Clay County, Missouri Genealogy Trails

County History


Clay County.—A county in the northwestern part of the State, bounded on the north by Clinton County, on the east by Ray County, on the south by the Missouri River, separating it from Jackson County, and on the west by Platte County. The land surface is rolling, in a few parts so rough as to be untillable, with rocky and precipitous bluffs. The Missouri River bottom portions are richly productive. The county was originally heavily timbered, and much forest is yet standing, comprising oak, hickory, ash, walnut, hackberry and cottonwood. It is abundantly watered, having a front of nearly fifty miles on the Missouri River, and being drained by its many affluents.

Flowing springs are abundant, and wells sunk to a depth of thirty feet yield excellent water. The climate is salubrious, and the hygienic conditions are favorable to health and longevity.

The county contains some of the most productive farms in the State. The chief products are corn, wheat, rye, oats, barley, grass, cattle, horses, hogs and sheep.

The following were the principal surplus product shipments reported by the State Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1900:
Wheat, 13,395 bushels;
corn, 13,457 bushels;
flour, 1,231,300 pounds;
ship stuff, 330,000 pounds;
vegetables, 1,043,255 pounds;
fruit, 245,255 pounds;
poultry, 734,752 pounds;
eggs, 177,588 dozen;
game and fish, 26,398 pounds;
cattle, 19,739 head;
hogs, 60,328 head;
horses and mules, 633 head;
sheep, 5,090 head;
wool, 27,834 pounds;
lumber, 590,700 feet;
coal, 7,000 tons;
stone, 117 cars;
brick, 1,570,000.

The valuations for taxation in 1900 were: Real and personal property, $5,698,066; railway property, $1,616,975; merchants and manufacturers, $153,845; total, $7,468,886. The county tax was 40 cents on the $100; there is no bonded county or township debt.

The first white settlement was by French trappers about 1800, at Randolph Bluff, on the Missouri River, but no trace of their occupancy remains. Major John Dougherty, on his way to the Rocky Mountains, was in the county in 1808. The first permanent settlers came in 1819, and among them were John Owens, Samuel McGee, Benjamin Hensley, William Campbell, Thomas Campbell, John Wilson, Zachariah Everett and John Braley. In 1820, and until 1828, a brisk tide of immigration set in. The new settlers were mostly from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. They were of the true pioneer type, possessed of sturdy independence and self assertion, and free from vice.

In 1820 the Indians became troublesome, and four blockhouses were erected; one was on the Thornton farm, five miles southwest of Liberty; another was one and one-half miles southeast of that place, and the other two were on Fishing River, in the southeastern part of the county. In the same year, in the latter locality, a number of Indians were killed in a skirmish, and the settlers were thereafter undisturbed. Much distress was caused by the deep snow in 1830-1831. October 29, 1830 snow began to fall, and soon covered the ground twenty inches deep on the level, with five feet drifts in places. A week afterward there was a snow fall of two feet, and a third heavy fall occurred January 3d following. The snow went off in a flood in March. Nearly all crops and growing farm products in the Missouri River bottoms were destroyed by the great flood of 1844, and much suffering ensued. Clay County was created January 2, 1822, by detachment from Ray County, and was named after Henry Clay, of Kentucky. It extended to the northern boundary of the State, and included the territory now constituting the counties of Clinton, De Kalb and Gentry, and the larger portion of Worth. The legislative act of January 2, 1833, constituting various counties, reduced Clay County to its present dimensions. The creative act appointed John Hutchins, Henry Estes, Enos Vaughn, Wyatt Atkins and John Poor as commissioners to locate a permanent seat of justice, and made the house of John Owens the temporary seat. There convened, February n, 1822, the first county court, consisting of Justices John Thornton, Elisha Cameron and James Gilraer, commissioned by Governor Alexander McNair. The court appointed W. L. Smith, clerk; John Harris, sheriff; W. Hall, assessor; Jesse Gilliam, collector, and Samuel Tilford, John Hutchins, Howard Everett, R. Linville and B. Sampson as commissioners to preserve the school lands from waste. The court allowed the justices one dollar a day each, and Mr. Owens the same sum for the use of his house. At the May term, John Thornton was made presiding justice, and G. Huffaker and J. Williams were recommended to the Governor for appointment as justices of the peace for Fishing Creek Township. In 1822 there were six stores in the county, which paid a license of five dollars each. The first road established in the county was from Liberty to the Bluffton road. The tax list was for $142.77, of which less than two dollars was uncollected. In 1824 a road to Council Bluffs was established. The county court, in 1825, comprised the justices of the peace, George Burnett and Sebron G. Sneed, and court sessions were held in Sneed's house in Liberty. In February, 1826, the county court adopted a seal with the following device: "A plough and rake with the sun immediately over the plough, the rays of which point in every direction." The court appointed patrols to see that slaves remained at home at night. In February, 1823, were recorded deeds of emancipation to "Tom, a man of color," by Henry Estes, and to "Sylvia, a woman of color," by John Evans. In 1836 was built a bridge, the first in the county, over Fishing River, at the crossing of the State road. March 4, 1822, was held the first circuit court, at the house of John Owens, with David Todd as judge, W. L. Smith as clerk, Hamilton R. Gamble as circuit attorney, and John Harris as sheriff. The first grand jury was composed of Richard Linville, foreman; Z. McGee, B. Sampson, R. Y. Fowler, Z. Everett, H. Everett, J. Ritchie, J. Munker, J. Evans, T. Estes, A. Robertson, R. Hill, D. Magill, W. M. McClelland, R. Poage, S. Tilford, D. Gregg, W. Allen, E. Hall and J. Williams. Dabney Carr was the first attorney admitted to practice.

Among the first judicial processes was a warrant, issued by Judge Todd, for the arrest of three Indians, Buffalo Nose, White Briar and Where-He-Is-Crossing, of the Iowas, who, while passing through, stole horses from Ezekiel Huffman and others. Arrests were made and the Indians were jailed at Fayette, whence they were taken to the Chariton County jail, from which they escaped. The horses were recovered.

In 1828 a slave woman named Annice drowned two of her small children in a stream; she was put upon trial, convicted, and was hung in Liberty, August 23rd following, this being the first legal execution in the county.

The first Representative from Clay County was Simon Cockrill, elected in 1822, and the first State Senator was Martin Farmer, elected in 1826.

In 1846 Williard P. Hall was elected to Congress. He was nominated as the regular Democratic candidate while he was a private in Captain Moss' Clay County Company in Mexican War service, and was opposed by James H. Birch, Independent Democrat.

Hall marched with his company to Santa Fe, and wrote an address of reply to his opponent, who was making an active canvass. Hall's address was printed, and proved a most effective campaign document. Hall was elected by a large majority, and was duly advised of the fact. He remained with the army, however, for a time, accompanying General Kearney from Santa Fe to California, and was commissioned a lieutenant.

In 1836 two school districts were formed in Township 52, Range 30, with Fishing River as the dividing line; the southern district was called Franklin, and had as trustees, Hames Dagley, George Withers and Samuel Crowley; the northern district, called Jefferson, had as trustees, Winfrey E. Price, Michael Welton and Joel P. Moore. Later four school districts were formed in Township 52, Range 31, and schools were opened in all.

In 1831 the county court appointed W. S. May to select the school sections, and sales were made from these lands by Samuel Tillery as commissioner. In 1853 Colonel A. W. Doniphan became the first school commissioner. August 29, 1854, the Clay County Teachers' Institute was organized at Mount Gilead Church, with James Love as president, and L. R. Stone as secretary; this is believed to have been the first body of the kind in the State. Clay County is now pre-eminent in its educational advantages. In addition to William Jewell College and Liberty Ladies' College (both noted under their respective heads in this work), and Haynes' Academy, at Excelsior Springs, there are excellent high schools at Liberty, Kearney and Excelsior Springs, and high school work is done at other places. In 1899 there were ninety-five public schools, of which six were for colored children; the enrollment of pupils was 4,192 white and 226 colored; the number of teachers employed was 117, of whom six were colored; the value of school property was $104,840; the average tax levy for school purposes was 51 cents on the $100; the permanent school fund amounted to $75,802.34.

Many of the early settlers were devout people who turned their minds to public worship as soon as there was a settlement sufficiently numerous. The old-school Baptists, mostly from Kentucky, predominated and effected the first church organization in Clay County, known as Little Shoal Creek Church, in Liberty Township. This was constituted May 28, 1823, by Elder William Thorp, a forceful pioneer preacher, who served the congregation for twenty-eight years.

In 1824 was built a log house of worship, which was replaced with a brick structure in 1882.
In 1823 Elder Thorp also organized the Big Shoal Creek Baptist Church.
Other churches of the denomination «ere formed at Duncan's schoolhouse, in Platte Township, in June, 1827; Mount Zion Church, in Fishing River Township, in September, 1830; Clear Creek Church, in Kearney Township, August 6, 1840, and the Providence Church, in Liberty Township, organized April 28, 1848, by the Rev. Robert James (father of the James boys), and the Rev. Franklin Graves. A Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized at Barry, June 3, 1826, by the Rev. R. D. Morrow; it numbered twenty-seven original members. An old-school Presbyterian Church as formed at Liberty in 1829. In 1837 a Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at Pleasant Grove, from which place it was removed, first to Haynesville, and then to Holt. The same denomination formed a church at Liberty in 1840, and at Gosneyville in 1843; the Rev. E. M. Marvin, afterward known as Bishop Marvin, was first pastor of the church at Liberty. The first organized body of Christians was at Liberty in 1837. Other Christian Churches were the Barry Church, which organized April 26, 1840, and built a frame house of worship the same year; the Church of Christ, at Smithville, organized in October, 1843, which in 1848 built a brick edifice, which was replaced by a larger structure erected in 1883, at a cost of $4,500; and Mt. Gilead Church, in Kearney Township, organized in 1844 by the Rev. A. H. Payne; the latter body built a house of worship the same year, and replaced it in 1873 with a brick edifice costing $2,600. Bethel German Methodist Church, in Kearney Township, was organized in 1845, with the Rev. Heinrich Neulson as first pastor, who, the same year, organized Zoar Church, in Fishing River Township; in 1847 a church of the same denomination was formed four miles east of Liberty by the Rev. H. Hogrefe. The churches at Liberty are noted at length in the article on "Liberty."

The military and political history of Clay County is of intense interest. In 1832 Colonel Shubael Allen, with two mounted companies, commanded respectively by Captains George Wallis and Smith Crawford, made a thirty-two days' campaign to the Iowa line to protect the settlements against Indians; the expedition returned without finding an enemy. It was at a regimental muster on the farm of Weekly Dale, three miles north of Liberty, in the summer of 1835, that the Platte Purchase movement had its inception; William T. Wood, David R. Atchison, A. W. Doniphan, Peter H. Burnett and E. M. Samuel were there appointed a committee to conduct the negotiations. (See "Platte Purchase.")

In 1836 Colonel Shubael Allen's battalion, before mentioned, was called into service in "the Heatherly War" (which see) and returned without having encountered an enemy. In 1838 two companies, commanded respectively by Captains Moss and Prior, participated in the "Mormon War." It is to be noted that Joseph Smith and several of his Mormon leaders were brought to Liberty and confined in the jail; they were thence sent to Boone County for trial, and on the journey Smith made his escape. Clay County took a distinguished part during the Mexican War. May 3, 1846, at a meeting presided over by J. T. V. Thompson, a committee, consisting of J. M. Hughes, M. M. Samuels, Alvin Lightburn and J. T. V. Thompson, was appointed to procure means to equip a company of volunteers. As a result, a company of 114 men was formed and equipped, officered by O. P. Moss, captain; L. B. Sublette, first lieutenant; James H. Moss, second lieutenant, and Thomas Ogden, third lieutenant. The company rendezvoused at Fort Leavenworth, and became part of Colonel A. W. Doniphan's Regiment. (See "Doniphan's Expedition.")

After its return from Mexico, at the close of the war, the company was banqueted at Liberty, when a reception procession was marshalled by Judge J. T. V. Thompson, a welcoming address was made by H. L. Routt, and addresses were delivered by Colonel A. W. Doniphan, General D. R. Atchison and Honorable James H. Birch. During the border troubles, in 1854-8, the people of Clay County were intensely interested. Recognizing the menace to slavery, they were among the foremost in active opposition to the designs of the Free-Soilers, and evidence of the spirit which then prevailed is found in the action of a public meeting at Liberty, where resolutions were adopted approving the destruction of the "Parkville Luminary" newspaper by a mob, because of its Free-Soil utterances. December 4, 1855, a pro-slavery party seized the Liberty Arsenal. At the presidential election in 1860, the county cast 1,036 votes for Bell, the Constitutional-Union candidate; 524 votes for Douglas, 304 votes for Breckinridge, and not a single vote for Lincoln.

When South Carolina seceded, a meeting was held in Liberty, when Judge J. T. V. Thompson and H. L. Routt were the principal speakers, and a company of minute men was formed to meet such emergencies as might arise. Later, Colonel A. W. Doniphan and James H. Moss were chosen by an overwhelming vote as Union delegates to the State Convention in January, 1861. In April following, -when Fort Sumter was fired upon, followed by President Lincoln's call for troops, a great popular movement set in favor of secession. April 2Oth the Liberty Arsenal was taken possession of by those favoring the Southern cause. A few days later a meeting was held in the courthouse, where secession flags were displayed, and violent secession speeches were made.

This was followed next day by a Union meeting, in which addresses were made by Colonel Doniphan and James H. Moss, and resolutions were adopted declaring adherence to the Union, but protesting against coercion. A company of home guards was organized at Liberty, under the command of Captain O. P. Moss, an Unconditional Unionist, and a company of Mounted Rangers, composed almost entirely of "Southern Rights" men was formed under Captain H. L. Routt, and were provided with arms taken from the Liberty Arsenal. Four other companies were formed elsewhere in the county, and most of their men afterward entered the State Guard. In June Captain Prince entered Liberty with several companies of United States troops and captured and paroled twenty of the State Guards, and tore down a secession flag. Five companies from the county took part in the siege of Lexington. September 17th occurred the battle of Blue Mills. After the capture of Lexington, five companies were organized in the county, and joined General Price's army. December 8, 1861, General B. M. Prentiss entered Liberty with 2,000 Federal troops, and administered the oath of loyalty to a number of Southern sympathizers, and took away with him a number of the most conspicuous of them. March 14, 1862, Colonel Parker, with a company of Confederates, appeared, shot and wounded Owen Grimshaw, a Unionist; captured Captain Hubbard, a Federal officer, and ten of his recruits, and tore down a United States flag.

In the summer of 1862 the county was in possession of Colonel Penick's regiment of Missouri State Militia, who arrested many Southern sympathizers, whom he obliged to take the oath of allegiance and give bond for good behavior. Among these was Frank James, who took the oath, gave bond for $ 1,000, and soon afterward joined Bill Anderson's guerrilla band. The same year, Judge J. T. V. Thompson and Colonel H. L. Routt, original secessionists who had supported Governor Jackson, returned to Liberty and took an active part in Union movements. A considerable number of Clay County Confederates participated in the battles at Independence and Lone Jack, and several were killed, among them Colonel John T. Hughes. August 14,
1862, Colonel Penick and fifty men were ambuscaded near Barry, losing three men killed and two wounded. They drove off the bushwhackers and killed two citizens whom they accused of giving false information. May 19, 1863, guerrillas entered Missouri City and killed Captain Sessions, of the Enrolled Militia, Lieutenant Gravenstein and a private, plundered the stores, and took a number of horses. September 6th a bushwhacker named Donovan was killed in a skirmish between Liberty and Missouri City. In the fall of 1863 Colonel James H. Moss formed the Eighty-second Regiment Enrolled Missouri Militia; among its members were a number of ex-Confederate soldiers. The year 1864 was notable for crime and disorder. Bands of bushwhackers roamed about. Among those who came to death at their hands were Bradley Y. Bond, Alvis Daily, the brothers Simeon and John Bigelow. All these were Unionists, and most of them ex-soldiers. The perpetrators of these deeds pleaded that they were in retaliation for the killing of their own people. June 2d, while pursuing the bushwhackers, Captain Kemper and party were ambuscaded on Fishing River, losing two killed, while Captain Kemper and two others were wounded. In the summer of 1864 Bill Anderson's band routed Captain Colly's company of militia; Captain Colly was shot and killed by Anderson, two of his men were killed in the affair, and two others were shot after being taken prisoners. March 30, 1865, Shepherd's band of bushwhackers were attacked by armed citizens, and routed, losing Alexander and Arthur Dever, killed. These disorders ended May 28th, when Oliver Shepherd, with four of his men, surrendered to Lieutenant Ben Cooper, at Liberty. Shepherd was hung by a vigilance committee in Jackson County in 1868. Ling Litton became a quiet citizen, and was afterward elected city marshal at Liberty and sheriff of Clay County. Several of the guerrillas became brigands after the war, and were concerned in various bank and train robberies between 1866 and 1881. Among these depredations was the robbery of the Clay County Savings Bank, September 13, 1866. A number of the outlaws stood guard, while two of their number entered the bank, covered Cashier Bird and his son with their revolvers, and took from the vault $60,000. One of the robbers wantonly shot and killed a young man, William H. Wymore, who was standing on the street. In 1867 the Kansas City branch of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railway was completed from Cameron, Missouri, to Kansas City. The Wabash Railway was completed through the county in 1868, the Council Bluffs Railroad in 1869, and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad in 1886. Notwithstanding the drainage of war times, the population in 1870 was 15,564, a gain of more than 2,500 since 1860. In 1900 the population was 18,903. -F. Y. Hedley.
[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 1: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack]





Clay County, Missouri Genealogy Trails
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