Virginia’s first family who lived in Christiansburg

Jim Glanville

Although most historical details are lacking, soon after their marriage the first Governor John Floyd of Virginia and his wife Letitia Preston Floyd lived in Christiansburg for five or six years.

This columnist is currently preparing a presentation for the Christiansburg Rotarians about Virginia’s first lady who lived in Christiansburg. This column discusses John and Letitia Floyd and the time they lived in Christiansburg.

The second governor of Virginia named John Floyd was their first son and second child, named John Buchanan Floyd. He was born at Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg in June 1806 and must have lived in Christiansburg with his parents from soon after his birth until the Floyd family moved around 1813 to the Thorn Spring Plantation on the edge of Pulaski Town in today’s Pulaski County.

The first Governor John Floyd (the 25th governor of Virginia) was in office from March 1830 to March 1834. His son John Buchanan Floyd (the 31st governor of Virginia) was in office from March 1857 to December 1860.

Letitia Preston (1779-1852) was the tenth child and sixth daughter of William and Susanna Preston and was born at the Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg. In accord with the strong Preston family and Presbyterian traditions of giving their daughters a good education, Letitia would have been well tutored and home-schooled while growing up at Smithfield.

Her future husband, Governor John Floyd (1784-1839), was born at Floyds Station, near present-day Louisville, Kentucky. His parents were the Kentucky pioneers the surveyor John Floyd, a deputy to Fincastle County surveyor William Preston, and Floyd’s second wife Jane Buchanan.

Floyd the surveyor’s first wife, Matilda Burford, died in 1770 in Amherst County at the age of 18 during the birth of their daughter, named Mourning. The widower then moved west to Botetourt County and became a deputy surveyor for William Preston, first at Greenfield in present-day Botetourt County and later at Smithfield. He also served as an under-sheriff alongside Christiansburg’s Daniel Trigg while they both worked as deputies to William Christian the Botetourt County sheriff.

In the mid-1770s, Floyd the surveyor, along with other Fincastle County deputy surveyors such as Hancock Taylor, James Douglas and Jesse Hite, undertook the well-known Smithfield-based Fincastle surveys that took up land for prominent eastern Virginians. These Fincastle surveys are conventionally regarded as the beginning of recorded Kentucky history.

Governor John Floyd never knew his father the surveyor because exactly two weeks before the governor was born his father died of wounds received two days earlier in a fight with Indians near Louisville.

In November 1803, Letitia Preston was almost 400 miles west of Blacksburg visiting her older sister Susanna Preston who had been born at Greenfield, married Nathaniel Hart in Montgomery County in 1797, and gone west with him as one of the earliest of the Kentucky pioneering families.

Letitia, in a letter written that month from her sister’s house to her mother back at Smithfield, apologized for her delayed return home, and begged her mother’s blessing for a newly found male friend whose “evident claims of mind, person, equality of station, added to the Circumstance of being the Son of my Father’s best beloved friend Colo Floyd, will I trust place this request beyond the imputation of indiscretion.” Letitia had met the love of her life.

Six months later, in Franklin County, Kentucky, on May 13, 1804, Letitia Preston married John Floyd. She was 24; he had just turned 20.

Afterwards, she returned to Virginia to be near her immediate family while he entered the University of Pennsylvania to complete his study of medicine in 1806 with the founding father Dr. Benjamin Rush. Floyd had earlier read medicine with a Dr. Ferguson in Louisville, so after marrying was able to graduate as a doctor relatively quickly. We can infer from one of her letters that Letitia must have spent some time in Philadelphia while her husband was a student there, but we lack any details.

We do not know precisely where the couple lived during the first eight years of their marriage. After graduation, Dr. Floyd took up a short-lived medical practice in Lexington, Virginia, but soon moved his family to Christiansburg where his biographer Charles Henry Ambler writes “he soon acquired a wide and favorable reputation as a physician.”

According to Letitia’s bible Dr. Floyd was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Montgomery County in June 1807, so the Floyds were likely living in Christiansburg as early as that year.

Dr. Floyd was the attending surgeon at the well-known McHenry-Lewis rifle duel that took place at Sunset Cemetery in Christiansburg on May 16, 1808, and resulted in the death of both duelists.

Genealogist John Frederick Dorman notes that the couple’s fourth child William Preston Floyd was born in Christiansburg in January 1809 and that their fifth child George Rogers Clark Floyd (their second child so-named; the first having died aged only nine months) was born in Christiansburg in September 1810.

Judging from the available documentary evidence, the John and Letitia Floyd lived for much of the first eight years of their marriage in Christiansburg.

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