Friday, June 17, 2005

The Clair/Clear Pioneer Cemetery

William Clair's lone grave is located at the edge of a field just inside Lucas County's north line southeast of Columbia. And if the fact the cemetery sign identifies William as "Clear" rather than "Clair" isn't confusing enough, consider the fact that William isn't actually buried here, but rather a few feet south.

This post originally was headlined "the Misspelled Pioneer Cemetery," but I've just now (as February 2011 is ending) changed it to reflect the fact this is more about the Clair family than it is about a variant spelling of the family surname.

 The difficulty with the Clair/Clear family name can be traced to my grandfather, William Ambrose Miller, who placed the tombstone on which the surname "Clear" is inscribed on the grave of his great-grandfather, William Clair/Clear, and caused no end of confusion by doing so. He did so because that was the way William signed his will in a firm, clear hand on the 10th of December 1852 --- even though there is no indication any member of the Clair family ever spelled it that way at any other time. I have no idea why William signed his name that way although I've sometimes wandered if someone else signed it for him --- but there's really no indication of that. The witness signatures and everything else about the will are in order.

When the Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Commission decided to designate William's lone grave a cemetery, they quite logically picked up the spelling on the tombstone.

William's grave is located in Section 3, Pleasant Township, Lucas County, but the most sensible way to get there is to drive to Columbia, a little town just north of the Lucas-Marion county line. There's only one crossroads in Columbia, so head south when you reach it to the Columbia Cemetery curve. Travel about half a mile east of the cemetery, then a mile south. You've reached a "T" intersection with the county line. Turn left on the county line (right is a dead end) just a little, then follow the road south and start watching the west side of the road. Just beyond a small house on the east side of the road is a field entrance on the west side of the road, and just inside that entrance is William, sort of. He's actually not buried in the grave-size area designated pioneer cemetery, but rather about 12 feet south. That, however, is another part of the story.

The Clairs are the darndest family to work with. William and Mary were ramblers, always chasing opportunity and coming to rest in Iowa when quite old by standards of those days, having lived in the apparent state of their births, Rhode Island, then upstate New York, Ohio and Illinois. Most of their children reached maturity and married along the route and never reached Iowa at all. Eventually all of their descendants who did live in Iowa, other than my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth (Clair) Miller, moved on to Kansas and points west. There just isn't a collective memory of the family to fall back on.

William's dates of birth and death, 1790-1853, were scratched by hand deeply into the small sandstone slab that marked his grave originally, so Grandfather replicated those dates when he ordered the new tombstone during the early 1950s. His age is given as 64 in the 5 July 1850 census enumeration of Washington Township, Marion County, suggesting that he might have been born as early as 1786. Who knows? The census record also gives his place of birth as Rhode Island, although sons James Wayne and Zolomon Jones both reported in 1880 census enumerations that their father had been born in New York.

William Clair and Mary Sanders (or Saunders) may have married in Rhode Island, although no record has been found. They seem to have arrived in what is now Canadice Township, Ontario County, New Yourk, about 1813. There are reasons to believe they might have lived in Maine before that, but no proof. From there, the family moved to Ohio, then to Shelby County, Illinois, and finally during 1847 settled just east of what now is Columbia in Washington Township, Marion County, Iowa. William and Marry seem to have been accompanied to Iowa only by their youngest child and my great-great-grandfather, James Wayne Clair (9 October 1836-6 May 1894).

The family settled on a prairie farm just east of what now is the village of Columbia, but also purchased at least 160 acres of timber in the hilly, wooded area south of Columbia.

Another son, Zolomon Jones Clair (14 February 1823-27 November 1894), joined the family in Marion County not long thereafter, and it was he who purchased from the government the property just across the Lucas County line where William is buried.

Z.J. was quite a character. A veteran of the Mexican War, he had married on 10 April 1844 in Shelby County Sarah Ann Spidle. It's not quite clear who deserted whom here, but I have an uneasy feeling that it was Zolomon who took off. In any case, Z.J. and Sarah Ann were no longer together when Z.J. arrived in Iowa during 1848 or so and promptly entered an adulterous relationship with Delilah (Hinkle) Feagins, wife of the unfortunate Leonard. By some family accounts, Z.J. compensated Leonard for the loss of his wife (and probably a son, William Milton, who subsequently adopted the surname Clair) by giving him a shotgun.

Here's how Z.J.'s descendant David Hammer told the story: "A little story with this couple told by my grandmother: Delilah Hinkle (born in Ohio) married a Leonard Figgens. One day a sailor stopped by while hunting (Z. J. Clear) and Figgens admired his shotgun and told him he would trade his wife and son for the gun. Later one day returning home Figgins found the gun and no wife or son."

In any case, Z.J. promptly divorced Sarah Ann, alleging that she had deserted him. And Leonard divorced Delilah, citing adultery and desertion. These divorces were the first in Marion County and the case files are vastly entertaining --- although not always to descendants of Z.J. and Delilah who went on to have quite a large family.

Both Leonard Feagins and Z.J. Clair's mother, Mary, were charter members of Belinda Christian Church, just across the line in Lucas County, and it would be interesting to know what sort of play Z.J. and Delilah's affair got in that congregation and in the pioneer community around Columbia.

Zolomon and Delilah eventually married, on 12 February 1853 in Marion County, after the births of one or two children, then moved west through Kansas to Washington.

We don't know the precise date of William Clair's death, so Granddad had the death year 1853 transferred from the sandstone slab to the new tombstone about 100 years after the fact. William signed his will on the 10th of December 1852 with Larkin D. Fletcher and William A. Riddle as witnesses. His estate entered probate in Marion County 31 January 1853, so it seems likely that William died soon after the first of the year.

Burial was a do-it-yourself affair in those days, so some of the Clairs went into Knoxville during December of 1852 and purchased from from P. & P. Marker 10 yards of shrouding ($4.50), a pair of white hose (75 cents), 3 yards of bleached muslin (45 cents) and 6 screws (5 cents). Presumably William was wrapped in the shrouding and the white hose placed on his legs after death and his remains placed in a homemade coffin lined with the muslin and secured with the screws. The Markers presented a bill to the estate for these and other items during March of 1854.

There was no cemetery in the neighborhood at that time, and family stories hold that William selected his own burial place under a large tree on the land owned by his son, Z.J., southeast of Columbia. This also is the highest point in the neighborhood with sweeping views off to the east, and this may have been a factor, too.

Although my granddad knew only of the two Clair boys, James Wayne and Zolomon Jones, a portion of William's estate was disbursed in equal portions to eight children, Mary Stanwood, Rhoda Sinclair, Clarissa Butler, William Clair, Ann Casey, Zolomon J. Clair, Elizabeth Hart and James Wayne Clair. Over the years, I've managed to track down bits and pieces of information about these other children, but it has proved to be a daunting task. This was not what you'd call a close-knit family.

Mary Clair (born 7 January 1793 in Rhode Island) survived William by 24 years, dying on 10 November 1877. By that time, the village of Columbia had been established and Columbia Cemetery started just south of town. So the decision was made to bury her there, rather than out next to William on his hilltop. She rests there still along with two grandsons, William Richard Clair, who died 24 March 1874 at age 20; and Jasper Sylvester Clair, who died 22 March 1874, age 2 months. Both were victims of the measles according to Granddad, although a newspaper report attributes William Richard's death to typhoid.

William Richard and Jasper Sylvester were children of James Wayne Clair, who had married Elizabeth Rachel Rhea (27 February 1837-1 January 1922) on 20 January 1853. He was 16 and she was 15 at the time. These were my great-great-grandparents. Their daughter, Mary Elizabeth, the oldest girl among 12 children, married Joseph Cyrus Miller and was the only one of their children to remain in Iowa.

James Wayne and Elizabeth Rachel, according to my grandfather, ran into a spot of trouble with their creditors during 1878, packed their wagons and high-tailed it for Kansas with the rest of the family.

My grandfather, son of Joseph Cyrus and Mary Elizabeth (Clair) Miller, entered a mark-every-grave phase during the early 1950s, and William and Mary Clair and their grandsons, William Richard and Jasper Sylvester, were among the benefactors. But Granddad had a terrible time deciding how the Clair surname should be spelled on their tombstones, since it appears variously as "Clair," "Clear" and "Clare" in probate and other documents. He finally decided (and probably shouldn't have) to spell it "Clear" on William's tombstone out on the hill and Mary's tombstone in the Columbia Cemetery and "Clair" on the tombstone the boys share beside their grandmother. This has caused a good deal of confusion over the years and subsequent research has revealed that the family did spell the name "Clair" most of the time.

Columbia is a lovely and well-maintaned cemetery, so Mary and the boys rest easily there. William's has had a harder time of it. Various farmers have cultivated the land around his grave over the years and most have resented his presence. We tried to leave the original sandstone marker at the grave. It was run over with a tractor wheel, broken into several pieces and tossed over the fence into the graderditch. I found the largest fragment and took in home, where it resides in a flower bed.

Then various farmers took to simply moving the new tombstone around. We put it back. They moved it again. Unfortunately, it was in the wrong place when old William was declared a pioneer cemetery, and the stone was fenced where it lay, about 12 feet north of his grave's location. That's unfortunate, I suppose, but we eventually decided just to let sleeping dogs lay and get over it.

But if you visit, walk over to where he's really buried and say "Hey."


Anonymous said...

Thank You For The Information on the Clairs.I'm adescendent of Zolomon and Delilah Clair through their daughter Mollie. Been doing family research and recently found their Marriage certificate and was wondering Why she was list as Figgins and not her maiden name Hinkle. Your blog answered this question.

One hell of a trade.


Unknown said...

Thank you Shawn for sending this to me you are my 2nd direct cousin on my father Jimmie Ralph Hahn's side. Your grandfather Billie and my father Jimmie were brothers. Elizabeth Lorene Hahn Shader

Unknown said...

Thank you Shawn for sending me this blog. I am your 2nd cousin and your mom is my 1st cousin who I got to meet for the 1st time a few years ago. Your grandfather Billie Hahn and my father Jimmie Ralph Hahn were brothers. Your mom sent me alot of information on the Hahn family tree that you did. And someday I will get it out of storage in Portland the family tree on the Holtslanders. Keep up the good work. Elizabeth Hahn Shader