Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tombs & views: Near Columbia with Grandpa Clair

After ending up in the neighborhood late Wednesday afternoon, I decided to go spend a little time with Grandpa Clair --- and admire his view. Enjoying the view is a challenge for Grandpa --- he's been dead since 1852. But if you stand near his grave and look east, there's little doubt about why he directed that his mortal remains be planted here some 160 years ago.

If you're having trouble locating this lone grave, it's almost exactly two miles due east of Strong Cemetery, where I was hanging out a week or so ago and where I'm hoping to return later in the week. But you can't get there from there any more since the county line road has been closed just east of State Highway 14. So the easiest approach now is through Columbia, then south at the only crossroads in town.

My granddad installed the new stone here when I was a kid --- a few feet south of where it's located now --- so I have kind of a proprietary interest in it. (What's left of Grandpa Clair, as nearly as I can figure it out, now reposes under the south edge of the field driveway just the south.)

William, his wife, Mary, and their youngest son, James Wayne (my great-great-grandfather), settled just east of what now is the village of Columbia, little more than a mile north over the line into Marion County, during 1847. During 1848, an older son, Zolomon Jones Clair --- a veteran of the Mexican War --- showed up; and it was he who purchased the 40 acres with a view just over the line in Lucas County that would become his father's final resting place.

Z.J., not long after turning up, entered into an adulterous relationship with Delilah, wife of the unfortunate Leonard Feagins, and they ran off to Illinois to hide out for a while. This must have caused some consternation in the neighborhood. 

Both Mary Clair and Leonard were charter members of Belinda Christian Church --- Leonard in fact the congregational clerk. He was subsequently disfellowshipped for being disruptive and I've always wondered if his marital predicament was a factor in that.

Whatever the case, Z.J. and Delilah had reappeared prior to December of 1852, when William Clair became critically ill, and Z.J. had set about divorcing his previous wife, Sarah Ann, still living in Illinois; and Leonard, divorcing Delilah. These divorces were the first recorded in Marion County --- and the detail in surviving documents is a wonder to read.

According to family lore, William directed during his final illness that his remains be buried under a big oak tree that reportedly was located then at the highest point on his son's property, just on the edge of the best view. There was no Columbia Cemetery then, and so his wishes were carried out, probably not long after Christmas 1852 (we don't know the exact date).

Zolomon and Delilah, having formally broken earlier marital ties, were married in Marion County on Feb. 12, 1853, and Delilah was received upon confession of faith into the Belinda congregation not long thereafter (Z.J. never joined). Soon, however, they moved on to Clarke County, then to Kansas, and the land where William is buried was sold --- his widow and two grandsons were buried in the new Columbia Cemetery after their deaths during the 1870s.

Restoring flesh to bone and recapturing the humanity of the ancestors is one of the big challenges faced by those of us interested in local and family history. Here, at least, it is possible to stand by old William's side (more or less) and consider the fact the he no doubt stood here, too, on fine spring evenings in a time long past --- and enjoyed the view, too.

I've written about William, Z.J. and other Clairs in previous posts. If interested, go here for additional details. You'll find an explanation of why my granddad decided to propel William "Clair" through eternity as William "Clear."

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