15 September 2008

Murder in the Churchyard

"On a Sunday evening in January 1854, while Dr. George Junkin conducted services at nearby Lexington Presbyterian Church, a student attending what is now Washington & Lee Law School, murdered Cadet Thomas Blackburn, a popular VMI First Classman (senior).
Charles Burks Christian was apprehended immediately, still covered with his victim’s blood. By some accounts, only the direct intervention of VMI superintendent, Gen. Francis Henney Smith, and Rev. Junkin's son-in-law, a new professor at the Institute named Thomas Jackson, prevented a lynching. Blackburn was related both to the Washingtons of Mount Vernon, and to Francis Thomas, former Governor of Maryland, ex-husband of Sally McDowell Miller of Col Alto, herself the daughter of a Virginia governor."

"The tragic dispute between the two young men grew out of Charles Christian’s unrequited romantic interest in a beautiful local teenager, Mary Eveyln Anderson, daughter of a Washington College Rector, and a niece of United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton. The savagery of Christian’s fatal attack upon the unarmed cadet stunned the community, and its motive titillated everyone who learned of it." More details here.

(Lexington Presbyterian Church in photo, circa 1896. The structure shown partially to the right of the church is the old "Lecture Room" where Stonewall Jackson conducted his Sunday school for slaves and free blacks. The building was torn down in 1906.)

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