THE CLAY CHRONICLES
A NEWSLETTER OF THE CLAY MEMORIAL PARK FOUNDATION
FOURTH QUARTER, 2011 ISSUE
President: Tom Farmer Editor: Janie Farmer, 304-425-0176
The following was sent to us by former President W.R. “Randy” Winfrey. The story was written and researched by Winton Covey, professor at Concord University. Dr. Covey passed away August, 2011. He was a Clay descendant. This story was published for the New River Symposium in April, 1985.
Clay’s Rocks: The Unwritten Story After 210 Years
Hill 2687, a mile and a quarter east of Cook’s Chapel at Pipestem, has the local name “Clay’s Rocks”. With the name comes a little story that accurately hands down a bit of local history, on the first settlement of Mercer County in 1775. Wilbur Farley of Pipestem learned the story from his grandfather, Lewis William Farley, called Big Will. He has told the story to many others, including me. My purpose is to record the story, and to see what I can make of it.
Two hundred and ten years is a long time for accurate history to be preserved by storytelling alone. Special circumstances made it possible in this instance. First, the story was the property of the Farley family, who have been here since 1774. Second, the story is tied to a conspicuous landmark. Third, the story concerns the Clay family, who achieved the ultimate notoriety of becoming victims of a Shawnee raid in 1783.
Clay’s Rocks are a hilltop erosional remnant of the Princeton sandstone conglomerate. They are on the rolling upland that separates the drainage basins of Pipestem Creek and Tom’s Run. There are many cliffs and ledges of sandstone on canyon rims in the Pipestem neighborhood that are much more massive and imposing. But Clay’s Rocks are met in the woods as a pleasant surprise, a pretty place. Most noteworthy is a teetering rock of some 15 tons, which can be rocked by the shifting weight of a man walking on it.
So the landmark deserves a name, and has one. The story that comes with the name is this. In the spring of 1775, Mitchell Clay moved his large family to Clover Bottom on the Bluestone, their last stop in inhabited country being at the Farley settlement at the lower end of Crump’s Bottom, then Culbertson’s Bottom. They came up the nose of the ridge from just below the mouth of Tom’s Run, and got to Clay’s Rocks the first evening. There, the parents first noticed that son Ezekiel, (Zekel) about eight years old, was missing. Mitchell sent his oldest son and oldest daughter back to find him. They had to go clear back to the Farley settlement, where they found him.
It seems that the Clays had emptied the corn shucks from their bed ticks into an inviting pile, and Ezekiel had used a lull in the preparations to crawl into the shucks for some more sleep. He was restored to his family at Clay’s Rocks that evening.
Of course, an old-timer who knows the story of the naming of Clay’s Rocks will keep talking, if you let him, about the Clays, the Farleys, Indian trails, Pipestem, or many other interesting subjects. But, with Mr. Farley’s help, I have isolated the basic story of how Clay’s Rocks got their name.
A more extended version of the story was published by J.E. Faulconer in his column in the Hinton Times in 1970, citing the same Wilbur Farley as informant. Its heading was “Indians burn boy at Stake”, referring to the Shawnee raid on Clover Bottom in 1783, eight years after the settlement. I don’t know how much of the additional information came from Mr. Farley, or how much Mr. Faulconer got from other sources. The statement that the Clay’s fourteen children made the march is simply wrong. Three of them hadn’t been born yet. (This proved to be a critical point in my solving the most interesting paternity case for 1813 in the Guyandot country, but that’s another story.)
Mr. Faulconer’s version of the story names the oldest daughter Tabitha and the oldest son Bartley. This is important information for those of us interested in Clay family history, if we can believe it. For the forthcoming Mercer County History, I made the first attempt in print to list the fourteen children in order of birth. I called Tabitha the third child (second daughter) and Bartley the fifth child (second son), and I still like that listing. I take the sworn statement of Patience Clay Chapman in December, 1833, that she was then 73 or 74 years old, to establish the fact that she was the oldest of the Clay children. To me, the Clay’s Rocks story gives good information of age only for Ezekiel.
The more serious historical content of the story is that it tells us how the Clays came to Clover Bottom (now better known as Lake Shawnee). They did not come up US 460, as I had assumed. They came down New River to the lower end of Crump’s Bottom, to the home of Thomas Farley and his wife, Judith Clay. The Farleys and the Clays came from Henrico County by way of the Blackwater River of present Franklin County. Judith Clay Farley was closely akin to Mitchell Clay.
Which way did the Clays go on the second day?
Mr. Farley and others can
We know from surviving documents that the brothers Mitchell, David, and Zekel Clay served 51 days under Major James Robertson in the summer of 1774, either at Fort Field, near the mouth of Joshua Run on Crump’s Bottom, or at Wood’s Fort on Rich Creek in Monroe County. For several reasons, it’s a near certainty that they were on Crump’s Bottom. We also know that Robertson sent out 3-day patrols to Clover Bottom, thence to the Glades beyond Flat Top, thence to the mouth of the Bluestone and back to Fort Field. Surely Mitchell Clay knew the best beaten path from Clay’s Rocks to Clover Bottom, and that’s the way they went. My guess is that the trail followed the high ground, roughly Route 20 to Athens, with its reasonably good crossing of Laurel creek gorge, then by Mercer Healing Springs to cross Brush Creek at Gardner, and by Rocky Branch and Kegley Trestle Road to Clover Bottom.
On March 27, 1810, Charles Clay was appointed overseer of the road from Big Laurel Creek to the Clover Bottom. This may well have been along the trail where he had been carried as a one-year-old (by my figures), thirty-five years before. And parts of the trail are very likely still parts of the present road system.
I yield to others the problem of figuring out the precise route, and the honor of starting an annual “pioneers appreciation days” hike over it. At my age, I’m content to pay my respects at Clay’s Rocks, and to try to guess whether my double great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Clay, at age 3, coaxed her father into making the rock teeter, or had to settle for the help of her older brothers and sisters.
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Part of “Clover Bottom”, Bluestone River Valley
as seen from the Clay Memorial Park Cemetery