Abel Clemmons murders family

Clarksburg, Virginia, November 1805

Last night Abel Clemmons, at his place of residence upon the lands of Col. George Jackson, within about half a mile of the town of Clarksburg, under circumstances of the most unprecedented cruelty, murdered his wife far advanced in pregnancy, and their eight small children, the eldest about 12 years old, by striking them on the head with an axe, while they were asleep in their separate beds, laying in the same room.

The wounds he gave, it is supposed, produced instant death, dispatching one at a blow, and every circumstance induces a belief, that thus despatched, were unknowing to the catastrophe of the others.

Clemmens had been preparing for some time for his removal to the state of Ohio. A man named Neisly, went early this morning to the house, and was admitted by Clemmons, who was in great agitation, and apparently in a state of insanity, the family supposed were asleep, except of little girl niece of the Clemmons, who stayed all night in the house, and knew nothing that occurred. Neisly after conversing for some time with Clemons left the house unsuspicious of what had happened.

A brother of Clemmons who lived some miles off, soon afterwards came to the house and found him in it, he inquired where the family were, Clemmons said asleep, he approached one of the beds to awake the eldest boy, when he immediately discovered that all the children in it were murdered! He accused his brother with the crime, and ran and alarmed the neighbors, before they assembled Clemmons had fled.

Here was exhibited a scene the most shocking to relate, the wife and an infant in her arms lay in one bed, four daughters in another, two boys and one girl in a third, all murdered by the husband and father, and what is very remarkable he had always lived with them in a most affectionate manner, and they bore a character of honesty and industry.

Clemmons had been for several weeks in a gloomy melancholy mood, occasioned, it was supposed, by his great anxiety for the welfare of his family, and total disregard of the moral precepts for which we were made. He is about thirty three years old.

At a County Court held on the 28th of November 1805, Abel Clemmens was arraigned charged with murder. He plead not guilty and the Court directed that he be sent to Morgantown for trial in the District Court. He was tried, and found guilty and hanged in 1806 to a locust tree, which stood near the Decker's Creek, Middle Bridge close to Morgantown.

Clemmens cabin stood at the East end of Clarksburg between Pike Street and the Philippi road near the old Jackson graveyard. After committing the deed he fled to the woods, and for several days was hid in a cliff of rocks north of town, west of and near the present B&O Station, which are still known as Clemmens rocks, but being driven desperate by hunger and his own tortured feelings he came in and surrendered himself to the authorities.

Clemmens in his confession stated he was driven to this horrible act from fear that his children would starve, and by a power that called to him to do it that he could not resist. He was probably insane but "brain storms" and the insanity dodge cut no figure in the Courts of that day and justice was meted out in strict compliance with the law.

Return to Clemons Family Page