Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Clover Bottom Massacre, 1783 - West Virginia History

Bluestone River

In the next two articles I will speak of some of the atrocious events that took place in U.S. History near where my ancestors settled in the region along the borders of West Virginia and Virginia in the late 1700s. This first article will cover the infamous Clover Bottom Massacre of 1783.

Before I begin, I must tell you this event was not a random occurrence. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Upon my research into these stories I have found dozens of accounts in the general area and vicinity during that time period that showed the native people in the surrounding areas were vicious and brutal, often attacking women and children while they were alone, and showing absolutely no mercy whatsoever.  This particular story is to tell you a true historical account, so you can see for yourself what life must have been like for a white settler in the new land we now know as the United States, and all the dangers they faced, lurking literally around every corner. 

Massacre at Clover Bottom-

Mitchell Clay House
In April of 1774, Mitchell Clay obtained a Crown Grant from Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, for 803 acres of land which covered both sides of the Bluestone River (a tributary of New River) named Clover Bottom, West Virginia. Within the next year, he, his wife and children moved onto the land and started cultivating it and living off of it, creating their homestead which was the first white settlement within Mercer County. The Clay family made for themselves a prosperous farm, which contained a field for livestock, a tobacco field, wheat field, orchard and kitchen garden as well as their home which they built. 

In August of 1783, after Clay had harvested his grain crop, he and his sons had started to build fences around the stacks of grain to keep the livestock from reaching it while they wandered the fields. Clay delegated the job to build the fences to his teenage sons Ezekiel and Bartley.  On a day when Clay had gone hunting, he never imagined what he would find when he returned that evening.

While Bartley and Ezekiel were busy at work, building the fences, their sisters were washing on the banks of the river and their mom and younger children were inside the house. At some point, eleven Indians crept up on the two young men and suddenly the sound of a gunshot echoed through the area. Bartley had been shot and killed by one of the Shawnee encroaching on the farm. The girls heard the shot and immediately headed towards the house, literally running into the Shawnee on the property. One of the older daughters, Tabitha, saw one of the Indians attempting to scalp her brother Bartley, so she attacked him, attempting to reach for his knife. She struggled viciously, eventually losing the fight and succumbing to several stab wounds from the assailant. 

During the fight, a man whose name lived in infamy for many generations, Liggon Blankenship had called on the Clay household and witnessed the attack from the side of the house. Mrs. Clay begged him to get involved to save her children who were being attacked, but instead he turned around and fled to the nearest settlements at New River to report that the Clay family had all been attacked and killed by Indians. Needless to say, his name was tarnished for quite some time as a coward.

Indian Raid on Settlement Woodcut
The Shawnee scalped Tabitha and Bartley, while capturing Ezekiel and taking him alive as their prisoner back into the woods from which they came.  Mrs. Clay, distraught and in shock managed to pull her two children’s lifeless bodies from outside, into the home and then she and the younger children fled on foot, six miles to the Bailey settlement to seek assistance. When Mr. Clay made it home and discovered his two children’s lifeless bodies, he assumed that his entire family had been killed or captured. He fled off into the night through the woods, heading for the settlements at New River to get help. During his travel in the woods, he ascertained that the Shawnee were following him on horses they had stolen. He managed to evade them until the morning when he finally reached Captain Matthew Farley who rounded up a posse of men: Mitchell Clay, Charles Clay, Mitchell Clay, Jr., James Bailey (son of Richard Peyton Bailey), William Wiley, Edward Hale, Joseph Hare, Isaac Cole, John French and Captain James Moore who all went up to the Clay property to view the gory scene and plan their next move against the Shawnee.

Apparently, upon leaving the Clay property, the Shawnee broke off into two groups, both travelling two different paths. One group of Shawnee went down the west fork of the Coal River over Cherry Pond Mountain, while the other group travelled down the Pond fork of the river on the other side of the mountain. The posse of men followed the trail that led them to the group of Shawnee at the Pond fork where they were able to surround them in the night. The group decided to wait until the break of dawn’s first light to attack the natives, making sure they had the upper hand with men above and below them on the hill. As soon as one of the natives awoke in the morning, he spotted Edward Hale and before he could warn the rest of the Shawnee, Edward shot him dead, awaking the rest of them.

During the attack, two of the Indians were killed immediately while another was wounded. He begged for his life to be spared, but seeing that Ezekiel was not among the group, and realizing they had split up, Charles Clay (who was only about 12 years old at the time) killed the Indian for what happened to his siblings. According to author, David Emmons Johnston, he stated that the location in which this attack took place on the fork of the Pond River is in a location in Boone County, off the old property of L.D. Coon who found a pile of rocks with a piece of an Indian hatchet in the general area. Because of the brutality of the deaths of the Clay children, Edward Hale and William Wiley took from the dead Indian’s, strips of their hides, which they turned into razor straps and kept in their family possession for generations as a battle souvenir. 

Unfortunately, because the natives split up in two groups, the other group that evaded Mitchell Clay and his posse, made it all the way to Chillicothe, Ohio, with their prisoner, Ezekiel Clay whom they tortured and burned at the stake. Sadly, another one of the Clay children had perished at the hands of the native people who attacked them.

After the brutal attack on their homestead, Phoebe Belcher (who was the sister of Richard Peyton Bailey’s wife, Elizabeth Ann Belcher, who happens to be my gr-gr-gr-gr-gr grandmother), refused to return to the Clay farm and insisted to move to Pearisburg to be near her oldest daughter Rebecca. She never stepped foot on the property again for the rest of her life.

Agony In Stone (photo: Ed Elam)
This tale is just one of many tales of brutal attacks against defenseless families on their homestead by the Shawnee. Was this attack, in the Shawnees mind, a way of the native people getting back at the people for the “Dunmore’s War” that had taken place just years before? Well, even if that was their reasoning for justifying it, it wasn’t right they attacked innocent women and children, period. In history, there are brutal stories from both sides, and we need to be willing to see and accept that. The white man was not the only one to blame for vicious and blatant attacks on human beings. In fact, historical record worldwide shows that every single culture is guilty of violence in the name of spreading out over land. It was certainly not the first case, nor would it be the last.

It is a shame that stories like these are swept under the rug and erased from history, due to the fact that people are so afraid to offend the Native Americans of their imperfect past. They are just as guilty as the Europeans of violence and brutality, many times even to one another as well. Again my friends, as I always say “People hate the truth, luckily the truth doesn’t care.” When it comes to history, let us always remember the whole truths, not just half-truths of our Country’s past. Again, whether good or bad, the truth must always be told.

A statue in honor of Mitchell and Phoebe (Belcher) Clay was erected outside of the Mercer County Courthouse in West Virginia. The statue is called “Agony In Stone” and was dedicated to the memory of the three children the Clay family lost that August day in 1783.

Rest in Peace, Bartley ClayTabitha Clay and Ezekiel Clay, and the rest of the Clay family including Mitchell and his wife Phoebe. You are never forgotten!

(Copyright 1/9/2014 - Republished 3/28/2018)  J'aime Rubio,  

Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty
By Katherine R Bateman
A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory
By David Emmons Johnston
U.S. Government War Archives

"Agony In Stone"-Findagrave , Ed Elam
Bluestone River, Wikipedia (Creative Commons License)
Indian Raid on Settlement Woodcut, U.S. History (Public Domain)

Mitchell Clay House, (from "A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory)

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