Christian F. Laise’s ties to Berkeley County’s freedmen and Unionists

Posted on February 17, 2013 by


A couple of years ago there was a good article in The Journal (Martinsburg, W.V.), in which postwar (1880s, actually) efforts by Christian Frederick Laise were part of the focus.

Berkeley County has an African-American area listed in the National Register. After their freedom at the end of the Civil War, many former slaves had a hard time surviving. Before the Civil War there were a few free African-Americans living along the mountainside near Gerrardstown. After the war, the area attracted more people, but in 1880, Christian F. Laise, of the Bunker Hill area, purchased 78 acres from Edgewood Manor plantation from Charles J. Faulkner.

Before the war, Gen. Elisha Boyd had many slaves on his land in what became the Bunker Hill area. After his death in 1841, his Edgewood Mansion and several slaves went to his son, John Boyd. But after the war, the Faulkners began to sell much of the Edgewood plantation.

About the same time, Laise decided he would build a development in the Bunker Hill area for both white and black people. At that time, many of the developments in Martinsburg had stipulations that lots could not be sold to people of color, including even Green Hill Cemetery, which was laid out before the war. There was a section established off the main cemeteries that was for the colored. Laise then divided his land that was on the southeast corner of Smithfield Road and the Winchester Pike into lots. The Methodist church also purchased a lot along the pike.

Laise had reserved nine lots along Middle Street just for the colored. Laise sold lot 9 to Tosten Fairfax, a man of color, for $125 on Dec. 12, 1881. On Feb. 20, he sold lot 20 to Charles Wilson, James M. Fairfax, Tosten Fairfax and William Jackson, all colored, trustees for $125 “to be used as a general cemetery and burying ground for all colored people for the district and community and to be called the ‘Bunker Hill Cemetery’ for the colored population of said district, and for such others as may apply to the said trustees and with their consent to bury there on.”

Laise sold lot 8 to George Bulett; lot 10 in February 1882 to Philip Strother for $125; lot B to L.O. Gibson; lot 16 on July 21, 1889, to Robert Parker; and lot 17 on July 20, 1889, to William Henderson and Bates Branson. On Sept. 26, 1889, he sold lot 19 to Strother, Lewis Green and Thompson Greet, trustees, and to their successors in office. The said lot was to have a meeting house thereon and to be dedicated for the service of God for the use of trustees and members of the Colored Mount Tabor congregation.

Laise was deceased by 1894, and still owed $2,600 to the Faulkners. When Faulkner died in 1894, Elisha Boyd Faulkner and Charles J. Faulkner Jr., the administrators of Charles J. Faulkner Sr.’s estate, brought a suit in the Chancery Court against Laise’s widow, Martha H. Laise, and Charles L. Laise and his wife, Cora, William S. Laise and his wife, Lizzie, plus all the colored people and the Methodist Episcopal Church. Since Christian Laise had not paid for the land under the deed of trust, the court ordered that most of the land Laise had would be sold to pay off the debt. The colored cemetery was bid in by the Faulkners for $20, lots 18 and 13 each sold for $100 to the Faulkners. Lot A, which faced U.S. 11, sold for $200 to James W. Davis. The Faulkners resold the cemetery, lot 19, to the trustees of Mt. Tabor Colored Church trustees, Philip Strother, Louise Green and Champion Green for $100. Tolbert Parker built a log house on his lot that burned in 1914.

Recently, I ran across Laise once again, in my work on Shenandoah Valley Unionists. Not only did he put forth an effort for local African-Americans, he was also the president of Berkeley County’s Union League, which he was instrumental in founding, on May 15, 1863.

In his testimony on behalf of applicant John H. Boltz, Laise stated:

I am 64 years of age and now Innkeeper. I have lived in this county since 1863[;] at Martinsburgh, and at this place since 1865. I was President of the Union League in this county a portion of the time during the rebellion during the year of 1863-1864. I know principally all the Union men in the county at that time.

Laise testifies on behalf of John Boltz.

Laise vouches for John Boltz’s Unionism.

Laise wasn’t a local, however. Born in Germany, ca. 1810, Laise immigrated to the United States, married Martha Hanna Showalter (in the 1830s), and was listed in the 1850 and 1860 census as a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Though not an applicant himself, in the Southern Claims, he did petition the U.S. Government, in 1872, “for compensation for property destroyed during the recent war of the rebellion.”

Regretfully, little else is known at this time, regarding Laise in the war… but I’m not done digging just yet. 🙂

Laise died in January, 1893, and was buried in the Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church cemetery.