The Clay Tragedy
Mitchell Clay and his family were the first settlers of present-day Mercer County, West Virginia. The Clay family moved to Clover Bottom on the Bluestone in 1775. They lived there peacefully until August 1783.
Mitchell Clay had just harvested a crop of small grain. He set his two sons Bartley and Ezekiel to the task of building a small fence around the grain while he embarked on a hunting expedition. His older sons may have gone with him. In any case, they were not at home.
The Clay girls were washing in the river. Suddenly, a "marauding" band of eleven Indians "crept up to the edge of the field and shot Bartley dead." The report of gunfire alarmed the girls, who ran toward the house, encountering the bloody scene on their way. Enraged, the eldest daughter Tabitha lunged at an Indian who was attempting to scalp Bartley. The two struggled. Tabitha reached for the Indian’s knife, but missed. He drew the knife and stabbed Tabitha. Several times she was able to wrest the knife away from the Indian, but each time he recovered it and continued his attack. In the end, Tabitha was "literally chopped to pieces."
Meanwhile, a man named Liggon Blankenship called on the cabin. Mrs. Clay, informed of the attack by her escaping daughters, begged Mr. Blankenship to shoot the Indian and save Tabitha and Ezekiel. Instead, he turned his tail and ran, telling every settler he came across that the entire Clay family had been massacred by the Indians.
The Indians fled with Ezekiel and the scalps of Bartley and Tabitha. When Mrs. Clay realized the attack was over, she brought her two dead children into the house and laid them on a bed. She then took her remaining children and fled to the house of her nearest neighbor, James Bailey.
Meanwhile, Mitchell Clay cut his hunting trip short. Tormented the night before by a dream that Indians attacked his family, he set off for home to reassure himself as to their safety. Upon his return, he discovered evidence of the attack and ran inside the cabin. There he found the bodies of Tabitha and Bartley on the bed.
Supposing the rest of the family to be dead or captured, he set off in pursuit of the Indians by himself. He was discovered by the Indians, who stole his horses and fled toward Ohio.
News of the attack spread all over the New River area. A search party was convened under the leadership of Matthew Farley. Other members of the party included Charles Clay and Mitchell Clay, Jr., sons of Mitchell Clay; Joseph Hare and John French, future sons-in-law of Mitchell Clay; and Clay’s neighbor James Bailey, among others. First the party went to the Clay cabin and buried the bodies of Tabitha and Bartley. Then the pursuit began.
By evening, the party had tracked the Indians to present-day Boone County, on the Pond Fork of the Coal River. They agreed to attack at daybreak. The next morning, one of the Indians awoke and walked away from the camp. He was shot and killed by Edward Hale. The battle began.
Two Indians were killed. Another was wounded. He made his way up the hill, fleeing for his life, but Charles Clay waylaid him. He begged for his life, but Charles, angered over the deaths of his brother and sister, "killed him on the spot."
In the aftermath, Mitchell Clay’s horses were recovered, but Ezekiel was not. Two members of the party stripped the skin from the backs of two of the dead Indians and later made razor straps from the "hides." Ezekiel was taken to the Indian town of Chillicothe, Ohio, and burned at the stake. Later, the Indians returned to the site of the battle and erected burial cairns for their fallen comrades.
Around 1900, L. D. Coon, then the owner of the land upon which the battle took place, found an Indian hatchet while plowing.
Mitchell Clay moved to the area across the river from present-day Pearisburg, Virginia and sold his Clover Bottom land to his son-in-law, George Pearis.
Mrs. Clay was born Phoebe Belcher in Bedford County, Virginia. She married Mitchell Clay in 1760. They had seven sons Henry, Charles, Mitchell, Jr., David, William, Bartley, and Ezekiel and seven daughters Tabitha, Rebecca (who later married Colonel George Pearis), Patience (who married George Chapman), Sallie (who married Captain John Peters), Obedience (who married John French), Nannie (who married Joseph Hare), and Mary (who married Captain Ralph Stewart).
Ralph and Mary Clay Stewart were the second family to settle in present-day Wyoming County, West Virginia. The first was the Cookes. Ralph Stewart and John Cooke were both Revolutionary War veterans. The two families became fast friends and their children married each other. In fact, "it is almost impossible to related to one family without being related to the other."
The Stewarts had two children who are our ancestors Catherine and George Pearis Stewart. Catherine Stewart married William Cooke. Their son, Thomas Munsey Cooke, was the father of John N. Cooke, a soldier in the 7th West Virginia Cavalry in the Union Army during the Civil War. John N. Cooke married Margaret Stewart, who was the daughter of George Pearis Stewart and Margaret Cooke (daughter of John Cooke, Jr., who was William Cooke’s brother). Thus, John N. Cooke and Margaret Stewart were second cousins on their Cooke side and first cousins once removed on their Stewart side. Their son, William Sherman Cooke, was the father of Walter Ray Cooke, known affectionately to us all as Grandpa Pete.
Information for this article was found in David E. Johnston’s 1906 book A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory and Jim Cook’s Wyoming County Genealogy web site at http://members.aol.com/jlcooke/frmnet.htm.