Alexander Parker Crittenden (1816-1870), hereafter A.P.C., was the son of the prominent Kentucky lawyer, Thomas Turpin Crittenden. He graduated from West Point in 1836 and in 1838, married Clara Churchill Jones Crittenden (1820-1881); they had fourteen children in twenty years, only eight of whom lived to adulthood. Clara was the daughter of Reverend Alexander Jones, Jr., and Ann Northey Churchill Jones, of Bardstown, Kentucky. The young couple first lived in Kentucky but moved to Texas in 1839, where they lived for the next decade. A.P.C. practiced law in Texas until 1849, when he moved to Los Angeles, California, and was elected into the state congress, then being formed in anticipation of statehood. Meanwhile, Clara and her children lived with her parents in Richmond, Virginia. They joined A.P.C. in San Francisco in 1851, where he was involved with state government and was practicing law. However, he was not prosperous and was often in debt. In 1863 A.P.C. refused to take an oath of allegiance to the federal government, and, consequently, relocated to Virginia City, Nevada Territory. Clara remained in San Francisco with the children. While living in the Nevada Territory, A.P.C. began a relationship with his landlady, the thrice-married Laura Hunt Fair, proprietress of the Tahoe House Hotel. Initially he represented himself as single, but Fair eventually learned that he was married, prompting A.P.C. to promise her that he would divorce his wife. He never kept that promise, but for the remainder of his life, he kept two residences, one for his wife and one for his mistress. In 1870, Clara made a transcontinental railroad crossing, taking her two youngest children with her to the East Coast and back. In November 1870, when A.P.C. left to meet her train in Oakland, Laura Fair followed him. On board the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco, Laura shot him as he sat with his wife and children. Clara remained in San Francisco after the murder; she died in 1881.
Laura Crittenden Sanchez (1839-1919), the eldest child of Clara and A.P.C., married Ramon Bernardo Sanchez in 1859. The two lived in Sacramento where Ramon had a state government appointment but, like his father-in-law, he refused to take the loyalty oath. The Sanchez family moved to Aurora, Nevada Territory, in 1862. They remained childless and from time to time lived with the Crittendens, depending on their financial situation (which was frequently precarious). Between March 1864 and March 1865, Ramon served as mayor of Aurora.
Churchill Crittenden (1840-1864), eldest son of A.P.C. and Clara Crittenden, grew up in San Francisco, California. He attended Hanover College in Indiana from 1858 to 1860. However, as a result of behavioral problems, he was eventually expelled from the school. In 1862, he and his brother James were sent to Europe to escape being drafted into the Union Army. While docked in Cuba, the brothers left the voyage and joined the Confederate Army. In August 1862, Churchill enlisted the 1st Maryland Cavalry. In October 1864, while foraging for food in Virginia, he was captured by Union troops and was put to death.
James Love Crittenden (1841-1915), the second son of the Crittendens, attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He began his college education at the University of Virginia, but transferred to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, after espousing pro-Union views. Like his brother Churchill, he was sent to Europe in 1862, but instead joined the Signal Corps of the Confederate Army. For a time after the war, James lived in Nevada but eventually moved to New York to practice law.
Ann “Nannie” Churchill Crittenden Van Wyck (1843-1916) married Sidney McMecken Van Wyck, an evangelical Christian; they had eight children. In early 1870, Sidney lived in Nevada panning for silver while his family stayed in San Francisco. He was eventually able to move his family to Nevada in May 1870. Nannie was responsible for collecting the family papers, and her heirs preserved them.
Howard Joseph Crittenden (1844-1871) left his family in San Francisco in 1863 to work in the mining business in Nevada. Though he was supportive of the Confederate cause, he traveled to Germany in May 1864 and did not enter the war. Upon return to the United States, Howard drifted from job to job and suffered from depression. He married Lucy Fisher in 1870, but she died in childbirth in July 1871. A few months later, Howard moved to Galveston, Texas, to live with his mother. He died of apoplexy in October 1871.
The remaining Crittenden children are not well represented in the collection. Few letters from Parker Crittenden (1849-1923) remain and little is known about his life. He was married in San Francisco in 1869 to Elizabeth Clara Reed Henry, and married again in 1886. The 1880 census lists his occupation as auctioneer. Caroline Campbell Crittenden Pratt (1855-1923) was fifteen when she went with her mother to visit her east-coast relatives in 1870, and was one of the children present when her father was shot by Mrs. Fair on their return in November. She married John Francis Pratt, a sailor in the Navy, in 1880. Thomas Turpin Crittenden (1857-1933) was the youngest of the Crittenden children to live to adulthood. Little is known of him except that his hand was badly burned when he was two and he that was married three times and divorced twice.
Mary Crittenden Robinson, A.P.C.'s oldest sister, married Tod Robinson (1812-1870), a native of North Carolina. The Robinsons lived in California where Tod had a successful career as a lawyer and judge.
The Crittenden Collection also contains letters from both of Clara’s parents and six of her siblings. Clara's father, Reverend Alexander Jones, Jr. (1796-1874), taught for several years in Bardstown, Kentucky, before entering the clergy. He was a pastor at Episcopal parishes in Charlestown, West Virginia (1823-1849); Richmond, Virginia (1849-1854); and Perth Amboy, New Jersey (1857-1871). He married Ann Northey Churchill (1798-1854), the daughter of a privateer captain; they had thirteen children, the eldest of whom was Clara Crittenden.
Alexander Jones III (1822-1884), Clara's brother, was a physician. He married a Nicaraguan woman in 1851 and settled in Texas. He volunteered with the Texas army during the Civil War, and after the war lived with his parents in New Jersey while trying to set up a private practice. By 1870, he was living in California, and he retired from the medical practice shortly after the death of his only son, Alexander Jones IV.
Mary "Mollie" Farquhar Jones Joliffe (1826-1892), Clara's sister, married Amos Joliffe. In 1862, an epidemic in war-ravaged Virginia struck the Joliffe family and killed all five of their daughters within two weeks’ time. Only three of their children lived to adulthood. The family was poor and Mollie suffered from depression.
William Marlborough Jones (1832-1898), Clara's brother, joined a Confederate regiment under Albert Sidney Johnston. After the war, he settled in Richmond, Virginia, as a banker.
Rebecca Churchill Jones Craighill (1833-1899), Clara’s sister, married Colonel William Price Craighill (1833-1909), a Civil War Union officer. Craighill, a military engineer, was a member of the West Point class of 1853. He had seven children by his first wife; after her death they were raised by their Grandmother Craighill.
Ann Northey Jones Price (1835-1919), Clara's sister, moved to California at a young age and married Johnson Price (1822-1868), a physician, state senator, and California's Secretary of State. After the Civil War, they moved to Virginia. Johnson died in 1868, leaving Ann and their one son, Alexander Jones Price (1860-1916), with little money. She ran a boarding house in Virginia for several years, but ultimately moved to Galveston, Texas, to be with her son.
Marlborough Churchill (1815-1899), uncle of Clara Crittenden, was a West Point classmate of A.P.C.. He worked as a civil engineer from 1836-1841, and founded a private school in Sing Sing (later Ossining), New York, where he spent the rest of his life. George F. Jones (b. 1811) was another of Clara's uncles. He was the Jones family genealogist and wrote a history of the family in the 19th century.