Robert Clingman Clayton

by Bruce Whitaker

Robert Clingman Clayton was born in the Cane Creek section of Fairview on April 13, 1850. He was the son of Lambert C. Clayton and Elizabeth “Eliza” Burgin.

Robert’s father Lambert was born in Iredell County, NC, on August 4, 1807, and when both parents died he was forced to go live with his older brother, who worked for John Burgin Sr. (1774-1837). The Burgins lived near Old Fort in Burke (now McDowell) County. Lambert Clayton was indentured to John Burgin until he was 27 years old. Lambert later married Burgin’s daughter, Elizabeth” Eliza” Burgin, born Sept. 3, 1817. The couple moved to what is now Henderson County, NC.

Robert Clayton’s parents used the money to buy a farm on Cane Creek in Fairview. Lambert Clayton soon became one of the wealthiest men in Fairview.

When John Burgin Sr. died three years later, he left $1,000 to Eliza. That was a huge amount of money at that period of time. Robert Clayton’s parents used the money to buy a farm on Cane Creek in Fairview. Lambert Clayton soon became one of the wealthiest men in Fairview. In 1840, the Claytons owned five slaves.

Eliza was born with her left hand missing. Despite this, she was still able to sew, knit and spin. She had what was called a “bird clasp,” which she clamped to a table. This clasp held her cloth, which allowed her to sew with one hand.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Lambert Clayton owned 11 slaves and was a wealthy man. Robert Clayton’s three oldest brothers, John, George Marion and William Benjamin, had to fight in the Civil War. Robert was too young to serve.

Lambert Clayton was devastated by the war both economically and mentally. Then a large flood struck Fairview in 1866, washing away most of Lambert Clayton’s crops. Lambert couldn’t deal with the disaster. He got his rifle, tied a string to the trigger and killed himself.Lambert Clayton’s suicide left 16-year-old Robert, his 10-year-old sister Sarah and his handicapped mother Eliza to fend for themselves.

Robert married Nancy Elizabeth Young on November 18, 1875. Nancy was born on April 29, 1855. She was the daughter of James Edmundson Young (1830–1897) and Hannah Garren (August 3, 1834–June 23, 1868) and the granddaughter of David Garren (1801–1894) and Margaret Whitaker (1807-1891). Robert and Nancy Young Clayton had five children.

Nancy died on August 14, 1887 after 12 years of marriage. Her death left Robert with five young children under the age of 11. The children were in school, and their teacher was Elizabeth “Lillie” Cornelia Young. Lillie was born on July 9, 1866. She was a first cousin of Robert’s first wife Nancy Young and daughter of William Riley and Sarah Elizabeth Sherrill Young. Lillie had attended her cousin’s wedding to Robert Clayton 12 years earlier.

Robert married Lillie Young and they had six children. The children were not only half brothers and sisters to the first wife’s children but second cousins as well.

Clayton sold his farm to his nephew Dr. Hall Fletcher. He moved two and a half miles down Cane Creek to the former farm of his first wife Nancy’s grandparents David and Margaret Whitaker Garren. This is where the current Taylor Ranch is located. Uncle David Garren’s old rock well house is still standing on the site.

Clayton sold this farm to Dr. E.W. Grove around 1920. Grove planned to make it into a western-style ranch, but the project, called the Circle B Ranch, was a failure. North Carolina grass does not cure in the winter like grass out west, so the cattle had nothing to eat in the winter and had to be fed on bought hay and grain, which was unprofitable.

Robert and Lillie Clayton moved to Asheville. Robert Clayton was a staunch Democrat, as former slave owner families generally were. He served on the Buncombe County Commissioners as a Democrat from 1890 to 1892, 1894 to 1896, and 1904 to 1910. He was a member of the commission that approved and erected the Buncombe County Home, or “Poor House” as it was called, in 1906, in the Erwin Hills section of Leicester. It was a working, self-sufficient farm. Poor people and the less severely mentally impaired were sent there, and many stayed there until they died. The County Home Cemetery was dug up for a new football field at Erwin High School in the early 1980s.

Robert Clingman Clayton died in Asheville on August 30, 1931. Elizabeth “Lillie” Cornelia Young Clayton died on January 28, 1931. Robert and his first wife are both buried at Sharon Cemetery in Fairview.

All of Robert Clayton’s children were born in Fairview.

Children of Robert C. Clayton and first wife Nancy Young:

Annie Victoria Clayton was born in October 1876. She married Arthur G. McDowell.

Helen L Clayton was born in 1878 and married Dr. Cicero McCracken (September 19, 1868–December 8, 1942). Helen died in 1920. Both are buried in Cane Creek Cemetery in Fairview.

Lawrence Cuhlbert Clayton was born in 1880 and married Elizabeth Jane Tweed (1886-1971). He died in 1965. Both are buried at Tweeds Chapel Cemetery in Fairview.

Gordon R. Clayton was born in February 1883. He married Jennie Wood and they lived in Bellevue, Washington.

Howard Pearson Clayton was born in 1884 and married Edith Carlisle Willis (1896-1961). Howard died in 1947. Both are buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.

Children of Robert C. Clayton and Elizabeth “Lillie” Cornelia Young:

Irene Elizabeth Clayton was born in 1891. She married Hinton Best of Goldsboro, NC.

William Robert Clayton was born in 1895. He married Mary Wilson and they then moved to Los Angeles, California.

Nellie L. Clayton was born December 1896. She married L. Boyette and they lived in Goldsboro, NC.

Cecil V. Clayton was born on October 29, 1898. He married Flossie H. (June 12, 1900–Aug 2, 1988). Cecil died on October 20, 1963. Both are buried in Calvary Episcopal Cemetery in Fletcher.

Alene M. Clayton was born on June 8, 1902. She married Pryor R. Holderby (February 16, 1898–December 21, 1961). She died on January 12, 1975. Both are buried in Green Hills Cemetery in Asheville.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. You can reach him at 628-1089 or email him at [email protected].


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