The Life of

Captain John Christmas

1753-1822 

By 

Lawrence Christmas and Susanne Christmas

June 2007 

            Captain John Christmas was a pivotal figure in the Christmas family tree.  First, he changed his descendents’ surnames from Smith to Christmas.  Second, he established the Danish branch of a family which had previously lived in England and Ireland. Third, his life is unusually well documented, although certain accounts are laced with erroneous information.  And finally, John Christmas was remarkable in that he lived through the period of the Napoleonic Wars, captained voyages to India and to the West Indies, achieved substantial wealth, and had children with at least four women.   

            John Christmas Smith was baptized in Bideford, England on December 21, 1753.  His father was Edward Smith, a prosperous Bideford merchant.   

            John’s mother was most probably Judith Rebecca Hopkins.  The evidence is as follows: 

             1) Edward Smith’s will identifies his wife as “Judith Rebecca” and his son as John Christmas while the christening record for John Christmas Smith identifies his mother simply as “Judith;” 

            2)  There is a christening record for a Judith Rebecca Hopkins of Bideford dated June 24, 1730.  Meanwhile, a large memorial plaque honoring Edward and Judith Rebecca Smith in Saint Mary’s Anglican Church in Bideford, states that “Judith Rebecca Smith, his wife, died July 7th, 1797, aged 67.”  This date of death and attained age are consistent with the christening date cited above for Judith Rebecca Hopkins. 

            3)  In the will of Elizabeth Hopkins (dated 1750), mother of Judith Rebecca Hopkins, an Edward Smith is named as the “curator assigned to Judith Rebecca Hopkins spinster, a minor . . . until she shall attain the age of twenty one years . . . “   Also, the 1770 will of James Hopkins, Judith Rebecca’s brother, identifies John Christmas Smith as a contingent beneficiary living in Port, Portugal. 

            A search by the authors of parish records in Devon County for a marriage record of Edward Smith and Judith Hopkins, either to each other or to anyone else, was unsuccessful.  Further information regarding the Hopkins family is presented further below. 

Smith Family in Bideford, Devon  

      An account of John Christmas Smith’s ancestry in England is offered in a journal entitled Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries.  In that document a query dated July 9, 1910 (pp. 209-212) asks whether members of the Christmas family from Waterford, Ireland owned land or lived near Bideford, England.  The questioner goes on to summarize the story of John Christmas “who is stated to have been born there in 1757 or 1759, and when settling in Denmark in 1790 he obtained royal license . . . to use the name - and arms - of Christmas as his surname instead of Smith, Christmas being presumably the name of his mother.” 

The response to the query is provided in a narrative description of John Christmas’ “probable decent” beginning with Thomas Christmas of Waterford (1622-1704) and his wife Elizabeth Gamon, daughter of James Gamon of Barnstaple, a merchant.  Their son, John Christmas, is also said to be a merchant of Barnstaple who, with his second wife Margaret Rolle, had a daughter named Jane who marries an Edward Smith of Westleigh.  Edward and Jane have a son named Edward Smith who is thought to be the father of John Christmas Smith. This account offers no suggestion as to the identity of John’s mother.  Supporting evidence for this “Notes and Queries” article has been found in the form of a marriage record for “Jane Chrismas” to “Edward Smyth” as well as the above mentioned Christening record for John Christmas Smith and will of his father, Edward Smith. 

            A search of the internet (Google) led to the Medical Archives at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland.  The H. Hanford Hopkins IV papers found there include a description of a Captain William Hopkins, mariner of Bideford, Devonshire England and Chestertown, Maryland where he died in 1743.  According to these papers, Capt. Hopkins was baptized in 1693 as reported in the Register of St. Peter’s Parish, in Barnstaple.  According to the IGI, William Hopkins was married to Elizabeth Juliott, on October 8, 1719, in Bideford.  He later left his daughter, Judith, in Buckland Brewer, North Devon, England when he sailed with his wife and son to Chestertown.   As already mentioned, there is evidence in two Hopkin’s wills of a close connection between that family and Edward Smith and his son, John Christmas Smith. 

            It is not clear how or even whether this branch of the Hopkins family is related to the industrialist Johns Hopkins who funded the establishment of the John Hopkins medical facility in Baltimore.  This is the very prominent institution which pioneered the introduction of science into American medical education. Another remarkable coincidence is the fact that Capt. Hopkins, the grandfather of John Christmas Smith, died in Chestertown, Maryland in 1743, prior to the settlement there in 1760 of the Rev. William Barroll IV, an English ancestor of co-author Lawrence’ mother: Eleanor Barroll Christmas.   

Childhood of John Christmas Smith

Almost nothing is known about John’s childhood.  A great grandson, Walter Christmas, believed that John was “educated (or became an officer) in the English Royal Navy but left early.” 

The first documented record of his life after his baptism appears in the will of his mother’s brother, James Hopkins, recorded in 1770 when John, then just 17 years old, was already living in Oporto, Portugal.  It can be assumed that he was employed in some capacity in Oporto’s export business given that his future wife was a member of an English wine merchant family then operating out of Oporto.   

Charlotte Maria Bearsley, Wife No. 1 

The next record of John Christmas Smith pertains to his marriage to Charlotte Maria Bearsley on February 24, 1778.  The marriage took place in Masarellos near Oporto (or Porto), Portugal.  While living in Portugal, Charlotte gave birth to four daughters (Charlotte Maria, Sophia, Laura, and Susan.) 

Charlotte Maria Bearsley was a daughter of a prominent English family which, since 1692, had produced and exported wine from Portugal to England and other countries.  The successor firm still does business under the name Taylor-Fladgate and Co.  That Charlotte Maria’s father was a man of wealth is suggested by Capt. John Christmas in a letter written in 1799 to one of his brothers when he states: “. . . has she not the uncontrolled disposal of the fortune she may have from her father, and surely that is sufficient.”           

            The couple later moved back to England where, on March 3, 1784, a daughter, Jane Bearsley, was baptized.  Edward Smith was baptized on July 14, 1786 while William Christmas was baptized in May of 1788.  In July of that year the couple separated. The occasion of this separation was probably the departure of John to India on the Mathilda Maria as supercargo with C.P. Geicken. 

            A formal separation agreement was signed in 1796.  This agreement was coupled with a “gift” from John to Charlotte and her children as described in Articles of Separation, 1796: 

            “Whereas (John and Charlotte Maria) were married at Oporto in the Kingdom of Portugal in 1778 and there is issue of the said marriage now loving, five children, Charlotte Maria, Sophia, Laura, Susanna and Edward Christmas, all infants under the age of 21. And Whereas some unhappy differences have arisen between (John and Charlotte Maria) in consequences thereof they separated in July 1788 and have not seen each other since.  And the said (John and Charlotte Maria) conceiving that it may be for their mutual comfort to continue such separation have agreed to live separate and apart from each other during the remainder of their lives. And in order to make a competent provision for the said Charlotte Maria his wife and their five children hath deposited in the hands of (Trustees William Webb, Thomas Smith and James Smith) the sum of L5,000 sterling and also a Bond or Obligation bearing date at Copenhagen 24 September 1796 entered into by John unto Charlotte Maria in the penal sum of L 6,000 for the payment of L3,000 with interest at 5%  per annum. 

            Later correspondence between John and his brothers in England reveal his bitterness toward Charlotte Maria whom he considered a spendthrift.  In a letter to a brother, dated June 26, 1801, Christmas states his case:

 

“Dear Brother, 

            “From the 4th of May I have been confined to my bed by a complication of disorders, pleurisy, gout & bile – it is only two days since I was allowed to open any letter received in my illness.  I shall reply to yours of the _____ Inst. As well as  my present very weak state will permit.”   

            “I observe that the eldest and youngest girls have a prospect of marriage.  I warmly wish them happy & hope they may make better wives than their mother.  You will upon me for such part of my Gifts to the children as has not yet been paid. Is it possible that in England you can be so totally ignorant of the situation of Denmark, as not to know that by the Embargo upon our ships, the Capture of our West India Islands and sequestration of our property there, the Detention of all our East India Ships at the Cape & elsewhere, that we are here reduced to such Distress that people of the largest property, of the most affluent fortunes, cannot without great difficulty raise money sufficient for their current Expenses – yet this is the moment picked out to call upon me to pay what?  Not a debt, not an obligation for which value was ever received, but a free gift taken out of my comforts to add to the comforts of Mrs. Smith and her family – who alone have reaped the benefit of my hard labours & sweat of my brows – shame upon her ingratitude – Shame upon such behavior.”  

            “As this is the only time I mean to write upon this subject, let me be explicit – I will pay the money when I think proper & not before. This I am allowed to do and it is well I took such proper predautions when I resolved to bestow upon Mrs. Smith’s children so large a party of my prosperity.  I was advised to do it in the only manner which in Denmark would make it lawful. I laid before the Court of Chancery a schedule of all my effects by which I proved that the sum I alienated to them of L8,000 or 40,000 ? Kroner was more than the full moiety of all I possessed, even valuing what I had still outstanding in Asia. I then (as is usual here) asked his Majesty’s permission to pay them out L5,000 or 25,000 ? Kroner in cash, and to give a bond for the remainder – and knowing the vile, base character of the woman I had to deal with, who I knew would take advantage of the first disastrous moment to drive me if possible to ruin, I further requested that it might be at my option to chose my own time for the payment, or even to leave it unpaid till my death. This was granted, and a King’s Resolution, which is here law, issued accordingly. And it would have been extremely unjust had it been otherwise – for the whole L8,000 was a free gift, which I might have retained, if I had not preferred their comforts to my own and now I receive their thanks for it. 

“It has cost me much to write this long letter.  I repeat I will pay the money only when I please and that will depend upon the times, upon the return of Peace and Tranquility. 

“If you are not satisfied with this, begin to sue me when you will, but this I must say for the Honor of Denmark, that in Copenhagen you will not find a lawyer base enough to undertake so infamous a cause – I will add but one thing more, that if any indirect course of application is taken in this affair, as in that of the papers sent out by Mr. Van (  ?  ), from that moment I will stop the interest of the L3,000 and finish all communication with the family for ever. 

“I am yours sincerely,  J. Christmas 

 

            At least one brother, a trustee of the funds Christmas established for her, apparently agreed that she was not very worthy: 

            “I am sorry to say Mrs. John’s conduct as to her money is highly blameable – she is in debt I suspect everywhere & ever will be so – not content with her own house in the best part of the season last summer she trebles her expenses at Clifton & in the winter at Bath.”   

            “I am sorry to add that her daughters idolize & imitate her very foibles & when Sophia and Susan were going to Portugal they badgered me for hours to have some money sold out . . . . “ 

            “It is impossible to give you an idea of the giddy short sightedness of the whole family- all they think of is the making a shew by debts or any way & never look even year before them.”  (letter to Tom, signed James Smith,  Bath, February 24th, 1806)  

            While the first half of Capt. John’s life must remain largely a mystery, one can make surmises.   We know from his uncle’s will that John was already living in Porto, Portugal by the age of 17 years. We know that at age 23 he married a woman from a wine exporting family, and that two years later his father died leaving a will which forgave a “Bond debt of six hundred pounds which he (John Christmas Smith) owes me.”  Later we learn that John sailed to India as “supercargo” 1788 (age 35.) 

            In retrospect, it would not be surprising to learn that John’s parents decided to send their first son to Porto to apprentice with an English merchant and/or to arrange for him to enlist as a junior officer on a merchant ship trading between Porto and various ports in England and elsewhere.  The loan from his father could have been for the purpose of allowing the young man to engage in trade. 

 

John’s Change of Name 

            As a part of his apparent “mid-life crisis”, John also seems to have invented a new identity for himself.  In his petition to King George for a name change, he claimed that: 

       “Whereas John Christmas Smith of Biddeford in our county of Devon Esquire hath, by his petition, humbly represented unto us that being maternally descended from the family of Christmas of Waterford in Our Kingdom of Ireland, he is desirous to take upon him and use the surname of Christmas only, and bear the Arms of the Family of Christmas.”   

      The petition was granted by this document (See College of Arms MS. I.34, p. 233) on November 24, 1790 

            While John may have intended to use the term “maternal” as a reference to his father’s mother, Jane Christmas, it is also possible that he was falsely suggesting a close relationship to later generations of the Waterford Christmases when he named his second, Danish born son George Beresford Christmas. 

The Beresfords were and are a renowned aristocratic Waterford family and, in fact, a Lady Beresford did marry a Thomas Christmas in 1748.  Moreover, the “Waterford branch” of the Christmas family, was descended from a Thomas Christmas (1622-1704).   Thomas, born in England, had moved to Waterford where he became a Royalist officer during the Civil War.  He also served for many years as an alderman in the Waterford Corporation (See paper on Capt. Thomas Christmas by Lawrence Christmas.)  John Christmas Smith likely received his middle name “Christmas” from his paternal grandmother, Jane Christmas, who was a granddaughter of this same Thomas Christmas.  Her father, John Christmas, had moved to Barnstaple rather than remain in Waterford with his father. 

            In addition to changing his surname to that of a prominent English family living in Ireland, Christmas may also have also taken some years off of his actual age, perhaps to improve his chances when courting younger girls.   Danish genealogist Fausboll’s accounts of the date of his birth vary from 1755 to 1759 while his actual baptism record states the year as 1753. 

 

Polly Brown, Girlfriend No. 1 

                        According to Sophie Zinn (see below), “Captain Christmas proposed to ‘the delightful’ Polly Brown but she was already engaged to Count Holck and had turned him down.”  According to Fausboll (1941), Polly was the youngest child and very young daughter of John Brown, General War Commissary.  Fausboll identifies the Count as Gustav Holck-Winterfeldt.

 

Sophie Zinn, Girlfriend No. 2 

            Soon after arriving in Copenhagen from India, Christmas began courting 17 year old Sophie Zinn, the daughter of a wealthy German merchant living in Copenhagen. Her account of their courtship and subsequent breakup after his return from a second trip between Copenhagen and India was later published in her dairy entitled Grandmama’s Confessions. . 

 

                                             FROM GRANDMAMA’S CONFESSIONS 

            “During the winter of 1791, I made the acquaintance at “The Crownprince’s Club” of an Englishman called John Christmas. He had proposed to the lovely Polly Brown, but she was engaged to be married to Count Holck and had turned him down. Still, he could not forget her and appeared very melancholic.  As everyone knew why, this gave to him a certain interest in the eyes of the women.   

            “He was also a beautiful man, a pity only that he spoke only English well, and as the other young women would or could not speak that language he mostly addressed himself to me. 

            “He had business connections with my father and from time to time dined with us. It pleased my father that he praised my English pronunciation, and when one day at dinner he asked me if I had read Miss Marney’s “Evelina”and “Cecilie” and I said no, he asked my father’s permission to send them.  These novels were written in quite a new taste which pleased me no end.  Now I didn’t read anything but English and found nothing but English beautiful and tasteful.  In this way my reckless and flighty nature has always taken me from one passion to another. 

            “Christmas had decided to go to India on his own ship in the spring.  This brought him in closer business contact with my father, and he visited us more often.  One day he negotiated with my father about a consignment of wine he wanted to buy from him, but they were not yet quite agreed on the price.  “I can’t give you more for the wine,” said Christmas, “but I have brought with me from India a very beautiful shawl.  Would you accept that instead of the pittance over which we cannot agree?”  I think the sum was 50 Rigsdaler, and the shawl was worth twice as much, but my father who always thought it possible to have women’s finery for nothing still thought it was too much.  “Well,” he said, “as my wife got a shawl yesterday from captain Kroyer, I will give this to my daughter.”   

            “Christmas knew very well that my mother had had a shawl the day before.  He was with us when the package in which were a shawl and a piece of batiste for my mother had arrived from captain Kroyer, who commanded a ship for my father.  When my mother had chosen the shawl and left to put it aside, Christmas said to me: “ I don’t think you are pleased with your bastite.”  I answered that I would certainly rather have had the shawl. I really did not know that Christmas owned that sort of thing or I should not have said it, but the way in which he fulfilled my wish without actually it being a present pleased me. 

            “Little by little he grew less melancholy, and when one day my father remarked on this, he answered in a merry tone of voice:  “Well, you can’t grieve forever over a wrecked proposal.  Moreover I am now convinced that beauty alone cannot make such a lasting impression on my heart as can brains and wit.”  It seemed to me that he looked at me at the same time, and I think my father thought the same because he suddenly turned the conversation to other topics.  When Christmas had left, my father said: ”If Christmas says anything to you, refer him to me.” I felt he said it in an angry voice and this made me so shy that I dared hardly speak to Christmas when my father was present.  When my mother and I were alone when Christmas visited us it was still worse.  My mother did not understand English, and one day Christmas asked me if he had offended me and why I suddenly had become such a stranger to him.  Of course, I answered that he was wrong, that I was as usual. He shook his head ad said” “No, no. Towards me you are not as usual and you don’t know how unhappy it makes me.”   

“This sounded much too beautiful in English! My thoughts were already right in the middle of a novel, and this idea made me so merry that I had one funny idea after the other. Even my father laughed at me at dinner and said he had never heard so many jokes from me before. 

“Christmas had bought a house (the later Hotel Phoenix) and taken much trouble in furnishing it after the latest fashion.  When he came to visit us he always brought samples of silk and batiste and asked my mother and me what we found most suiting for curtains, chairs, couches etc.  He always chose the samples I liked, and when his house was finished he gave a ball to inaugurate it. My mother had sprained her ankle and could not come but I drove there with my father. Christmas received us at the carriage and offered me his arm.  My father stayed a little behind to give orders to the servant.  As we were mounting the steps Christmas said: “I hope you will find my house to your taste.  My dearest hope while furnishing it has been that perhaps some day you should deign to share it with me.”  He then kissed my hand most tenderly and led me to the ballroom.   

“Among those dancing were some Englishmen.  He presented them to me and himself engaged me for the first dance.  He didn’t dance willingly and did so only moderately well, but as master of the house he had to open the ball and I was much flattered that he chose me as his lady. His house was most beautifully planned and I was glad to recognize in curtains, couches and etc. the materials I had chosen myself.  Furthermore, there were carpets on almost all the floors which at the time was very unusual in Copenhagen.   Almost only English was spoken. Even the maid who poured tea, the tea-machine, cups, porcelain, knives and forks were English.  It seemed to me as if I were in England.   

“Because I was young (17 years) and danced well, I had never been superfluous at any ball, but this evening Christmas so openly made it clear that I was “the lady of the ball”, the entire party distinguished me, and I confess that this evening was a true triumph for my vanity. Even my father had been conquered by the glory and attention bestowed on his daughter.  As we drove home at night he said” “If Christmas were to stay in town and didn’t have to go to India I would not mind your attachment to him, but I am mistrustful of those long journeys and engagements.  Even if I were sure of his fidelity to you I know your flightiness and inconstancy too well.  I feel convinced that you could not go on loving a person whom you didn’t see or correspond with for a year and a half. 

“I was a little offended by his words and kept quiet. “Can you deny” he went on “that you liked Manza (Portuguese merchant) better than Christmas?  It isnot yet a year since he left and you have you not already forgotten him?”  “Because you forbade me to answer his letter,” I said. “Because you would have compromised yourself by doing so,” my father answered.  “I shall moreover, in any case, forbid you all correspondence out of the country with any unmarried man.  I have no faith in the kind of love that must be held together by letters.” 

“My father answered Christmas with the same words when shortly before his departure he proposed to me.  As he seemed sorry, my father said “Do not take this as a no, it is only that I do not want you and my daughter bound by mutual promises.  When you return from India and are still of the same opinion we can discuss this further.” 

“Christmas found this most cruel and in the afternoon told me that my father had not even allowed him to write me.  I did not deny that I, too, found this a little hard, but I had such fear of my father that I certainly should not have dared act against his orders. 

“At last came the hour of leave taking.  I could not hold back my tears.  Christmas, too, seemed much affected.  He embraced my father and mother.  He also embraced me and said that he left the happiness of his life in my hands. He would go, and yet he stayed.  My father had to remind him that the wind was good.  At last he tore himself away, and a little later we heard a salute from his ship.  I felt as if each shot pierced my heart and called a last farewell from him. I decided never to forget him, never to love anybody else. 

“(At this time the French were very much in vogue in Denmark and people sympathized with the thoughts of the French Revolution.  While Christmas was away she meets a French merchant from Montpellier, Auguste Garonne, who fell deeply in love with her.) 

“I considered myself engaged to Christmas whom I really liked. Garonne meant nothing to me, and yet my vanity was flattered, and in this moment I forgot my attachment to Christmas … What made me sorry was that for a long time I had had no word from Christmas.  I knew that Erichsen (a business-employee of her father) had several times had letters from him. But since the first letter from which he had read out parts aloud to me, he had no a single time brought me greetings.  Now Christmas could daily be expected home, and I looked forward to that with hope and fear. 

“Shortly before he returned it was my 19th birthday.  (She gets several gifts, among these a rose tree in bloom, but with no letter attached to it. Erichsen came down from the office to congratulate her. He admired the beautiful tree and could hardly believe she didn’t know who sent it.} “And do you want me to believe you haven’t read this note?”  I really had not noticed any note.  It was pushed between the foliage. Erichsen drew it out and handed it to me. It was Garonne’s writing. I opened it and read” “I salute you, oh April 15th, I salute you, oh day who saw the birth of Sophie! Oh day that created virtue and the goodness of heart, grace, wit, perfection.  Oh, happy day, fulfill your work, turn the heart of my friend. Were she taken to other latitudes she should embellish them, and he who shall belong to her, will take the form of her nature and become like her – twain of nature’s chosen have you then created instead of one.  On April 15th, thou art holy to me!” 

“This was a sort of declaration which particularly embarrassed me as Erichsen observed me all the time while I was reading.  When I had finished he asked: “Do you still not know from whom it is?”  “There is no signature,” I answered.  “Will you allow me to look at the handwriting, I may perhaps know it,“ he said.  What could I do?  I handed him the note.  When he had read it, he said: “I have had letters from Montpellier by the same hand.”  I turned red.  “Then you do know from whom it comes, he went, on, “poor Christmas!”  …. 

“My mother told me that Garonne had asked her who Christmas was.  My younger brother who was present answered: “Don’t you know he is my sister’s fiancée?   He is soon to return from India.”  My mother shamed him and told him not to talk of what he didn’t know, but Garonne couldn’t hide the confusion in which this news brought him. . . 

“Oh, I was not happy.  Christmas had been in Copenhagen for three days and (he had) not yet been with us.  My father didn’t speak a word about him, but I could see he was resentful.  I could neither eat nor drink.  The fourth morning I was so exhausted that I suddenly fainted.  My mother was most anxious and sent for the doctor.  I had, however, recovered and he advised her to take me for a drive as the weather was beautiful. 

“I heard a carriage draw up in front of the gate.   I feared it might be visitors and would go to my room so as not to have to receive them.  As I was leaving the room, Christmas’ black servant comes towards me and announces his master. I could hardly say he was welcome. I returned to the sitting room, and my heart beat so violently that I had to sit down at a chair from which I could hardly rise when Christmas entered.  His cold, earnest looks suddenly gave me back my composure.  I wished him welcome to Denmark and offered him a seat. 

He spoke of the weather, about his voyage and of a sudden said: “And you are to leave us?”  I looked at him in wonder and didn’t know what to answer.  “You shall live in a lovely country,” he went on “but among detestable people.  I hate the French Republicans from the bottom of my heart” 

“I don’t understand,”  I said. 

“I don’t believe you’ll deny”, he went on, “that you are engaged to be married to citizen Garonne” (he put rather a malicious accent on the word citizen), “that you wear the French national colors and that at the French ball (which didn’t come off) you were to have represented the Goddess of Reason, that you sing the Republic slaughter-hymns and that these damned murderers are almost daily visitors to this house.” 

All my self-esteem arose: “Who, Sir, gives you the right to address me in this way?  I must ask you to leave this room at once or I shall be forced to let call my father to avoid your insults.” 

“So you show me the door”, said Christmas.  “Very well, but may some day you will think of me when your new friends in France reward your affection for them with the guillotine.” He left. 

“I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.  Here, at the very place where he threatened me with the guillotine, 18 months ago he had sworn me his love.  It seemed to me both tragic and comic, and I laughed out loud. 

“When my father returned, he was quite surprised to see me so cheerful.  I told him that Christmas had paid a visit and only spoken of trivial matters.  “So everything is over between us”, I added “and I am free again, praise God.”  I dared not tell my father what Christmas had said as I knew his temper. For a moment he looked serious, then he said more mildly than I had expected” “There, you see, it was a good thing I didn’t allow you to correspond with him.” 

“The next day the merry mood had passed.  I was annoyed.  I wished I had never set eyes on any Frenchman. My pride and vanity were offended, my love for Christmas had turned to hate. I felt that the best revenge would be to show him how little I cared about him and his warnings . . . 

“I had scarcely seen Christmas the whole summer.  He never came to Erichsen’s when the “commisaires” and the French Minister were invited, and they always were invited together with us. At our home he had only been once at a party for gentlemen only, and I didn’t converse with him save for a single moment at the tea-table about trivialities which were uttered and answered in cold politeness. . . . 

“At a ball: While the last dance before dinner was danced I saw Christmas enter.  He went straight to miss Heinrich who was sitting this dance out and sat down at her side. I saw him offer her his arm for the table and either by chance or malice he seated himself opposite to Garonne and me. He seemed to court miss Heinrich. She didn’t speak English and Christmas had to address her in French which language he spoke indifferently.  We were dining at a narrow gala-table and therefore couldn’t avoid hearing every word spoken by our opposite neighbors.  I sometimes had to bite my lip not to laugh at the bad French Christmas talked.   

“As we left the table, Christmas in the throng happened to walk right beside me.  He said in an undertone:  “Oh, frailty, thy name is woman.”  This annoyed me and I answered quite loudly: “and pray, Sir, have you no name for your own sex?  Garonne laughed and Christmas who had not imagined that he understood English hurried into the ballroom with his partner. 

“(At this time – 1795-1807, Denmark was at war with England.  In 1801 and 1807 Copenhagen was bombarded and the Danish fleet was eliminated.  Sophie is now married to a Danish merchant in Helsinore called Thalbitzer (1767-1818) and the son of Heinrich Thalbitzer and Rebecca Pinsum which indicates that he was of German origin.  She is expecting her first child while her husband is on a journey to Stockholm.  During his absence, Sophie’s father celebrates her 22nd birthday in Copenhagen. A couple of days later she is invited to Erichsen’s with her parents. Christmas took her into dinner. She was very sad over the absence of her husband, “and although I didn’t at all feel angry towards him (Christmas) as now he didn’t mean a thing to me, his courtesy was a nuisance.”) 

“When her child was three years old she learned that Christmas had married Hanne Heinrich.  Several years later she writes: “I heard in Copenhagen that Mrs. Christmas had crowned her scandalous behavior by running away from husband and children.  Some years later Hanne Heinrich married the young doctor Lorenzen with whom she set off for the West Indies. He died there a year ago and she has returned to Copenhagen where now she lives on a pension given her by Christmas”

 

Johanne Marie Heinrich,  Wife No. 2 

            There appears to have been yet another romance in Christmas’ life just prior to this second marriage.  The dairy of August Hennings, in an entry written during his stay in Denmark in 1802, claims that Christmas had to pay another girl in Copenhagen 5000 rix-dollar in order to then marry  Johanne Marie Heinrich, (1771-1808),  daughter of a wealthy merchant living in the Danish West Indies.  That marriage took place in 1797 when she was 21 years of age.  She eventually bore him three children: Birthe, John, and George Beresford. 

      In a letter to Lucile Christmas Brewster (March, 1985), Vibeke Ronje,  descended from the Eskildsen side of the Christmas-Eskildsen family in Denmark, offered a sympathetic view of Captain John Christmas’ domestic problems. 

“He seems to have been a charming man.  When he arrived in Denmark he had an unhappy marriage behind him where he had to give up three children and he had to try to form a new life.” 

“The woman he married instead in 1799 (actually 1797) was an acquaintance of Sophie’s - it was a narrow circle of people in a small town and she was rather more interested in men than was thought proper for a girl of good family as she was - and after a few years and three children she ran off with the medical doctor Lorenzen(?) to St. Croix.  He died there within a year and at the same time she had a baby by him.  The governor paid for her return to Copenhagen and the Negro woman who accompanied her.  She was deserted by her family and very poor.  Christmas took pity and paid her an allowance. 

            According to co-author Susanne Christmas, Johanne did not “run off “  with Johannes Lorenzen.  Rather she and John Christmas were separated in 1803.  This seems to have been triggered by her alleged infidelity.  According to August Hennings, Johanne had an affair with Captain Christmas’ groom.  One can suppose this took place during one of Captain John’s sea voyages to India. Thereafter she left her three children with him and, in 1806, she married a garrison surgeon, Johannes Lorenzen, of St. Croix.

 

Was John A Bigamist? 

According to a letter from Thomas Smith to his brother John Christmas (August 1814), John technically committed bigamy under English law when he married Johanne in Copenhagen while still married to, though legally separated from, Charlotte Maria Smith, nee Bearsley: 

 “The other Estate _______will I conceive on your death go to your surviving daughters by ___ Smith – for I consider your second marriage although it may be valid in Denmark would not be legal by the Laws of England which do not allow a second marriage to be good during the lifetime of the first wife unless the parties had been divorced _____________________ by act of Parliament.”

Anne Christine Lynge, Girlfriend No. 3; 

            In the 1801 Danish census, a 22 year old maid named Ane Christ Lynge is listed as a member of the Joachim Top household located at Voldgade 69, just a block from Ny Kongensgade no. 1 where John Christmas was living at that time.  He would then have been 48 years old 

Vibeke Ronje’s letter to Lucile Brewster continues: 

“Meanwhile he had to have someone to look after their children (John and Johanne’s) and here Anna Cathrine Lynge comes into the picture.  Most likely she has been governess to the children and perhaps housekeeper, and indeed acted as his wife because your ancestor Frederik was their child.  He saw to it that their children were baptized Christmas and that they learned good craftsmanship.  Before he married his last wife he settled an amount of money for them which at the time must have been generous.”   

            In the Captain’s defense, it can be said that John was not the only prominent Dane to become involved with a peasant housekeeper.  See end note “2” for further examples. 

 

Danish Genealogist Hauch Fausboll, 1919

For many years the ancestry of John Christmas Smith was clouded as a result of alternative theories reported as “family tradition” by a Danish genealogist, Th. Hauch Fausboll, in two narrative accounts dated 1919 and 1941.  The 1919 version included the following passages:                       

“He was a gentleman who made great impression on the weak sex and he himself was not immune to its favors.  After his 2 first divorces he began an affair with Anne Cathrine Lynge who bore him 3 children.  At least the elder of these, Frederik Christmas is definitely said to have been born in Copenhagen, both when in 1825 a trustee was appointed for him and in a census paper of 1850.  In the first instance, his certificate of baptism has been available, in the second he has given Copenhagen as his place of birth.” 

“Nevertheless it has not been possible to find a reference to his baptism nor to that of his brother in any Copenhagen parish register.  This must be due either to the mysterious circumstances of their births or that they were baptized at the “English Embassy Hotel” whose parish register does not exist any more.” 

“Certificates of baptism they have in any case had as these were presented both in 1825 when trustees were assigned them and 10/6 1829 when Ferdinand Christmas received official license to establish himself as master saddler in the city of Schwerin (Germany) where he had bought a house from a certain constable ____Hunger.” 

“If his descendants still live in Schwerin or if descendants of Laura Linde who in 1865 notifies the death of her father Tanner Frederik Christmas are still to be found, it is possible that one of these certificates can be procured.  That Frederik and Ferdinand Christmas were sons of merchant John Christmas is explicitly stated at their confirmation in 1820 in the Church of Our Lady.” 

           “Nor in this relationship has merchant John Christmas shown himself steady as in 1811 he had a son by Wilhelmine B.  The boy was baptized in the church of Trinitatis.  However in a certain way he seems to have felt bound to Anna Cathrine Lynge.  When grocer H. Egholm in 1825 was appointed trustee for Frederik Christmas and master saddler A. Schmidt for Ferdinand Christmas it is stated that to Frederik, Ferdinand and Albert Christmas each is deposited 3.000 Rdl. Silver in the public trustee office.  The capital is granted on condition that their mother Anna Cathrine Staer, born Lynge, benefits from the full interests as long as the children stay with her, on the other hand only half the interest as they cease to receive care by her. “ 

“I remember that captain Charles de Coninck who was a cousin to Chamberlain Christmas-Dirckinck-Holmfeld  (their mothers were sisters) has told me that the tradition was that John Christmas was a bigamist.  I imagine that this tradition stems from his relations with Anna Cathrine Lynge which must have been of a partly public character since the children were baptized by the name Christmas.  Possibly he has really passed her off as his wife, but that they were not married appears sufficiently clearly from the parish register of Our Lady.  There in 1820 at her wedding she is titled miss (Virgin!)  Had a secret wedding taken place Christmas should certainly not have drawn back from seeking divorce a third time, rather than risk the results of a step as illegal as that.” 

Signed, Hauch Fausboll,  June 24, 1919 (See end note “1” for additional excerpts)

 

 

Fausboll Again in 1941

A second narrative written by Fausboll in 1941 adds some details to the above account while also deviating in two important ways.  Both deviations appear to be in error. First, the 1941 Fausboll report reasons that John was the grandson of Catherine Christmas of Waterford and Lt. Col. Gorges.  But given that Catherine’s older sister was born in 1723 and that John Christmas Smith was born in1753, there would not have been sufficient time for a daughter of Catharine Christmas to enter the picture in time to give birth to J.C.S.  There are also statements made by Fausboll (1919) and Henry Christmas to the effect that the marriage of Lt. Col. Gorges and Catharine produced no children.  Subsequently, the 1952 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry contained an article on the Gorges family, including a reference to Lt. Colonel Richard Gorges who died in 1765.  He and his wife Catharine Christmas are reported as having one son, unnamed, who died before his father. 

The second deviation appears in the absence, in Fausboll’s 1941 narrative, of any mention of Anna Cathrine Lynge.  Instead it shows Frederik Christmas as a first child of Christine Wilhelmine Boldt.   The 1919 narrative and family tree clearly state that Frederik Christmas was the first of three children resulting from the union of J.C. and Miss Lynge although they were never married.  Further evidence that Anna Lynge was the mother of Frederik Christmas is seen in the above mentioned “grant” in which the three children of Anne Lynge, all with the surname Christmas, are provided with trust funds by John Christmas. 

 

Capt. John Christmas and “India Trade under the Danish Flag (1772 to 1808)”

Ole Feldbaek’s 239 page book identifies John Christmas as a ship captain and owner who made at least three round trips to India and at least one trip to the Danish West Indies.  The book explains the circumstances of trade between India and Denmark from 1772 to 1808 as a means by which certain British traders could circumvent the monopoly established by the British Asiatic Company.  John Christmas, with his English background and training, serves as a useful agent for Danish and English trading interests as well as his own.  (See Chronology of Life of John Christmas below for approximate dates of his sailing trips.) 

      “In principle, the policy of the Danish Government aimed at supporting all the Copenhagen merchant houses that wished to take part in the India trade.  In fact, the fruits of the Government’s commercial policy were garnered by two of the largest merchant houses in the capital, Blacks Enke & Co. and Fabritius & Wever, who here made use of their English connexions. 

      “The head of C.S. Blacks Enke & Co., Erich Erichsen , had close connexions with firms in London, with which, in 1790,  he negotiated the charter of several ships under the Danish flag for India expeditions. One of these expeditions was carried out in 1791 with the Flora, Captain Homstrom, whose voyage started from Ostend, and who at no time during his voyage under the Danish flag ever saw a Danish port.  The expedition was dissolved on arrival in Bengal, which did not surprise the Kommercekollegium, which was well aware from the beginning, with the procurement of various dispensations, that “this expedition is mainly on foreign account.” 

      “The Kommercekollegium had very early defined the Danish Government’s policy towards the India expeditions under the Danish flag that started from a foreign European port.  This, like several previous expeditions, is mainly on English account: since now in the co-operation established between the Danish and English traders for this purpose, it must be taken to have been a main condition made by the English, that some ship or other of theirs was to be used for carrying out the expedition, it must be necessary, in this case, to grant the interested Danish traders this dispensation from the regulation, when it is desired not to deny them access to resources that the Danish East Indian trade can find in the English traders’ fortunes and connexions in the East Indies. To require that the ship should come here from England and hence be sent to the East Indies, in order to naturalise the ship first, so to speak, cannot be considered to by anything else than, by observing the formalities, to increase the owners’ risks and impede the enterprise from which it is desired that the country should gather the fruits”.  Thus the Danish Government was not specially interested in formally maintaining a veneer of Danish property over the foreign expeditions under the Danish flag, and firms such as Blacks Enke & Col could always count on the support of the Government for enterprises wherein the firm functioned as agents and lent its name to the illicit English trade. In these years, the firm was the formal Danish owner of expeditions with the Mathilda Maria, the Serapis, the Bellona and the Kronprinsesse Maria, all of which realy shipped their European cargo at Ostend.  The Kronprinsesse Maria left Copenhagen with the smallest cargo in the history of the India trade, and the other three took on board, on average 86.1% of their outward cargo at Ostend. 

      “In these years, Blacks Enke & Co. worked closely with an Englishman, John Christmas, who was apparently the representative of the English interests behind what in form were Danish expeditions.  John Christmas went out as supercargo on the Mathilda Maria, which after her arrival in Bengal was sold to the English, and he returned to Copenhagen in the Serapis, which had arrived soon after. The ship sailed for home with a very modest cargo in freight on poor conditions, in spite of the fact that one of the most considerable houses on the Coromandel Coast took part in the expedition. None the less, the result was satisfactory to John Christmas, who, after arriving home in Copenhagen, wished to continue this traffic under cover of Danish citizenship,.  Blacks Enke & Co. applied for naturalization for him, to enable him to continue in the India trade from Copenhagen, “for which his good connexions in India give him the best opportunities”, and emphasized with good effect that they had had some trouble to persuade him to choose Copenhagen instead of Ostend.  This attempt to press the Kommerce kollegium, however, was quite unnecessary.  The Kollegum knew beforehand, that John Christmas’ planned expedition with the Kronprinsesse Maria, which he had just bought, was “for his own and several foreign co-interests’ account”.  The Kollegium also clearly realized that “it is for several reasons desirable and profitable, that the trade between Denmark and the East Indies should be carried on on foreign account, so that the advantage of both the enterprise and of the realization of the cargoes should fall to the country without own risk of the funds necessary for carrying on this trade”.  The Danish Government and the Copenhagen merchant houses therefore rolled out the red carpet together.  The Government granted citizenship; and commissioned John Christmas in the Danish Navy, to help him to maintain the appearance of Danish trade and Blacks Enke & Co. stood guarantors with 10,000 rdl. That the passports would not be misused, and that the expedition would return to Copenhagen.  With all the formalities in order, therefore, this English expedition with the Kronprinsesse Marie could set sail for India in November 1791. (Feldbaek, Ole, India Trade Under the Danish Flag 1772-1808 (1969)  pp.138-139. 

      Feldbaek describes a particular expedition as follows: 

      “Both the Kronprinsesse Maria and the Bellona were in contact with merchant houses in Calcutta in the sale of their European cargoes and through these houses they also sought to get freight to Copenhagen, but in those years, none of the ships obtained a complete cargo of cloths.  Like other expeditions under the Danish flag, the holds were filled up with gods in bulk, especially with sugar; and Captain Christmas, who was one of the first to bring sugar to the Copenhagen market, could sell his Indian sugar at “enormous prices.”  (p. 140.) 

      As for the time it took to complete such an expedition, Feldbaek reports the following: 

      “Similar solid Anglo-Indian connexions helped Captain John Christmas, who himself sailed his ship, the Kronprinsesse Maria on an expedition to India that was completed in only thirteen months.” (p. 173) 

 

Christine Boldt,  Girlfriend No. 4 

            John’s fourth girlfriend, Christine Bohl, Bolt, Boldt, or Bahl, was said to be the daughter of a sea captain, Johan Christian Boldt, from Arendal, Norway (Fausboll 1941) or Flensburg, Germany.  Her mother was Thomine Knudsdatter from Norway.  Christine  was born in 1783 in Mandre, Norway and died in 1860 In Denmark. 

            There are a number of descendents of one of her sons, Wilhelm Julius Boldt-Christmas, now living in Sweden.  According to their family tradition, there is a possibility that Boldt’s son, Wilhelm Julius, was actually a bastard son of Denmark’s King Frederik VI.  Wilhelm, as a young man, was allegedly forced to move to Sweden but was also given a sum of money sufficient to allow him to start a successful business there.   Official Danish records pertaining to the King of Denmark during this period are to be made public in the year 2021.   

            Various sources record Ms. Boldt as bearing him as many as four children: Carnette Wilhelmine (later changed name to Johanne Wilhelmine) (1807), Juliane Thomine (1809), John Hermann (1811), and Wilhelm Julius (1815).   It is likely that the birth of Albert Christmas to Ms. Lynge in 1810, with John Christmas the acknowledged father, added stress to everyone’s lives.  It may also explain the subsequent pledge Christmas gave to Ms. Lynge in 1811 to leave a sum of money to each of her three children after which he resumed his relationship with Ms. Boldt.  It was not the first time that Christmas saw fit to buy his way out of his difficulties with the opposite sex.

 

Eliza Ferrall, Wife No. 3 

            According to Fausboll (1941), Captain Christmas was married on the 14th of December 1820 in Birkerod to Eliza Ferrall who was born on March 19, 1778 in St. Croix and who died on November 12, 1846 in Copenhagen.  She had first been married to Philip Ryan, merchant.  A genealogical paper belonging to Per and Ragnas (Tille) Moller (an aunt of Emile Christmas) states that Eliza, daughter of Peter Steven Ferrall, was born in Ireland.  It goes on to say that she was married to John in 1816, and that she died on December 11, 1845.

 

John Christmas Smith: Nobleman or mere Gentleman? 

By changing his own last name to Christmas, naming one of his sons George Beresford Christmas, and by while failing to pass on the names “ Smith” or “Hopkins” to any of his Danish born children, one gets the impression that John Christmas was deliberately trying to hide his true ancestry while wrongly suggesting a close connection between himself and the aristocratic Beresfords of Waterford.   If John Christmas used his own change of name plus the Beresford name to boost his own image, it certainly worked.  Capt. Walter F. Christmas told his son, Lawrence, that his family was descended from Irish kings.  Vibeke Ronje’s letter (see above) expresses a similar notion: 

 “Now to your questions. . . . John Christmas Smith was what he was baptized.  I presume he had to get permission to use Christmas as his family name and discard the Smith - probably because the Christmas family were noblemen and the circumstances of his birth may even then have been obscure.” 

Co-author Susanne Christmas says her uncle told her that John Christmas was descended from English nobility. She also quotes another Danish genealogist, Arne Knudby, to the effect that Fausboll had a reputation for “arranging his results convenient to his clients’ taste.” 

A letter to Walter F. Christmas, from Johnna Christmas Sandberg, dated August 7, 1972, hints at a possible reason for the “disappearance” of Anna Cathrine Lynge from Fausboll’s later narrative.  The letter states that:  “In all ways and by all means Walter Edmund Christmas has tried to hide his kinship with our part of the family, but I know the one (1919 Fausboll tree) gives it correctly.”  Even though Walter Edmond had died many years before, perhaps he somehow managed to influence the content of the tree passed down to co-author Susanne Christmas.   

      Co-author Susanne Christmas goes on to suggest other possibilities.  She notes that Edward Christmas D-H, son of Walter Edmund Christmas D-H, wrote in 1908 that “My grandfather’s brother, Captain of Artillery  (George Beresford) Christmas told my father that HIS father’s mother was born Gorges!! But he did not say that John Christmas had said so!”  Susanne believes this to be wishful thinking because the family wanted to believe they had descended from a Smith who had prominent brothers rather than from a Barnstaple merchant.  (See “Danish Patrician Families, Vol. 1, 1891”) 

      Susanne also speculates that John Christmas could have given the middle name “Beresford” to his son George because he “knew and liked a person of that name”, i.e. a vice admiral Sir John Beresford (1766-1844), son of a George Beresford, whom he could have known. 

Meanwhile, Capt. John Christmas revealed his own perceived rank in society in a letter written to one of his brothers in 1799 in which he complains about how was addressed in a certain legal document:   

“I must likewise declare that I find myself hurt at the manner in which this deed is drawn up – it is a paper that must descend to posterity, and I am described in it in the same manner as a felon condemned to be hanged.  Every other person in it is described by their titles as Esquires or Gents. But I am called plain John Christmas, though for five years past Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber to her Britanic Majesty, for a much longer period Captain in the Royal Navy of Denmark.  I hope I am as free from pride or vain ostentation as any person upon Earth, in this particular instance I am however, anxious that my descendents shall know that I have a right to be put upon a footing with any Esquire or Gentlemen of Great Britain.” 

 

Real estate belonging to John Christmas 

Four properties are mentioned as belonging to John Christmas:  “Rolighed” in Vedbaek, Hoveltegaard, a home at the site of the Phoenix Hotel in Copenhagen and a property in St. Croix.   Rolighed was an attractive country manor house (see illustration.) The house that replaced it is currently being used as a retreat or conference center.   A pamphlet describing the property’s  history mentions Capt. Christmas as an owner as of 1813 while also stating that the home had been occupied in 1807 by General Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, after the British had defeated Denmark after a siege of Copenhagen.  

Letters written to Lucile Brewster by Danish relations include the following passages regarding Hoveltegaard:  “I think both houses (Hoveltegard and Rolighed) still exist, but as far as I know they are on the East Coast about 25 KM north of Copenhagen.”(Lise)   “Hoveltegaard today is used by the military.  There are still huge areas belonging to it.” (Vibeke). 

The property now occupied by the luxury Phoenix Hotel  at 37 Bregade was, according to Sophie Zinn’s memoirs, the site of a manor home bought by Christmas in 1790.  According to a booklet describing the history of the current Hotel Phoenix, the property was first developed in the 1680’s.  “The Bregade area was clearly the most distinguished part of Copenhagen, frequented by officers and gentlemen of the Court.” 

The original house on the site of the Phoenix Hotel was described as “a 12 window, two story house with a basement, a low 4-window brickwork attic, and a 3 window gable facing the Dronningens Tvaergade.  In 1749 it was expanded by the addition of a 7-window wing facing Dronningens Tvaergade built as an independent mansion in the rococo style.”   

The National Museum of Denmark, Ny Vestergade 10, Copenhagen, contains a painting of Dronningens Tvaergade 1-3 (Count Gyldensteens Palae) dated to 1749 by I. Rach and H.H.Eegberg. 

In a letter to one of his brothers, John also mentions the loss of “our property” in the Virgin Islands to England.  In a letter to his brother, James Smith, he is more specific: “I have already declared to you that by the capture of St. Croix by the English my house is kept out of property there to the amount of L3,000.” (Copenhagen, Nov. 24, 1801.) 

 

Last Will??? 

            No will has yet been found for Capt. John.  However, on November 28, 1816 he did make an application to the king of Denmark (Frederick VI) asking that his three daughters: Sophie Protheroe, Laura Sothebey, and Bertha Duntzfeldt, each be allowed to inherit the same portion of his belongings as his sons John Christmas and George Beresford Christmas.  At that time in Danish history, daughters were normally allowed to inherit only half of a share.  His application was granted in December of 1818. 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past 

Mr. Beresford Christmas in 1885 reports that his father, cavalry officer George Beresford Christmas and his elder brother, likewise in Danish service, Admiral John Christmas, both had told him the following: 

“Around 1825 they were on their way to St. Thomas, leaving their father in Copenhagen in good health.  The two brothers slept in the same cabin.  One night with quiet weather, a few day’s sailing from the islands, with open port holes and in bright moonlight which lighted up the whole cabin, both brothers awoke simultaneously and saw their father’s figure standing between their bunks within arm’s length from them.  They perceived a chilling feeling rather than fear.  The figure stood unmoving and silent for a moment which seemed to them an eternity.  Then he moved his hand to the eyes which were closed.  Not until now did they realize that the vision was ominous.  One of the jumped out of his bunk and the figure disappeared.” 

“The naval officer was so strongly impressed by the experience that he at once entered it in the log with date and hour, which later turned out to be the exact time of his father’s death.” 

“Though this event was topic of conversation both on board and in Copenhagen, neither the narrator’s father nor his uncle like to talk about it.” 

The John Christmas who we presume is the ghost in the above story died, according to Hauch Fausboll, on January 6, 1822.  The reason for believing this John Christmas is the subject of the story is that he had two sons who named above. Also, Admiral John Christmas, son of Captain John Christmas, did in fact sail to the Virgin Islands 1821-22 on board the corvette Diana.

 

Place of burial 

John Christmas is buried in Assistensens Kirkegard, Copenhagen, in a family plot no longer containing his grave marker.  The plot is evidently that which now contains the remains of William and Bertha Duntzfelt.  William was the son-in-law of J.C.  An adjacent plot was later occupied by George Beresford Christmas and other family members.

 

Overview 

            The life of Capt. John Christmas as told here emphasizes his complex relationships with various women.  This emphasis was simply the product of the available records.  The authors would have preferred to give greater attention to the captain’s adventures at sea or as a merchant – but records of that type, including ships logs, could not be found.  Available records did, of course, reveal the captain’s substantial success as a merchant and trader during a period of major conflict between his two countries. 

            In regard to Christmas’ extensive record of broken relationships with women, it can at least be said that third party witnesses supported his claims of serious shortcomings in the behavior of his first two wives.  His decision not to marry Anne C. Lynge, a much younger woman of the peasant class, was at least consistent with his widely shared belief in the importance of class distinctions in both England and Denmark.  It was this belief which caused him to stress his rank as a gentleman, to hint at an aristocratic ancestry, and to marry three women from merchant families.    

            Sea captains of that, or any, period had a difficult time maintaining a marriage and one cannot but sympathize with their wives during the many months they found themselves living alone or with just their children. 

            In hindsight we might wish that John and Sophie had found happiness together.  She was an attractive young woman of high intelligence. But had they made a successful match, where would we, the descendents of John’s subsequent wives and girlfriends, be today? 

 

CHRONOLOGY OF LIFE OF JOHN CHRISTMAS (SMITH) 

1753

 John Christmas Smith christened in Bideford, England (July 14), son of Edward Smith and Judith Rebecca Hopkins. 

1771

James Hopkins refers to John Christmas Smith, his nephew, in his will as living in Portugal 

1776

On February 24, John Smith marries Charlotte Maria Bearsley in Masarellos (near Oporto) Portugal.  She is related to Bearsley family, founders in 1692 of wine export company in Oporto, now known as Taylor, Fladgate & Co.  John and Charlotte have four daughters born in Portugal (Charlotte Maria, Sophia, Laura, and Susan). 

1779

Will of Edward Smith of Bideford proved in Prerogative Court of Canterbury

Charlotte Maria baptized in Oporto. 

1784

Jane Bearsley baptized in St. Andrew Holborn parish, London 

1786

On July 14, Edward Christmas Smith is baptized at St. Andrew, Holborn, London.

1788

William Christmas baptized in London in May, last child of Christmas-Bearsley

John and Charlotte Maria separate in July “and have not seen each other since.”

Smith sails to India as supercargo (in charge of the cargo) on “Mathilde Maria” with C.P. Geicken 

1789

French peasants storm Bastille, ignite French Revolution 

1790

Smith is granted name change to John Christmas Christmas.

Christmas returns from India to Copenhagen on “Serapis” with Captain H. Kroyer;

Christmas is granted Danish citizenship and commissioned as an officer in the Danish navy.  

1791

Christmas is engaged to Sophie Zinn.  He sails to India on “Kronprinsesse Maria” with Captain F. Peterson;   

1792

Christmas returns from India, breaks engagement with Sophie after learning she has been socializing with a Frenchman 

1793-1794

Christmas, serving as captain, sails to India and back on “Kronprinsesse Maria.” 

1795

In June of 1795, a large fire in Copenhagen destroyed 900 houses and displaced 6,000 people (Susanne Christmas).  John Christmas describes his losses and philosophizes about them in a letter to a brother dated September 29, 1795: 

            “In so dreadfull a calamity as the Fire of Copenhagen, no person in the City would expect to escape without bearing the loss- mine is not less than two thousand poiunds, and maybe three if I include the damage sustained in my own house in March last. This, however, I can very well bear - It is the only loss of Copenhagen I have to complain of for these seven years part, and it is hardly an object of consideration when compared to such a tide of sums as has surpassed my most sanguine expectations. The great point is to wince up in time which I am determined to do and to realize one by one as my different returns arrive from India – the whole I expect will arrive in Europe by beginning of June next year, and if I may judge from appearances my fortune will then be considerable.” 

1796

John Christmas and Charlotte Maria become legally separated (but not divorced.) 

1797

Christmas marries Johanne Marie Heinrich; daughter Birthe is born. 

1799

John Christmas is born to Johanne, he later becomes an admiral in Danish navy and a plantation owner in the Danish West Indies (the Virgin Islands.) 

1800

George Beresford Christmas is born to Johanne.  Beresford name is apparently taken from sister-in-law of Catherine Christmas of Waterford.  The Beresfords are a famous aristocratic family. John’s use of the name Beresford for his son caused some to believe that John Christmas Smith was actually the son or grandson of Catherine. 

Christmas sails to Danish West Indies on “Anna” owned by Christmas and Kerr.  Christmas is a business partner with Terboch, his brother in law. 

 

1801

The British fleet attacks Copenhagen with Admiral Nelson second in command.  After heavy casualties on both sides, Nelson threatens to set fire to all captured ships and batteries whereupon Crown Prince Frederick sues for peace and agrees to leave “League of Armed Neutrality” with Russia, Prussia, Sweden, and Netherlands. Danish trade continues to flourish worldwide. 

 

1803

Great Britain declares war on Napoleon’s France; 

Christmas and Johanne separate after she has affair with servant (groom). She leaves children with Christmas.

1804

Frederick Christmas is born to John Christmas and Anna Lynge.  

1805

Admiral Nelson defeats French/Spanish fleet at Battle of Trafalgar; 

Hans Christian Anderson is born in Denmark;   

1806

 Ferdinand Christmas born to Christmas and Lynge 

1807 

Johanne marries Dr. Lorentzen and leaves for Danish West Indies;

Carnette Wilhelmine is born to Christmas and Wilhelmine Boldt on October 20. 

Both France and Great Britain seek to bring Denmark, or at least its fleet, to their side. The British attack Copenhagen.  The British fleet included 21 ships of the line, 9 frigates and 37 other men-of-war. Land force included 30,000 men, 3,000 horses and a large contingent of heavy artillery made up of guns, howitzers, mortars and the new Congreve rockets.  Copenhagen is bombarded for 3 days.  General Wellesley commands British ground forces while occupying estate called “Rolighed” near Vedbaek. 

The English confiscated all Danish and Norwegian ships in British ports and arrested most of the merchant ships on their way to or from Danish overseas possessions and trading partners.  More than 7,000 Danish and Norwegian seamen from all over the world were captured and most had to suffer a year aboard prison ships.  Denmark thereupon joins its army to Napoleon’s forces.  The Danes also build a fleet of gunboats to harass the British. 

1809

Juliane Thomine born (June 26) to Christmas and Boldt 

1810

Albert is born to Christmas and Lynge

1811

John Herman Christmas, born August 3, to Christmas and Boldt.

On September 27, Christmas pledges the sum of 9000 Rigsbank silver to Ms. Lynge and her 3 children.

1813

The war ruins Danish economy.  The Danish government becomes bankrupt. In final peace treaty signed in 1814 Denmark cedes Norway to Sweden, ending 450 years of Danish-Norwegian kingdom;

Soren Kierkegaard is born in Copenhagen;

John Christmas buys Rolighed .  Meanwhile General Wellesley has become the Duke of Wellington

1814

Paris surrenders/ Napoleon sent to Elba                       

1815

Wilhelm Julius Boldt Christmas born June 14 to Christmas and Boldt. 

The Battle of Waterloo (June 18) .  It is described by Thomas Smith to his brother John Christmas in a letter dated June 29 as follows: 

“The new war is likely to be of short duration.  Bonaparte at the head of an immense army attacked the British and Belgians commanded by Lord Wellington and the Prussians under Blucher on the 15th, 16th, and 18th. The two first days were indecisive but on the 18th, after a most severe and sanguinary conflict, the French were completely routed with a prodigious slaughter - upwards of 250 pieces of cannon and nearly all their material taken.  Bonaparte fled to Paris where he has been dethroned by the French nation who have formed a provisionary government to treat with the allies whose armies are in full march toward Paris – World may now hope for some repose.” 

1820

John Christmas marries Eliza Ryan (nee Ferrall) on December 14 at home in  Hoveltegaard. 

1822

John Christmas dies; is buried at Assistensens Cemetery in Copenhagen 

 

John Christmas’ Ancestors in England:  Henry and Brian Christmas 

            A family tree prepared by Henry and Brian Christmas of the Christmas “one name club” in England, traces the Christmas family back to a Henry Christmas (1493-1550) from Worplesdon England, near Guildford: 

Henry Christmas (1493-1550)  m. 1514 to Julia 

2.  Thomas Christmas (1520-1587)  m. 1540 to Joan or Joanne Inwood (   -1592) Clothier in Perryhill Surry 

3.  Thomas Christmas (1543-    )  m. 1564 to Joan Purs 

4.  Thomas Christmas (1580 -     )  m. 1603 to Elizabeth            Guildford 

5.  Thomas Christmas (1622-1704)  m. Elizabeth Gamon  (   -1677) Barnstaple/Waterford 

 

Children of Edward and Judith Smith

            Baptism records provided by the Devon Record Office: 

Elizabeth Christmas Smith, 27 September 1751 

John Christmas Smith, 21 December, 1753 

Thomas, 13 June 1756 

James, 24 December 1758 

William, 11 October, 1761 

Daniel, 15 September 1762 

 

End Notes

1)                  Additional excerpts from Fausboll 1919 genealogy: 

“John Christmas (Smith), born October 13, 1755 (or 57) in Biddeford in Devonshire, got permission for himself and his descendants from King George III of England to bear the name Christmas and the coat of arms of this family, according to a document which rests at Herald’s College, London E.C. in “The Crown Book”, I, 34, page 232-234, dated 24/11 1790.  The requisite letter of arms was made out November 27 (or July 11), 1793.  It is also to be found in Herald’s College under Patents, Vol. XVII, Page 270.  According to these documents he has established his descent on the maternal side from the Irish lineage Christmas of Waterford.”  (Fausboll goes on to speculate, wrongly, that John Christmas Smith was the illegitimate son of a Captain in the Royal Guard named John Smith and Catherine Christmas of Waterford.) 

            “John Christmas settled in 1790 in Denmark as a ship owner and captain, was according to letter by the Danish Chancellery of 8/11 1790 merchant in Copenhagen and obtained by Royal Resolutions 1f ½ 1793, 29/5 -  1795 and 23/4 1811 “to keep a citizen that wealthy and profitable in this community” captain’s rank and a naval officer’s uniform on some voyages in foreign countries.

2)  A book entitled  Kierkegaard: In the Golden Age by Bruce H. Kirmmse, offers a historical context for considering John Christmas’ circumstances when he arrived in Copenhagen in about 1790.  Kirmmse describes Michael Pedersen Kiekegaard, father of the famous philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s, as moving from a rural, peasant background into a prosperous business career in Copenhagen “when the economic situation in Copenhagen in the 1770-s, ‘80’s, and ‘90’s was extremely favorable.”  In fact, Michael Pedersen  acquired a “large, prominent house at the corner of Copenhagen’s New Market Square (Nytorv),”  about three blocks from the “Phoenix” home of  John Christmas . 

At a time when some three quarters of the Danish population was of the peasant class, it is probable that all housekeepers were of that class.  Michael Pedersen had, as his housekeeper, a cousin who was a peasant woman.  Less than a year after his first wife’s death, Michael Pedersen got his housekeeper pregnant, perhaps by force.  He later married her.  The last of their seven children was Soren Kiekegaard.  Historians believe that when, as a young adult, Soren came to realize the circumstances of his parent’s marriage, he was deeply shocked, especially since his father was such a devoutly religious person.    

            The famous Danish writer, Karen Blixen, was descended from a great grandmother, Dagmar Alvilda (Kaasbol), who was a housekeeper in the great grandfather’s house.   According to Susanne Christmas, Karen Blixen was a snob who loved being a baroness and never told that story; rather it was told by her brother Thomas Dinesen in a book entitled “Anna Margrethe, Days and Nights in My Great-grandmother’s Life.” 

 

Bibliography: 

            Burke’s Landed Gentry, 1863, Christmas Family of Waterford 

This document contains a Christmas of Whitfield (Ireland) lineage beginning with Thomas Christmas of Waterford, “merchant, mayor of that city in 1664, and high sheriff of the county of Waterford, 1678, . . . “   It further identifies his several children by Elizabeth, including both Richard and John.  The Waterford line is then continued beginning with Richard, his son Thomas, and granddaughter Catharine who is identified as having married Lt. Col. Richard Gorges.  This document also identifies Catharine’s brother Thomas as having married a Lady Beresford. (page 245.) 

            Lawrence Christmas,   “Capt. Thomas Christmas,”  unpublished, 2007.   

Danish Biographical Dictionary, First Ed. 1887 - 1905. published by C.F. Bricka 

S. Elvius and H.R.Hiort-Lorenzen. Danish Patrician Families, Tryde, 1891, p. 70-71 on Christmas. (Dirckinck-Holmfeld.) 

Ole Feldbaek,  India Trade under the Danish Flag 1772-1808,  Scandinavian                  Institute of Asian Studies Monograph Series, No. 2,  1969 

Th. Hauch-Fausboll:  Slaegtshandbogen (family-handbook) I, 1900 at Thiele’s Printing Office p. 101-103 

Preben Plum, Mysticism, Miracles and Science” Denmark 1982, p. 71-72, edited by Centrum.  cites Edmund Gurney, Frederic Gurney and Frank Prodmore,  Phantasms of the Living (1886)           

            W. R. Prior, Devon and Cornwall,  Notes and Queries,  1910.  Oxford Journal,                               Christmas Family of Bideford. pp. 209-212. 

            Sophie Thalbitzer (Zinn), Grandmama’s Confessions - Grandmamas                                  Bekiendelser, Volume IV of Memoirs and Letters.  (1922) Gyldendalske                         Boghandel publishing firm.  In 1966 a photographic reprint was published                            by August Bang.

 

Available Illustrations 

            Christmas Family Coat of Arms in color 

            Photographic copy of oil painting of Capt. John Christmas by F.C. Groger, 1815, Original in storage at Commercial and Maritime Museum, Kronborg Castle,  Denmark 

            Copy of portrait of Capt. John Christmas Christmas, black and white print. 

            Photographic copies of two small paintings, portraits of Capt. John Christmas and Johanne Heinrich, artist unknown. 

            Copy of portrait of Sophie Thalbitzer (Zinn), sepia tone,  as published in Grandmama’s Confessions. 

            Photo copy of the ship “Betsy of Copenhagen” owned by Christmas, Terbock & Co.  Watercolor painted by Jacob Petersen (1774-1855) 

            Photo copy of painting of frigate “Bekkeskov” (1805) by Jacob Petersen, Commercial and Maritime Museum, Kronborg Castle  (ship features large red and white flag) 

            Photo copy of “Roligheds” by Adolph Larsen (1856-1942.)  painting located at Mothgaarden Museum, Rudersdal, Sollerod. 

            Copy of color painting of Phoenix (Dronningens  Tvaergade 1-3) on display at National Museum of Denmark. By Rach and Eegberg, 1749.      

 

Acknowledgements

            The tale of how the life and true ancestry of Capt. John Christmas came to light after more than 250 years is nearly as interesting as the story of the Captain himself.  Until the summer of 2003, Lawrence and Susanne Christmas had each been working independently on the history of Capt. John and were not even aware of each other’s existence.  Each had a different version of Hauch Fausboll’s genealogy.  Each wanted to either verify or refute his speculations as to the ancestry and life of this wealthy merchant, sea captain, and lover of women.     

            During the summer of 2002, Lawrence’s brother, Walter, was touring England with a Welch choir from Los Angles.  He decided to visit the library at Exeter to see if they had any information about the Christmas family.  They answered him with a copy of an article published in 1910 in the journal “Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries.”  Prior to this discovery, both Susanne and Lawrence had little choice but to accept the speculations of the Danish genealogist that Capt. John’s father, John Smith, was a British army officer with a rank of Captain in the Royal Guards.  He was also a member of a distinguished family. 

            While “Notes and Queries” suggested that the Captain John was actually the son of Bideford merchant Edward Smith, it offered no clues as to the identity his mother.  Fausboll had also speculated on that subject.  In his 1919 paper he and family members guessed that Catherine Christmas of Waterford, sister-in-law of Lady Beresford, was John’s mother.  In his 1941 paper, Fausboll reported that John’s mother was “apparently” a daughter of Catherine and her husband, a gentleman named Gorges 

            After Susanne and Lawrence met through the internet and exchanged their information, Susanne continued working with the College of Arms in London and the North Devon Archives.  A commissioned paper by Timothy Duke, Chester Herald at the College of Arms, brought to light the will of Edward Smith which identified his wife as “Judith Rebecca.”  Mr. Duke also discovered in the IGI the record of baptism for John Christmas Smith.  North Devon archivist Tim Wormleighton located correspondence between John and his brothers plus the Smith Family memorial plaque in St. Mary’s Church in Bideford.  The plaque gave Judith Rebecca’s age as 67 as of 1797, the year of her death. 

            It was then a simple matter for Lawrence to search LDS baptism records for a Judith Rebecca born in Bideford or Barnstaple in about 1730.  While he discovered several Judiths, there was only one Judith Rebecca.  Her surname was Hopkins!  A further search for wills by Susanne produced those of Elizabeth Hopkins (Judith Rebecca’s mother) and James Hopkins (brother of Judith Rebecca).  The first will names an Edward Smith as “curator” assigned to Judith Rebecca Hopkins, a minor. The second will mentioned John Christmas Smith as a contingent beneficiary then living in Port, Portugal.  Eureka! 

            Other discoveries followed.  Susanne found the book on Danish-India trade by Ole Feldbaek, while Lawrence, with the help of Google, took a “shot in the dark” when he checked the web page of the Medical Archives at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.   Both sources added significantly to Capt. John’s story. 

            Along the way, other members of the Christmas family made significant contributions to this paper including Henry Christmas and Marion Achurch.   Torbjorn Boldt-Christmas arranged for the exchange of information between his branch of the family and the authors.   

            Finally, the immediate families deserve praise for enduring the authors’ nearly obsessive behavior as they pieced together the real life of John Christmas Smith and, thereby, the origin of this rare and remarkable family name.   

 

For questions and comments:

 

            Lawrence Christmas (lsxmas@comcast.net)

 


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