchant in what is now Botetourt County. He married Elizabeth Starke around 1741 and they had six children.

Israel Christian is noteworthy for refusing, as a Presbyterian, to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Church of England. William Waller Hening’s compilation of the Laws of Virginia records that in February of 1772, the General Assembly passed an act establishing the town of Fincastle on 40-acres of land that he donated.

The Christians were descended from a Manx family that later migrated to Ireland. Manx refers to the Isle of Man, a self-governing English crown-dependent island of about 32 by 14 miles in the Irish Sea between England and Northern Ireland. The Manx breed of cats originated on the Isle of Man in the nineteenth century.

William Christian (1743 – April 9, 1786) was the first child of Israel and Elizabeth Christian. He became Patrick Henry’s brother-in-law when he married Henry’s sister Anne in 1768.

William Christian lived at Dunkard’s Bottom on property now submerged under Claytor Lake and represented Fincastle County in the House of Burgesses. He was noteworthy as an Indian fighter and for having his name appended to the Fincastle Resolutions. In 1786, he moved with his family to a large land holding at the Louisville settlement in western Kentucky, where, soon after, Indians killed him.

According to Hening’s compilation, on Nov. 10, 1792, after the death of both Christians, the General Assembly enacted that 180-acres of Montgomery County land, where the courthouse and other public buildings were erected, should become a town by the name of Christiansburg. Hening does not tell why the name was chosen.

After many years of unsuccessful campaigning, the first official Isle of Man postage stamps were finally issued on 5 July 1973. Since then, the Isle of Man has become noted for its many issues of commemorative stamps favored by stamp collectors.

Fortunately, 1973 was just in time to commemorate the 1976 bicentennial year of American Independence. The Isle of Man postal authority did this with a set of four stamps honoring William Christian. The 5.5 pence stamp depicted William Christian listening to Patrick Henry making his “Give me liberty or death” speech to the 1775 Virginia Convention. The 7 pence stamp pictured William Christian on a horse carrying the Fincastle Resolutions to Williamsburg. The 13 pence stamp showed William Christian as a colonel in the Virginia regiment that fought in the Revolutionary War. And, the 20 pence stamp labeled William Christian as an Indian fighter holding a long rifle and wearing a rifleman’s bag.

This columnist wrote in a 2010 article about the Fincastle Resolutions, that of the 59 Virginia county and city resolutions of 1774-75, the Fincastle ones were the only ones that had been “philatelatically immortalized.”

An upshot of the Times-Dispatch cheap shot was to provoke this columnist to write about some interesting Christian family history.


Jim Glanville is a retired chemist living in Blacksburg. He has been publishing and lecturing for more than a decade about the history of Southwest Virginia.