Christensen family papers
Scope and Content NotesThe collection consists of approximately twelve linear feet of materials that document the life history of Abbie and Niels Christensen, their ancestors, and their descendants. In date, the collection ranges from approximately 1817 to 1999, with the bulk of the papers ranging from 1850 to 1935. The collection consists of six series: Correspondence, Family Papers, Port Royal Agricultural School, Beaufort History, Miscellaneous Oversized Materials, and Photographs and Postcards. Contained within this collection are documents such as correspondence, business records, photographs, pamphlets, and other ephemera generated and collected by the family of Niels and Abbie Holmes Christensen.Series I, CorrespondenceSeries I, Correspondence, is organized chronologically from 1817-1957. By and large, the collection consists of correspondence among family members. The primary correspondent throughout the collection is Abbie Holmes Christensen. The collection also includes correspondence among members of the Holmes and Winch families. Much of this correspondence is from the years before Abbie was born. Included also is a good deal of communication between Abbie and her father, Reuben Holmes, and Abbie and her sister, Georgiana (“Georgie”) Holmes French. Early correspondence also includes letters exchanged between Peter Holmes and Rebecca Winch Holmes. (Correspondence, 1852-59) Additionally, there are several letters exchanged between Reuben and his brother, Patterson Holmes. (Correspondence, 1865 –January to May)Abbie corresponded faithfully with her children throughout their lives; correspondence includes letters written by and addressed to Andrea Christensen Patterson, Niels Christensen, Jr., Abbie Winch Christensen, Arthur Christensen, and Frederik Christensen. Other familial correspondents include:Christensen Family:Andrea Christensen (Abbie's granddaughter)Anne Wales Christensen (Abbie's granddaughter)Helen Burr Christensen (Frederik's wife)Helen Eddy Christensen (Arthur's first wife)Katharine (“Nancy”) Wales Stratton Christensen (Niels, Jr.'s wife)Lillian Dutton Christensen (Arthur's second wife)Niels Christensen (Abbie's husband)Niels Christensen, III (Abbie's grandson)Stratton Christensen (Abbie's grandson)Holmes Family:Georgiana (“Georgie”) Holmes French (Abbie's sister)Olive Graves Holmes (Abbie's paternalgrandmother)Olive Holmes Harrington (Abbie's paternal aunt)Patterson Peter Holmes (Abbie's paternal uncle)Peter Holmes (Abbie's paternal grandfather)Rebecca Winch Holmes (Abbie's mother)Reuben Holmes (Abbie's father)Thomas Holmes (Abbie's paternal great grandfather)Winch Family:Abbie Winch Coes (Abbie's maternal aunt)James Winch (Abbie's maternal grandfather)Lucinda Winch Cutting (Abbie's maternal aunt)Sally Kilbourn Winch (Abbie's maternal grandmother)Abbie also corresponded with a wide circle of male and female contemporaries. Included in this list are the following individuals:Charles and Addie Barrow, educators, friends, proponents of Mind Cure philosophy (circa 1885-1939)Helen Bassett, Chicago Folk-lore Society (see 1/10/92, 8/3/92)Ellen Murrary, educator at the Penn School (see 1898-1901, in particular)W. W. Newell, Secretary of the American Folk-lore Society (see 11/24/92)India Shanklin, teacher at Port Royal Agricultural School and wife of Joseph Shanklin (circa 1904-1938)A. R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress (re receipt ofAfro-American Folklore) (see 3/2/1892)George A. Wauchope and Reed Smith, University of South Carolina, Department of English (See 1924)Frances E. Willard, president Massachusetts Woman SuffrageAssociation, (see 7/28/1889); later president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (see 3/27/91, 3/16/93) The bulk of the correspondence is among Abbie and her children. In the main, these letters address domestic and family issues. They are often full of a mother's advice to her growing children. Through the correspondence, the changing nature of the relationships Abbie shared with all of her children is evident. She corresponded with them when they were in their teenage years and boarding in Massachusetts while attending school; in these letters one sees a mother's concerns for children's health, school work, and social lives. As the children aged, Abbie's tone shifted; she no longer told them what to do, but offered advice and suggestions. Similarly, the children began to view Abbie as a confidante; their letters reveal the respect they all felt for their mother. Her correspondence with Andrea and Winnie reveals the closeness she had with both daughters. Her letters to Niels and Frederik also reveal a mother's love for her sons. The relationship between Abbie and Arthur was still a close one, but it was perhaps more marked by contradiction and argument than the relationships Abbie shared with her other children.There is also a great deal of correspondence between Abbie and Niels, Sr. These letters reveal the nature of the complex relationship they shared. Abbie's insistence that the children be educated in the North meant that she had to live with them for part of the year in the Northeast. Niels, who had no desire to leave Beaufort, remained behind where he oversaw his business. Letters between Abbie and Niels –especially during the 1890s when most of the children were still young and in school –reveal some of the tension that existed as a result of trying to carry on a long-distance marriage.There is not a great deal of correspondence in this collection that documents the relationship Niels, Sr., shared with his family. There are a limited number of letters from Niels' sister and possibly his mother (Written in Dutch. See Correspondence, 1864). Beyond that, there is little to indicate what life was like for Niels before he came to the United States.By the 1860s, Niels' thoughts appeared to be turning to the task of finding a suitable wife. He signed on with personal agencies based in New York and Ohio –companies that invited individuals to write letters to potential mates. The company provided a client with a list of matched names and it was then up to the individual to contact whomever he or she wishes. There are a few letters to Niels written by women he probably met through the agencies.Much of the correspondence from the Civil War years consists of letters from soldiers, many confined in hospitals, to Captain Christensen. Some correspondence is from Niels' commanding officers; letters address Niels' rank in the military, prospects for promotion, and general orders.The collection contains a letter dated July 26, 1883, addressed to Abbie from D. Lothrop & Company, Publishers & Booksellers, regarding the costs associated with the publication of her book. On March 28, 1892, there was a letter from J. G. Cupples Co., another publishing house, regarding sales of the book.Correspondence from the fall of 1893 and into 1894 often touches upon the effects of the devastating hurricane that tore through Beaufort. Of interest is a letter addressed to Niels, Sr. from Clara Barton, President of the American National Red Cross, thanking Niels and Abbie for their donation of clothes to hurricane victims in the Beaufort area. The letter is typed and signed by Barton. (2/20/94)The collection contains a great deal of undated correspondence. For the most part, the information in these letters is mundane: discussions of weather, descriptions of meals eaten, general questions about family. There is little information in these letters that would give one more than a general sense of when they were written.Series II, Family PapersAlthough Abbie Holmes Christensen appears to be the principal within this collection, as Series II, Family Papers, reveals, the collection also contains a plethora of information on her parents, grandparents, husband, children, and grandchildren. This was a family who was active in all aspects of life in Beaufort. This collection serves to reveal the many interests and involvements of this diverse family.The Family Papers series is divided into the following subseries: Holmes Family, Winch Family, Abigail Holmes Christensen, Abbie Winch Christensen, Andrea R. Christensen, Ann Christensen, Anne Wales Christensen Head, Arthur O. Christensen, Carroll Christensen, Frederik Christensen, Frederik Burr Christensen, James Winch Christensen, Niels Christensen, Niels Christensen, Jr., Niels Christensen, III, Stratton Christensen, Christensen Family in General, and Family Businesses. The subseries are organized alphabetically.The Holmes Family Papers Contain information on Abbie Holmes Christensen's paternal ancestors. Documents in this subseries include advertisements for Reuben Holmes' inventions, genealogical information, the handwritten memoirs of Reuben Holmes, information pertaining to the settlement of the estate of Peter Holmes, and other miscellaneous items.The Winch Family Papersdocument the history of Abbie Holmes Christensens' maternal relatives. Materials included in this subseries include biographical and genealogical information (including obituary notices) for several members of the Winch family. There is a significant amount of information pertaining to James Winch, Abbie's maternal grandfather. Included are several land deeds, account books, receipts, and legal documents that belonged to this Massachusetts businessman and landowner. Also included in the Winch Family Papers are agreements and bonds in which the signatories agreed to support their mother, Sally K. Winch (Abbie's maternal grandmother), in widowhood.Abbie Holmes Christensen's papers are arranged alphabetically and document a life that was as diverse as it was traditional. Documented is her involvement in the Rosicrucian Order, as well as her interests in astrology, holistic healing, and alternative medicine. During 1929 she corresponded with the Rosicrucian Order main office and studied through the mail; included are the lessons she sent away for and her notebooks filled with responses and her notes.Of significance are the papers regarding Abbie's participation in folklore. Manuscript copies of many of the manuscripts she submitted for publication in magazines are included in various draft forms. Information regarding her participation in the American Folk-lore Society and the Chicago Folklore Society is also included. A review of her book,Afro-American Folklore Told Round Cabin Fires on the Sea Islands of South Carolinais also included. (The book, itself, can be found in the Book Division of the South Caroliniana Library.)Documents are also available that provide some insight into the education Abbie received. Included are a catalog from the Ipswich Female Seminary and a historical sketch of Mount Holyoke College. Evident in the collection is Abbie's interest in Nature Cure. For information on this, see the documents regarding Lindlahr Nature Cure Institute and Sanitariums as well as the pamphlets on Nature Cure. Along with Nature Cure, Abbie was also interested in Mind Cure; the materials she maintained and the correspondence she kept with one of that movement's earliest proponents, Charles Barrows, prove interesting.Religion was always an important part of Abbie's life. As a member of the Church of Disciples (Unitarian) in Boston, Massachusetts, Abbie came to take an active role in the religious community; she used it as an opportunity to speak out for the things in which she believed (suffrage, temperance, education of African Americans). Of interest are the materials on the Carteret Street Church that Abbie and Niels (along with other interested Beaufort citizens) founded in the 1880s.There is also a limited amount of information pertaining to Abbie's early career as a schoolteacher. Found in the collection are school reports from Abbie's earliest days teaching at a school for freed slaves, her teaching certificates,and general information on the state of education in South Carolina.Abbie's involvement in the suffrage and temperance movements is also well documented in her personal papers.Niels Christensen's papersreflect his involvement in the Civil War and in Beaufort civic and business interests. Many of the materials pertaining to his participation in the Union Army are documents that detail his orders and advancements through the service. Also included are muster lists and supply lists as well as reports that Niels had to prepare throughout his time in the military. After the war, Niels settled in Beaufort where he worked for several years as the internment at the National Cemetery. His records reflect his dedication to turning the cemetery into a park that could be enjoyed by all. Records include monthly reports, descriptive lists of those interred, and landscaping plans.Also included in this subseries are materials that document Niels' involvement in the following Beaufort civic activities: appointment as Commissioner of Election for Beaufort County; membership in the Ashlar Lodge No. 91; involvement as contractor with the Carteret Street Church; real estate interests in Beaufort; and participation in the Sea Island Relief Committee, the Storm Signal Corps, and the temperance movement.Of interest are a few files on mysticism and astrology and also information regarding the personal agencies he joined in the late 1860s as a means of meeting a potential wife.Located within the Family Papers series are several subseries pertaining to the children and grandchildren of Abbie and Niels Christensen. All of the Christensen children are represented in some way in this collection. Contextually, most of the information deals with education, career choices, wedding plans, and community involvement. Found in these papers are old school programs, newspaper clippings, wedding announcements, club membership cards, and memorabilia. *The papers ofNiels Christensen, Jr.are of particular interest as they offer a glimpse into the life of a South Carolina senator. Included in this subseries are articles and editorials written about and by Christensen, a biographical essay, and information regarding his involvement in South Carolina politics.Grandchildren represented in the collection are Ann Christensen, Carroll Christensen, Niels Christensen, III, and Stratton Christensen (all children of Niels Christensen, Jr.). Subjects include education, home life, World War II, wedding announcements, and South Carolina politics. Stratton Christensen was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for South Carolina before he died in 1946 while serving for the United States in the U.S. Navy. The materials regarding Stratton generally center around memorial services held in his honor after his death.Of interest are some documents generated by one of Abbie's grandsons,Frederik Burr Christensen. He worked as an engineer on the Savannah River Plant during the 1980s. The collection contains two folders of correspondence pertaining to his views on the maintenance and regulation of the plant by the U.S. government.Materials found in theChristensen Family in Generalsubseries include documents that did not seem to belong to one individual or that were the provenance of several family members. Of interest is a diary kept when the family vacationed at Bay Point, South Carolina. Abbie, Winnie, Andrea, Niels, Jr., Frederik, and several family friends wrote individual entries on a daily basis in this journal. Found also in this subseries is some general information on the Brookline, Massachusetts, school system. Genealogical materials on the Christensen family, a holiday card sketched by Winnie or Andrea, miscellaneous childhood memorabilia, collected writings (some possibly authored by members of the family), and publications collected by family members round out this series.Abbie often clipped newspaper articles that pertained to family and friends as well as events taking place in the world around her. Located in this subseries are clippings on the Lindbergh baby's kidnapping, World War I, World War II, and the sinking of theLusitania. Lastly, this subseries contains ephemera and realia including an American Flag Pennant with forty-eight stars, a Christmas gift presented to Abbie from a friend, crocheting materials, a female's pocket handkerchief, a packet of seeds, a pressed plant specimen, and stones from a glacier bed.The Family Businesssubseries contains a limited number of materials pertaining to the businesses that Niels and his sons ran in Beaufort. Materials pertain to N. Christensen & Sons and Christensen Realty Company. Niels, Sr. started N. Christensen & Sons as a lumber/ hardware company around 1876. This subseries includes account books, financial records, and 1927 bankruptcy proceedings. Christensen Realty Company was founded and run solely by Niels, Jr. There is a limited amount of information on this business endeavor.*Series III, Port Royal Agricultural SchoolSeries III contains the records of Port Royal Agricultural School. Included are copies of prospectuses and information booklets drawn up before the school commenced operations, an account book from 1902-1906, some alumni records, enrollment statistics, and correspondence. The strength of this series is the correspondence as it is probably the only existent record of communication among members of the school's board, administrators, and Abbie Holmes Christensen. Of interest are some of the early letters exchanged among Abbie and Mr. and Mrs. Booker T. Washington as Abbie went about the business of trying to model the school after Tuskegee. (see in particular, correspondence for 1900) Additionally, there is correspondence to Abbie from Mr. and Mrs. Shanklin, the school's principal and his wife, who also taught at the school. The correspondence subseries also includes letters to Abbie from students and alumni. It is in the correspondence that one gets a sense of what was going on at the school in addition to what one learns from information booklets, newspaper articles, and trustees' minutes.Series IV, Beaufort HistorySeries IV, Beaufort History, contains an assortment of documents that relate the town's history. Most likely, these were documents collected by various members of the Christensen family over the years. Included is a copy of a letter regarding the adoption of the commission form of government signed by W.H. Townsend and dated 1915. There are several articles and essays regarding the history of Beaufort, a map with land plots (or city blocks) laid out. Also included in this series are original and copied documents pertaining to the business of the Beaufort Town Council, an organization Niels, Sr., was active in for some years. Most of these documents are from the 1890s and address issues such as town ordinances, financial management, relief funds after the hurricane of 1893, issuance of municipal bonds, and management of several town offices and businesses.Series V, Miscellaneous OversizedThe Miscellaneous Oversized materials contained within the Christensen Family Papers include materials collected by various members of the family. Included are five volumes ofHarper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization From the early 1860s. The editions contain many Civil War articles and artists' sketches of battle scenes. A copy ofThe Illustrated London News Contains an article on the devilfish in South Carolina. The subseries also contains several old maps of the New England region as well as a map entitled “Caledonian Railway and Its Connections in England and Scotland.”Series VI, Photographs and PostcardsOver the years, the Christensen Family collected numerous photographs. Included are images from the Holmes Family Reunion in 1932, photographs of students at PRAS, formal portraits of various family members, numerous informal photographs of Christensen children (several of the family at the beach during the summer months). Many of the photographs are not identified but it is assumed that many of the images were taken at family gatherings. The collection includes ferrotypes, daguerreotypes, cartes de visite,and early twentieth century black and white prints.Wherever she traveled, Abbie collected postcards. The collection originally contained numerous South Carolina images (see general postcard collection). Winnie and/or Andrea may also have drawn some postcards. Images are from all over the United States and Europe. The collection contains many images of the Pacific Northwest and of the Northeast.Abbie also kept Christmas cards she received every year. Maintained in this collection are some of the earlier, more unique holiday cards, in particular images drawn from the late 1800s before the commercialization of the holiday card industry.Sources Consulted: Christensen Family Papers, Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.Tetzlaff, Monica Maria, “Cultivating a New South: Abbie Holmes Christensen and the Reconstruction of Race and Gender in a Southern Region, 1852-1938,” microfilm, 1995.Extent: 11.25 linear ft. (9 cartons) + 4 oversize folders Location: PU-4JSeries ListI -Correspondence, 1817-1986 (bulk 1850-1938), undated -(Boxes 1-4,7) II -Family Papers, 1806-1999 (bulk 1850-1935), undated –(Boxes 4-7,8-9 & Oversizedflat files) III -Port Royal Agricultural School, 1898-1938, undated -(Box 6) IV -Beaufort History, 1857-1960, undated -(Box 6) V -Miscellaneous, Oversized, 1858-1909 -(Oversized flat files) VI -Photographs and Postcards, ca 1850s-1938, undated-(Box 9) Description of Series Correspondence, 1817-1986 (bulk 1850-1938), undated(Boxes 1-4,7) Arranged chronologically. Undated letters located at end of series.Family Papers, 1806-1999 (bulk 1850-1935), undated(Boxes 4-7,8-9 & Oversized flat files) Arranged alphabetically by subseries. Includes newspaper clippings, deeds, legal documents, personal effects, genealogical information, writings, receipts, diaries, wedding announcements, ledgers, Civil War (Union Army) materials.Port Royal Agricultural School, 1898-1938, undated(Box 6) Arranged alphabetically. Account book, newspaper clippings, administrative records, alumni records, and correspondence.Beaufort History, 1857-1960, undated(Box 6) Arranged alphabetically. Municipal governmentdocuments, agreements, newspaper clippings, and financial/business records.Miscellaneous, Oversized, 1858-1909(Oversized flat files) Arranged alphabetically. Journals, maps, real estate titles.Photographs and Postcards, ca 1850s-1938, undated(Box 9) Approximately 280 photographs, plus a miscellaneous collection of postcards and greeting cards. Arranged topically.
- 1817 - 1999
- Christensen family (Family)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.
18.75 Linear Feet (15 cartons and 4 oversize folders)
Biographical Sketch of the Christensen Family
The papers of the Christensen Family document over 175 years in the lives of several generations of individuals with ties to South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Denmark. This collection consists of correspondence, business records, photographs, pamphlets, deeds, diaries, and ephemera acquired and generated by the family of Niels Christensen (1840-1909), a native of Denmark and former Union soldier, and Abbie Holmes Christensen (1852-1938), a native of Massachusetts who settled in Beaufort with her family at the close of the Civil War.
Much of the history of this family can be found in correspondence that reflects the life events of the Christensen's. Abbie, in particular, was an avid writer and correspondent. She wrote faithfully to her parents, siblings, children, other relatives, and friends. The letters reflect day-to-day, mundane activities and thoughts, as well as an awareness of events happening in the world around the correspondents. They offer a window onto the Civil War, Reconstruction, Beaufort life, World War I, the 1920s, the Great Depression, religion, spirituality, world leaders, race relations, and education. The collection also reflects the participation of Abbie and her daughters in the suffrage movement and in women's rights efforts. The collection includes letters from Mary Coes (Abbie's cousin and a dean at Radcliffe College at the turn of the nineteenth century), Clara Barton, Laura Towne, Ellen Murray, and other educators and women's rights proponents.
The papers reflect the many interests of the Christensen family and their involvement in community and political activities. The central figures in the collection are Abbie and Niels Christensen. The papers document the operation of the Christensen family businesses: N. Christensen & Sons, dealers in hardware, lumber, and building materials, and Christensen Realty Company, which specialized in the sale of timber land and large tracts of plantation land. The collection also documents the efforts of Abbie and Niels to maintain the Port Royal Agricultural School during post-Reconstruction years. Additionally, the papers reveal Abbie's role in the evolving ethnic and social fabric of low country South Carolina immediately following Reconstruction, as well as her involvement in the suffrage movement and her interests in holistic medicine, spirituality, and her participation in the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (Rosicrucian Order).
The Christensen Family Papers also trace the lives and varied interests of the six children and many grandchildren of Niels and Abbie. From running the family business to teaching school in Tennessee to serving as a South Carolina senator to working as an engineer on the Savannah River Power Plant, the Christensen children and grandchildren participated in a wide range of activities in the South. This is largely reflected and recorded in the correspondence among family members that ranges from the early 1880s up through the 1980s.
Although this collection is referred to as the Christensen Family Papers, it also contains information pertaining to the Holmes and Winch families, Abbie's relatives. Abbie's father, Reuben Holmes (1820-1906), was born into poverty and raised for most of his life in Massachusetts. An entrepreneur of sorts, Reuben owned several businesses over the course of his life. He was an inventor who sold his patents to a large firm and never profited from his designs for a wheel-and-paddle-driven butter churn and a rubber-covered clothes wringer. Reuben was in the forefront of business and reform endeavors in Westboro. In 1855, he was appointed Fence Viewer and Sealer of Weights and Measures. He owned the town's first steam-driven grist and lumber mill. He volunteered as a Sunday school teacher at the country's first reform school, the Lyman School in Westboro.
In 1848, Reuben married Rebecca Winch. Rebecca was born in 1824, the fifth child of James and Sally (Kilbourn) Winch. The Winches were a more prosperous family than the Holmes; James was a respected bricklayer, and Sally took in borders. The Winches became the largest landowners in Holden by saving money and buying real estate. Rebecca attended Leicester Academy, a prestigious co-educational school founded just after the American Revolution. Upon completion of her educational training, Rebecca became a teacher. She stopped working when she married Reuben. Rebecca gave birth to their first child, Abbie Mandana Holmes, on January 28, 1852, in Westboro. Georgiana Rebecca Holmes was born in 1860.
Around the time of Georgiana's birth, Reuben experienced financial troubles and decided to try his luck outside of Massachusetts. His entrepreneurial side took him briefly to New Jersey around 1862 where he found work as a traveling salesman. He returned to Massachusetts when a fire destroyed the family home in 1864; at that time, he and Rebecca decided to take part in a missionary experiment at Port Royal, South Carolina. Before the Civil War, Beaufort and the Sea Islands were home to wealthy planters and a large slave community. During and immediately following the war, the area became the site of a free labor experiment. The Holmeses relocated to the South as abolitionists hoping to participate in this interracial community at Port Royal. Reuben spent a few months on his own in Beaufort trying to obtain work as a manager on a vacant plantation. After a battle with typhoid, he returned home for a brief period of time. During the fall of 1864, he and Rebecca returned to South Carolina with their two daughters.
Rebecca was plagued by poor mental health in adulthood and probably did not really ever adjust to the move to the South. In 1867, she was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York for treatment. Her condition did not improve, and on February 27, 1868, she died in the hospital. At the time, Abbie was attending the Ipswich Female Seminary in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Reuben immediately called her home to care for the house and her sister. It appears that Abbie and Georgie grew very close in the years following their mother's death, and they shared a strong bond for the rest of their lives.
In 1869, Reuben married Charlotte Keith, a missionary teacher from Massachusetts. They had two daughters, Almeda and Charlotte; Abbie and Georgie enjoyed a close relationship with their stepsisters. In 1870 Reuben took a small contract for building a piece of the Port Royal and August Railroad, then later purchased a large tract of land near Varnville, South Carolina. He constructed a sawmill, a store, and several houses. He named the village Almeda, after his first daughter with Charlotte. He engaged in the lumber business for a number of years before he decided to return to the North. Reuben died in 1906 in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had built two wharves, constructed several houses, written his memoirs, and played an active role in the Methodist church.
At the time of her father's second marriage in 1869, Abbie was of college age. She was suddenly free to pursue her studies so she returned to the North for her educational training. She studied at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, from 1872-1874. Her father called her home in 1874 after Charlotte died (later that year he married Charlotte's sister, Sarah Keith). While Abbie did not receive a degree from Mount Holyoke, she was prepared to commence a teaching career when she returned to Beaufort. Abbie settled into a life of caring for her family and teaching in an African American school in Beaufort. She had several friends in the Beaufort area and appeared to have an active social life within the community. In 1874, she and Niels Christensen began courting.
Little is known about Niels Christensen's childhood and early years of adulthood. He was born in 1840 in Denmark to Frederik and Marie Baker Kristensen, who were innkeepers. He had at least one sibling – a sister. Upon arriving in the United States in 1862, he enlisted in the Union Army as a private in the 145th New York Infantry of Volunteers. On January 14, 1864, he mustered out and was honorably discharged at the rank of 1st sergeant at Tullahoma, Tennessee. A month later, he enrolled in New York and mustered into service as a private with Company B, 102nd New York Infantry Volunteers. In May of 1864, he was wounded in action and honorably discharged several months later as sergeant at Savannah, Georgia. In January of 1865, he once again mustered into service, this time as captain of Company H, 44th United States Colored Infantry. Over the course of the next year, he was stationed in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Hunstville, Alabama; Tuscumbia, Alabama; and Nashville, Tennessee. From 1867 to 1870, Niels served with the peacetime army at Fort Wayne in Detroit, Michigan. In 1870, he passed a civil service exam and became the keeper of the national cemetery in Beaufort; he tended the graves of more than 8,000 black and white Union soldiers until 1876.
In 1874, when he met Abbie, Niels was ready to settle down and start a family. Several years earlier, he had consulted a psychic to learn about his prospects for meeting a future wife. He even tried to meet women through matchmaking services. In 1865, the psychic he consulted, Madame Swedenburg, predicted that he would eventually meet a suitable woman:
Asking the magic pebble about the future prospects of Niels Christensen, I got the following revealed before me. . . . I see you to walk through a long and almost happy life, but as no life is without troubles and sorrows, I see some very dark spots on yours, too. Do not (lose) hope and self-confidence. . . . You have to be extremely careful in the choice of a wife, very few will suit for you. You shall never look for a Beauty, or for money. You shall look out for a well educated, for an intelligent, and for a virtuous lady, no other will ever be able to make your domestic happiness.*
After nearly ten years of trying to meet women through personal agencies and other means, Niels must have believed that Abbie was the answer to Madame Swedenburg's prediction. The couple married on April 13, 1875, in Beaufort's Charles Street Baptist Church. A year later Abbie gave birth to their first child, Niels Christensen, Jr., on April 21, 1876. Frederik Holmes was born on December 9, 1877. James (Jamie) was born on September 5, 1880; Arthur Olaf was born in 1882; Andrea Rebecca was born in 1884; and Abby Winch (Winnie) was born in 1887. Jamie Christensen died from diphtheria in 1885; he was buried in the national cemetery, where Niels tended his grave.
During the years from 1876 to 1887 Abbie remained busy at home in Beaufort raising her children. It is also important to note that during this time Abbie turned a hobby into a writing career. Ever since she had first moved to the Beaufort area, Abbie collected tales of slave life in pre-Civil War Beaufort. It was while at Mt. Holyoke that Abbie first started to write down some of the tales she remembered from her childhood. Her first story “De Wolf, De Rabbit An' De Tar Baby” was published in the Springfield Daily Republican on June 2, 1874. After publishing tales in the serial format for around ten years, Abbie finally found a publisher, and in 1892 Afro-American Folklore Told Round Cabin Fires on the Sea Islands of South Carolina was published as a collection of tales recorded in the dialect of the Sea Islands.
Abbie had hoped to move back to the Northeast at some point, but Niels did not want to leave Beaufort. In the years following the Civil War and after his position at the cemetery ended, Niels assumed an active role within the Beaufort business community. Around 1876 he founded a hardware store in town and began work as a general contractor; over the next ten years, the business grew and expanded. When his sons came of age he welcomed both Niels and Frederik when they expressed an interest in joining him. In 1879 Niels was selected to serve as Commissioner of Elections for Beaufort Country, and in 1886 he became the acting Intendant at Beaufort. For all of these reasons, plus the fact that he enjoyed a measure of social status in the community, Niels probably did not want to relocate to the Northeast.
Abbie compromised by educating their children in the north. During the 1880s and 1890s, when all of the children were in school, Abbie seemed to spend more time in Massachusetts than in South Carolina. Evidence of the strain that this arrangement placed on their marriage is obvious in the correspondence exchanged between Niels and Abbie during this time.
It was also probably while Abbie was on her own with the children in New England that she became involved in the temperance and suffrage movements. In 1888, while in Boston, she joined the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In 1889 she received a personal visit from Frances Willard, the president of the WCTU; and in 1890 members elected Abbie to the board of directors of the Women's Temperance Publishing Association (affiliated with the WCTU) on which she served for two years.
The catalyst for her increased participation in activities outside of the family may have been an inheritance she received in 1882 from her uncle, Alden Winch. Winch, the former director of the American News Company of New York, left her cash and assets of more than $17,000. Through the inheritance, Abbie was able to bring more control into her marriage. She lent Niels $12,000 to put into his businesses and real estate interests. Abbie kept some money and stocks and bought property in Beaufort. Essentially this gave her life-long independence.
In 1883, Abbie used some inheritance money to help found an interdenominational “Union” church in Beaufort – the Carteret Street Church. The idea may have grown out of memories of services Abbie attended with her parents when they first moved to Beaufort in the 1860s. A Union Army chaplain used to conduct services for the community in the Arsenal at Port Royal, and Abbie wrote about these occasions in her journals. Abbie and Niels, along with other northern transplants, worked diligently for several years to bring the project to fruition.
In 1898, a group of individuals – including Abbie and Niels Christensen – came together to discuss the feasibility of founding a school for African American children in Beaufort. The entire Christensen family worked with both white and African American citizens in Beaufort to make the Port Royal Agricultural School a reality. Founded in 1901, the school served the Beaufort community for over forty years. (See the biographical note on page 13 for detailed information on the school and the Christensens' role in its founding.)
Niels, Sr. died in 1909 after an illness of several months. Abbie was by his side when he died. After Niels' death, Abbie became very involved in several alternative forms of Christianity. After her son Jamie's death in 1885 Abbie had originally turned to the practice of “Mind Cure.” It was the application of the principle of mind over matter. Through hypnotism, massage, and telepathy, the practitioner strove to heal him- or herself. The final cure was as much about the restoration of moral and mental wellness as it was about physical healing. After her husband's death, Abbie's interest in Mind Cure grew even stronger. Years later, in 1929, she joined the Rosicrucian Order of Christian Mystics, a Christian-based sect that espoused the power of the spiritual over the material and the kinship of all humanity. Mind Cure and Rosicrucianism were but two in a series of alternative religious and medical practices Abbie practiced over the course of her life. Abbie probably took solace in these practices. She also collected rare plants and dispensed homeopathic remedies to her friends and family. In later years, Abbie often spent time at various solarium retreats across the country as a means of restoring her mental and physical well being; often her daughter Andrea accompanied her on these extended trips.
In 1932, Abbie accepted a position as the Elector at Large for the Socialist Party in South Carolina. She served as a delegate for the presidential candidate, Norman Thomas. Her family supported her decision to express her political beliefs in a public forum. This represented the only time Abbie publicly supported a political candidate.
Abbie died in Greenville on September 21, 1938. She had been visiting with Andrea when she suddenly became ill. She passed away in a matter of days. She was remembered by family and friends in South Carolina and Massachusetts. The staff and students at the Port Royal Agricultural School memorialized her and started a scholarship in her name.
Abbie's interests lived on in her children. Throughout her life, she tried to enlist them in her causes. Niels, Jr. matured into a very politically minded adult. He followed in his father's footsteps for a time in the family business before he established himself independently. He purchased the Beaufort Gazettein 1903 and served as publisher and editor for nearly twenty years. When N. Christensen & Sons failed financially, Niels assumed the leadership of Christensen Realty, a successful Beaufort realty company. He also became very involved in South Carolina politics. He was first elected to the Senate in 1905. He served for twenty years and was involved in a variety of committees and special projects. He was also very active in the day-to-day affairs of the Port Royal Agricultural School. Niels married Katherine Wales (“Nancy”) Stratton in 1912. They had four children: Niels, III (born in 1913); Anne Wales (born in 1916); Stratton (born in 1918); and Andrea (born in 1923). Niels, Jr. died in 1939 from injuries sustained in a car accident.
Frederik, too, was very involved in business and civic affairs in Beaufort. He was the first son to join his father and business; he remained loyal to the Christensen family businesses for as long as they endured. He participated in many Beaufort citizens' groups and civic organizations. Frederik married in the late 1920s. He and his wife, Helen Burr, had one child, Frederik Burr Christensen (born October 7, 1929). Frederik, Sr. died in 1944.
Of the five children, Arthur was the most inclined to strike out on his own. For years, he seemed to resist returning to Beaufort. Educated at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he did not seem to know what to do with his life. For a period of time, he jumped from job to job. For a few years after finishing his education, he traveled throughout the United States and South America working on mining projects. For a period of time he lived in New Jersey and worked as the manager of the Stoneware Electric Stove Works in New York and traveled from door to door trying to sell stoves. Perhaps in some ways, he was most like his grandfather, Reuben Holmes, in that he possessed a wandering spirit and could not, or did not want to, settle down. He was briefly married from approximately 1912 to 1916 to a woman named Helen Eddy. They had a son, Minot; however, after the divorce not a word was mentioned about the marriage or the child. Arthur married Lillian Dutton and had two daughters, Cornelia and Carroll.
Andrea Christensen was perhaps the most artistic of the Christensen children. Additionally, she introduced her mother to many various holistic healing procedures and shared an interest in Mind Cure. Andrea also accompanied her mother on many trips to solariums throughout the country. Andrea and Abbie enjoyed a close relationship and exchanged letters throughout their lives. Andrea married Lawrence Orr Patterson, a Greenville attorney; they had one adopted daughter, Dorothy (Dot).
Abbie Winch Christensen never married and remained her mother's faithful travel companion throughout her life. Educated at Radcliffe College, Winnie seemed to possess some of that wandering instinct present in Arthur and her grandfather Holmes. Although she always returned to Beaufort, Winnie traveled the world during the course of her life. She served in France on the Civilian Committee of the Beaufort County Chapter of the American Red Cross from 1918-1919. While in college, Winnie had developed an interest in English folklore. She joined the English Folk Song Society and the Appalachian Club while at Radcliffe. One of her strongest passions was for English folk dancing; she taught it at several summer camps and at the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan, Kentucky. She taught at the school for many years. Winnie traveled extensively with her mother; mother and daughter went on a transcontinental cruise in 1921. They also spent time traveling throughout America, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.
Historical Sketch of the Port Royal Agricultural School
In view of the lamentable condition of ignorance, superstition, poverty and vice prevailing among many of the people in our Sea Island Plantations, it is proposed to establish a School on Port Royal after the Tuskegee plan.
- Minutes of the Trustees' Meetings Port Royal Agricultural School
Abbie's legacy lived on not only with her children and grandchildren but also in the hundreds of students who received an education at the school she worked so diligently to found and build into an institution. In 1898, a group of individuals – including Abbie and Niels Christensen – came together to discuss the feasibility of founding a school for African American children in Beaufort. The involved parties decided to take as their inspiration the educational institutions founded by Booker T. Washington and Samuel Chapman. Abbie believed that Washington's Tuskegee Institute, with its emphasis on practical training and the molding of positive character, represented a strong model school. Additionally, she looked to Chapman, the founder of Hampton Institute, for other educational ideas. Abbie also emulated the work of Laura Towne and Ellen Murray of the Penn School and Rachel Mather of the Mather School.
The dream became a reality in October 1901 and the school started with seven pupils; by January of 1905, 150 students were in attendance. The Port Royal Agricultural School aimed to instruct African American students in better cultivation of land, care of stock, and improved manner of living. Additionally, the institution offered instruction in carpentry, bricklaying, printing and other trades. Coursework for females included cooking, sewing, nursing, and homemaking. Implicit in all aspects of the program was an effort to achieve the moral elevation of its students.
Edinburg Mahone (a Tuskegee graduate) accepted the position as the first principal. In 1902 the school trustees were W. H. McLeod (President), W. S. Dorset (Secretary), and N. Christensen (Treasurer). Abbie Christensen also assumed an un-named position with the board. By 1905, Abbie had moved into a more formal position with the board – that of Secretary. She worked alongside McLeod (President), Thomas Lee (Vice President), and Niels Christensen (Treasurer).
In 1904, Mahone left his position in the midst of controversy. The board hired Joseph S. Shanklin, the school's agricultural instructor, as his replacement. Joseph and his wife, India, worked together to advance the mission set forth by the board of trustees – to educate and prepare African Americans to lead self-sufficient and moralistic lives. India taught domestic science to the girls at the school and maintained a fairly personal relationship with Abbie; they exchanged numerous letters up until Abbie's death in 1938.
By 1919, Port Royal Agricultural School (more commonly known as the Shanklin School) was well established with an endowment of around $11,000 and situated on hundreds of acres of land in Beaufort. Expenses were high, though; during that year the trustees applied for the institution to become a County Training School as a means of receiving additional funding. In 1920, Port Royal Agricultural School became the Beaufort County Training School, although it was always known as the Shanklin School to area residents. By becoming a county school, the institution was able to pool both public and private resources to promote its mission of industrial education and was able to meet the need for African American teachers since it was ostensibly known as a teacher's training site.
Also includes accession numbers 15651 and 15655.
- African Americans -- Education -- Southern States.
- African Americans -- Folklore.
- African Americans -- South Carolina.
- African Americans -- Southern States.
- Antislavery movements -- United States.
- Barrows, Charles M. (Charles Mason)
- Christensen Realty Company
- Christensen, A. M. H. (Abigail Mandana Holmes), 1852-1938
- Christensen, Abbie Winch
- Christensen, Andrea
- Christensen, Arthur, 1875-1945
- Christensen, Frederick Holmes
- Christensen, Niels
- Christensen, Niels, 1879-1939
- Conyers, James Henry, 1855-1935
- Folklore -- Southern States.
- Holmes, Rebecca Winch
- Holmes, Reuben Graves
- Massachusetts -- Social life and customs.
- Mouth Holyoke College -- Alumni And Alumnae.
- Municipal government -- United States.
- Nuclear power plants -- United States.
- Port Royal Agricultural and Industrial School (Beaufort County, S.C.)
- Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) -- South Carolina.
- Shanklin, India Gordon
- Shanklin, Joseph
- Social reformers -- United States -- Biography.
- South Carolina -- Politics and government.
- Temperance -- United States.
- United States Naval Academy -- Students.
- Woman's Christian Temperance Union
- Woman's Christian Temperance Union
- Women -- Suffrage -- United States -- History.
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