Mitchell Clay


Traditional Account:

In 1774, Mitchell Clay acquired land at Clover Bottoms of Bluestone River, upstream from "the Bluestone settlement," and moved his family there in 1775.

In 1778, the Indians wiped out "the Bluestone settlement" on their way to attack the settlers along New River. Families of the settlement are unknown.

The Indians did not bother the Clay family, as it was not in their path to New River and, perhaps, they did not know that Clay had settled there in 1775.

In 1781, after the summer work was complete and before time for the fall hunt, probably mid-September, a neighbor, probably James Moore of Abb's Valley, and Mitchell went to buy salt in preparation for the fall hunt, leaving his sons to look out for the family, and to fence the wheat stacks so that the livestock could be turned into the field for late pasture.

The older son, David, had left home at the time, and as no signs of Indians had been seen in the area, sons Charles and Mitchell Jr. decided that it was safe to go hunting, leaving Bartley and Ezekiel to fence the wheat stacks.

Feeling safe, Phoebe started the day's activities, sending Tabitha down to the river to wash clothes with some of the bigger children, while the older sister, Rebecca, was in the house with the normal household chores and the younger daughter, Obedience, was in the yard tending to the smaller children and helping her mother.

Unknown to the Clay family, an Indian had been watching the house for several days from the top of the ridge across the river, while the Indians, in two parties, were hunting for horses to steal, one party on the Guyandotte and the other in Abb's Valley.

Watching the normal activities at the Clay house was the Indians method of knowing that their presence had not been detected, as anyone from either Abb's Valley or the Guyandotte going for help from the New River settlement would pass this way.

The unsuccessful party in Abb's Valley had returned the night before and camped across the river from the Clay house, unseen due to the trees and brush along the river.

The spy on the ridge had seen Mitchell and James Moore leave in one direction, and the two older boys then leave in the opposite direction when Bartley and Ezekiel went to fence the wheat stacks before joining the party at the river, but had not seen Tabitha and the children come down to the river directly opposite where they were camped.

The Indians decided to take scalps or captives of Bartley and Ezekiel, so they moved down the north side of the river to cross, then back up the river bank even with the boys still not seeing Tabitha and the children.

Tabitha, hearing the shot, started running with the children toward the house.

The Indians having surrounded Ezekiel, saw Tabitha and the children, and two of them attempted to capture Tabitha while others tried to catch the children.

Tabitha fought off the Indians while the children were climbing the hill to the house.

Unknown to the Indians, Mr. Blankenship was on his way back to New River from a visit to a more remote settlement and had stopped by the Clay house at the time, and was in the yard talking with Phoebe, who asked him to shoot the Indian fighting with Tabitha.

Mr. Blankenship would not shoot, knowing that he might hit Tabitha instead, and if he did kill the Indian, he could not save her from the other, and an empty gun would cause a rush on the house.

He held the Indians at bay with his loaded gun until Phoebe and Obedience had all of the children into the safety of the house.

After the Indians had taken the scalps and captive, they retreated to the river bank, and Mr. Blankenship told Phoebe that he would attempt to draw the Indians away from the house and go for help, so she and the children could get away undetected to James Bailey's on Brush Creek by going over Black Oak Mountain.

He then left the house, first stopping by the body of Tabitha, then went on to the body of Bartley some three hundred yards from the house toward the settlement.

The Indians, thinking he had gone to recover the bodies, moved upstream to intercept him on his return to the house about the same distance the path was from the river.

With this extra head start, he then started running toward the settlement, the Indians giving chase, until he was some distance from the house.

When he needed to rest, he would leave the trail and go some distance along the trail, thus causing the Indians to hunt for his hiding place where they saw him leave, thus giving him time to rest.

Then he would step back onto the trail, letting the Indians see him and start running again, thus leading the Indians a sufficient distance from the house for the Clay family to get a good start for James Bailey's residence.

He then left the trail for a sufficient distance until they could not see him re-enter the trail and continue on to the settlement.

The Indians continued to follow him to about two miles of the settlement.

After the Clays were to safety at James Bailey's, James started for the settlement for help, not knowing if Mr. Blankenship would get there or not. He arrived there shortly before daybreak to find the pursuit party had formed and were waiting for the Captain of the Militia to arrive. He had time for a breakfast and short rest before the Captain arrived and the party started out after the Indians.

Mitchell and James Moore arrived back at the Clay house a couple of hours before sundown to find the two bodies and the family gone. They placed the bodies in the house, one on the bed and the other on the table.

The two sons arrived shortly afterward, having wounded a deer and followed it some distance away from home. The four then set out for the settlement, thinking that the entire family had been taken captive. Some few miles from the settlement, they heard the Indians approaching in front of them and stepped to the side of the trail while they passed by.

They met the pursuit party about a mile from the settlement and, after hearing the account from James Bailey and knowing that the rest of the family was safe, they joined the party to go after the Indians.

They followed the Indians, and the next morning, they came upon where the Indians had met with another raiding party with horses and had camped for the night. The ashes of the campfire were still warm. The two parties had taken different routes, so they followed the horse tracks believing that the captive would be with the horses. When they overtook the Indians (I believe) Edward Hale shot and killed an Indian, as did Mitchell Clay, Jr. Charles Clay shot and wounded one (having "buck-fever"), which Mr. Wiley then shot and killed the one Charles had wounded. Both Edward Hale and Mr. Wiley then each took a strip of hide form the back of the Indian he had killed for a razor strap, Mr. Wiley taking two strips, giving one to Charles, who had wounded the Indian.

After taking up the other trail, it was decided that they could not overtake the Indians, so they returned to the house and buried the two children in shallow graves near the house, which Mitchell later moved to the hill behind the house, after he recovered Ezekiel's body and buried it there.

After returning to James Bailey's home and a reunion with his family, Mitchell decided to go to the Indian town and try to ransom Ezekiel. Phoebe would not agree to let the two sons go with him. James Bailey, Phoebe's nephew, and James Moore, went with him.

When they reached the Indian town, they saw the smoke from the stake still burning, so Mitchell left his two companions outside the town and went in alone, passing by the stake and seeing that Ezekiel was dead, and kicking away the remaining, still-burning sticks of wood. He recovered the body and, with the loan of a horse from the chief, he brought Ezekiel's body home and buried it on the hill behind the house and then moved the other two children to that location.

Phoebe would not return to the homestead, so Mitchell moved his family to New River.

The date of the Clay massacre has been given as the year, 1781, 1782 and 1783. 1783 was the date that the Clays moved back to New River. When this date appeared on the historical highway marker, it was strongly disputed by the local residents of the area, who were well versed in the traditional account.

The year 1782 was assigned by many, based on the building of the Bailey Fort in that year, completed in 1783, and the Clays living with the Baileys during the time and helped with the building of the fort before resettling at New River.

The year 1781 was assigned by some. Due to the time of year that the wheat would have been harvested. August was assigned as the month as the wheat had been harvested, while September was more likely as preparations were being made for the fall hunt, which would start with the first frost, normally mid-October.

The moving of the Bailey family to join James on Brush Creek was after the massacre. Normally, relocations were started after the harsh weather of February as early as possible in order to allow time for planting corn and a garden in May. Some writers have disputed that Mitchell Clay was the first settler of the area.

The massacre of the settlers on Bluestone in 1778 is verified through the pension application of John Prewett, as shown in Annals of Tazewell County, p. 229-232, to quote, "to defend the frontier settlements from the depredations of the Indians, who had lately killed and carried off some persons in the settlements near the Clover Bottoms;"

For the critic who would say "Judge Johnston didn't say that." There was a lot that he did not say. This account is what was said by the many Bailey descendants as to the part played by James Bailey; the part played by Mr. Blankenship as passed down through the numerous descendants of witness to the massacre, Obedience Clay French and witness Rebecca Clay Pearis Peters, and the other survivors who scampered up the hill to safety through the heroic efforts of Tabitha, or into the house aided by Mr. Blankenship and the part played by Mitchell Clay's friend and companion, James Moore.

Judge Johnston did not say how James Moore , from Abb's Valley, happened to be a part of the pursuit party organized along New River, nor how Charles and Mitchell Clay, Jr., happened to be a part of the pursuit party, their whereabouts being unknown at the time that the massacre occurred.

It is tradition that lives on. This account is an attempt to pass on the tradition so widespread around Clover Bottoms during my early life. Tradition needs no authority and takes on varied forms, but it lives on. This account stands on its own merit and completeness in what Johnston did not say. The cited authority for the 1778 massacre is for the benefit of those who are already critical of some earlier accounts of the Clay story. Those who know the traditional accounts may differ in relating the story and can add details that have been left out in this account.

No blame was placed on the sons, who had gone hunting, as everyone thought that there were no Indians around. James Moore was not aware that the Indians had been in Abb's Valley hunting for horses, Mitchell went for salt, and Phoebe sent Tabitha and the other children to the river.

Perhaps, the Johnston account reflects some self-imposed blame felt by Charles and Mitchell, Jr., for going hunting.

In 1782, after the massacre of the settlers at lower Clover Bottoms of Bluestone in 1778, and the Clay family had been massacred and driven to safety at James Bailey's near New Hope in 1781, Richard Bailey brought his family and settled near his son, James. With the help of his sons, the Clays and the sons of John Davidson, they first built a house followed by the fort located for the greatest protection to the settlers and a place of retreat when needed.

The fort was so located to block the path of the Indians who may enter into Giles along East River and, at the same time, those going into Bland through the gap, thus, protection to the Davidson settlement there. The New Hope settlement was in less danger, as it was not in the path of attack against the settlers east of the mountain.

The unmarried sons of the settlers moved to the fort and acted as spies and scouts, often one like Joseph Davidson posted in the fort going with one like Richard Bailey living at his home on the scouting trip.

These men posted in the forts were not a part of the organized militia, but engaged full-time in the defense of the frontier, thus, leaving the militia free to move from place to place, as needed.

While the fort was being built, the Clay sons did their part of the work. Mitchell Clay spent most of the time returning to Clover Bottoms to maintain his farm and Richard Bailey, Jr., would go with him, crossing the River and starting a clearing of his own, while Mitchell was tending his. It was on one of these trips that they arrived to find the Indians had removed the one horse from the field that they had loaned to Mitchell to bring back the body of Ezekiel, being careful to close the fence so the others could not get out to follow the horses that they had stolen elsewhere on their raid.

With the fort completed in 1783, Phoebe still refused to return to Clover Bottoms, so Mitchell moved to the Pearisburg area, thus, causing that later date to be assigned as the date of the massacre.


Another Version:

According to history, Mitchell Clay had settled on Clover Bottom, now the Shawnee Lake section of Mercer County, in 1775. All went well with the family until August 1783. Mitchell had harvested his crop of small grain, and wanting to get the benefit of the pasture for his cattle off the ground on which his grain crop had grown, he asked two of his sons, Bartley and Ezekiel, to build a fence round the stacks of grain, while he went to search for game.

While Mitchell Clay was out hunting, the two sons were building fences around the grain. The older daughter, along with some of the younger girls, was down at the river bank putting out the family wash. At the same time, a party of eleven Indians crept up to the edge of the field and shot Bartley Clay dead.

The girls hearing the shot ran to the house for safety. Their path to the house was directly crossing where Bartley had fallen. An Indian attempted to scalp the boy and at the same time capture Tabitha Clay. She was trying to defend the body of her dead brother and prevent the Indiana from scalping her brother. In this struggle, Tabitha was cut to pieces by the Indian with a butcher knife. The younger girls made it to the house safely.

About this time, a man named Liggon Blankenship called at the Clay cabin. Mrs. Clay begged Blankenship to shoot the savage and save the life of her daughter Tabitha. But Blankenship ran away from the scene and reported to settlers on New River that the Clay family had been murdered by the Indians.

The Indians got the scalps of Bartley and Tabitha Clay and captured Ezekiel Clay. Mrs. Clay took the bodies of Bartley and Tabitha to the house and laid them down on the bed. She took her small children and went to the home of a neighbor James Bailey, about six miles away.

When Mitchell Clay returned from his hunting trip, he discovered the bodies of his family. Thinking that all of his family had been killed or captured, he left the cabin and headed for the settlements on the New River.

A party of men under the leadership of Captain Matthew Farley went to the Clay cabin and buried the two children. They then pursued the Indian party. They caught up with the Indians in present day Boone County. Some of the Indians were killed.

The pursuit party consisted of Captain Farley, Charles Clay, Mitchell Clay, Jr., James Bailey, William Wiley, Edward Hale, Isaac Cole, Joseph Hare, John French, and Captain James Moore.

Charles Clay, brother of the two murdered children, killed an Indian who begged him in broken English not to be shot. Ezekiel Clay, the captive, was hurried away by the Indians who escaped the search party and was taken to the Indian town of Chillicothe, Ohio, where the third Clay child, Ezekiel, was burned at the stake by the savages."

To read more about Mitchell Clay and his family, see the Clay Genealogy ReportsPictures of the grave marker for the three children and of the Clay monument in Princeton, WV can be found on page eight of the Photo Album.