Sometimes, when researching your family history, you chance upon a story that is quite momentous. I had one of these moments when researching the Duckworth family – a family of cotton merchants who married into my family on 1st January 1839 when Nicholas Duckworth married Lucinda Ann Eyes at St. George’s Church, Everton, Liverpool.
Nicholas and Lucinda had thirteen children, one of whom being James Alexander Duckworth, born on 26th February 1854 in Rose Hill, Claughton. He married twice, first of all to Emsie Minnigerode on 4th May 1881 in St. Paul’s Church, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Emsie’s father, Charles Minnigerode was born in 1814 in Westphalia (in modern day Germany). A Lutheran, he studied law at the University of Giessen where he became heavily involved in politics. He was termed a ‘radical’ and spent four and a half years in prison, reading only the Bible until his release.
He set sail for America in 1839, settling in Philadelphia. Managing to learn English in three months, he became a language teacher teaching Greek, Latin, Hebrew as well as German. Three years later, in 1842, he relocated to Williamsburg becoming professor of humanities at the College of William and Mary. Whilst at Williamsburg, he befriended Judge Nathaniel Beverly Tucker who invited him to spend Christmas with his family at St. George Tucker House.
Whilst there, he spoke to Tucker’s children, telling them of the German tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas. It is said that Minnigerode went into the woods, cut down a small pine tree and took it into Tucker’s home. He helped the children to decorate it with colourful paper balls and popcorn and cut down candles to affix to the tree. The children danced as the candles were lit one by one.
The following year, many Williamsburg residences contained a Christmas tree and, today, a small tree is placed on the Tucker house porch to commemorate Minnigerode.