|I'm quite sure it's the lighting, but check out the blur at the|
top right of the picture.
I am standing inside Old St. Luke’s Episcopal church, a building whose roots go back to 1765. The current building isn’t quite that old, probably rebuilt in the 1800s. The land surrounding the church originally belonged to Major William Lea, as a grant for his service in the King’s army during the French Indian War. Major Lea was born in 1749 and later served in various forts during the Revolutionary War. He was married to Jane Welch, but as is typical of that time period, there is little mention of Jane’s life.
In the male-dominated history of Old St Luke’s one person stands out, not for her unique contributions, but because of her unusual birth circumstances. At the back of the church is a steep set of narrow steps. I negotiate my way down the dark, stone cellar, wondering if I will be confronted by the ghosts of people who once piled coal into a furnace or a bride in the wedding room waiting for her signal to go upstairs. Indeed, as I turn the corner into a room carefully reconstructed with time-period pieces, I am confronted by a faceless ghost wearing a cloak and bonnet. I stare at the eerie mannequin dressed in its bleak costume and read the small plaque: Jane Lea Nixon, first white child born in the Chartiers Valley.
|The startling apparition of Jane Lea Nixon.|
Outside in the historic graveyard, bodies are said to have been buried sometimes four-layers deep. On the far side of the small cemetery sits an old stone that reads: Jane Lea Nixon, Born 1774, Died 1859, the first white child born in Chartiers Valley.
|Some of these stones are so old a special laser|
process was used on them to determine the names and dates.
Other than her cloak and bonnet and the apparent point of her unique birth, very little is known about Jane. We know she was 16 when the church was initially reconstructed in 1790. Upon her father’s death in 1827, her three brothers were left equal division of the land surrounding the church and the two daughters received 25 pounds sterling. And we know the church was a part of her life, as evidenced by the Book of Common Prayer that is still part of the possession of her descendants who remain in Pittsburgh.
Most likely she lived the life that most women lived, participating in quilting bees, gardening, sewing, but one wonders if she was allowed the company of other little girls who didn’t share her skin color. Did she have a lonely existence or one that centered on her family and siblings? We can assume there was a sometimes peaceful and sometimes tenuous relationship with the indigenous people of the area. One story tells of an Indian raid that occurred during church services. Apparently guns were immediately drawn and poked out of portholes.
Jane Lea eventually married Thomas Nixon at an unknown date, and they had three children. Thomas died at the young age of 45 and Jane remained an unmarried widow until her death at age 85.
Who was Jane Lea Nixon? What contributions did her unique birth mean for the area? Her birth may have very well signified a change in the population that inhabited the rolling hills and rushing creeks in the area. The life of the Indians soon faded from Pittsburgh as more and more white children were born, no longer significant enough to make note of, staking claim in land for farms, townships and counties. In a dubious remembrance of history, a single female “the first white child in the Chartiers Valley” became a part of the history of Old St. Luke’s church.