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The Clopton Chronicles

A Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society

 

 

 

A BEAST COMES CALLING

 

 

Regarding

 

William Henry Clopton, Sr. &

The Widow of President John Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler

 

By Suellen Clopton Blanton,[1] bblanton@fast.net

 

 

 

Reign of Terror

 

                Things look bright for our cause.  Our soldiers

                Here are perfectly confident of success and

                Gen. Lee is the same good Christian and great

                General.

                                                Maria Tyler, 1864[2]

 

 

While John Bacon Clopton’s widow and daughters[3] faced the war in Richmond, their kinsman, William Henry Clopton, Sr.,[4] stayed at his Charles City plantation, “Selwood[5],” just down the road from “Roslyn.”  President John Tyler’s widow, Julia Tyler, had fled to her family at Staten Island to wait out the war, leaving behind one of the President nieces, Maria Tyler, and a nephew, John C. Tyler, who continued to live at the Tyler home, “Sherwood Forest.[6]

                With the exception of one brief brush with Federal occupation in 1862,[7] the little band of citizens did not learn the true horror and cruelty of war first hand until the last full year of the war.  Confidence was still high as 1864 began.  The crops were good.  The local Charles City Cavalry disbanded and many parties were held.

                But in May the gaiety would end and terror begin as General Benjamin Franklin “Beast” Butler, brought 36,000 men up the south side of the James River as he drove towards Richmond.  On May 7, 1864, Negro troops, the 1st Brigade, Hinks Division, XVIII Corps,[8] commanded by Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild, M.D., crossed the river at Kennon’s Landing and easily took possession of Charles City County.[9]

                Butler’s name was one of the most reviled in the South.  He declared escaping slaves of secessionist masters to be “contraband,” and thus subject to seizure and employment by the Military.[10]

The “African Brigade” began a reign of terror which was so brutal even General Butler was shocked.  A planter, Lamb Wilcox, unarmed and standing in his doorway, was shot dead when he refused to salute them.  Possibly the ultimate degradation befell our William Clopton.

General Wild, a Massachusetts abolitionist, had always supported equality of the races.  He cared deeply for his “Africans.”  He was seriously wounded during one battle, but refused to leave the field until his command was safe.  A well educated and skilled physician, he supervised the surgeons as they amputated his arm.[11]

Wild, whose hatred for slave owners knew no bounds, arrested Cousin Clopton, and described him sarcastically as a “high minded Virginia Gentleman.”  He continued:

 

 

He has acquired a notoriety as the most cruel Slave Master in this region, but in my presence he put on the character of a Sniveling Saint. I found half a dozen women among our [slave] refugees, whom he had often whipped unmercifully – I laid him bare and placed a whip into the hands of the Women, three of Whom took turns in settling some old scores on their master’s back.  A black man, whom he had abused, finished the administration of Poetical justice. . . .I wish that his back had been as deeply scarred as those of the women, but I abstained and left it to them.[12]

 

 

                We shall probably never know whether our cousin deserved the beating or not, however, it is curious his slaves, if they were truly abused, did not leave during the first Yankee occupation early in the war, or anytime thereafter.  Slaves began to “drift away,” one by one, as early as 1862, making their way to Hampton and the protection of the Union forces who had been firmly entrenched at Fortress Monroe[13] since April 1861.  Thanks to “Beast” Butler’s “contraband” ruling, escaped slaves always found a safe haven.[14]

                Arrested with our kinsman was the late President’s nephew, John C. Tyler, G. B. Major, A. H. Ferguson, R. J. Vaiden, J. C. Wilson, Thomas Douthat, of “Weyanoke,”, and others and taken to Fortress Monroe and imprisoned, leaving their wives and children defenseless.  Deeply distressed, Douthat said, “everything [is] lost on the farm and themselves surrounded by U.S. Colored troops.  God will protect them I feel assured, and in his hands I leave them.”  General Butler treated the planters with “marked respect,” but he did not let me go.  The General did lodge formal charges against the most vicious of the rampaging troops.[15]

                Wild himself was arrested a few weeks later by his division commander, General Hinks, for using excessive methods in dealing with rebel sympathizers.  He was convicted but freed on a technicality.[16]

 

 

In God’s Hands

 

                I think I am blessed so far above thousands languishing

                In prison, where I should have died.

 

 

Maria Tyler fled to “Selwood” as soon as the fighting began.  She and William’s wife, Lucretia, must have witnessed his savage beating.  As soon as Julia Tyler learned of the precarious position of her niece and Mrs. Clopton, she began a letter campaign to President Abraham Lincoln, signed “Mrs. Ex-President Tyler,” pleading with him to release William and John.  Pulling out all stops, she referred to the 27 year old Maria as, “the delicate orphan girl . . . exposed to a fate I dread even to think of.”[17]

                Beast Butler responded immediately and saw that the women were made safe, but she did not gain the release of the men for some time.  Finally, after dispensing a tongue lashing to Colonel Joseph Holt, Judge Advocate General, in Washington, protesting the whipping of William Clopton and the “complete dismantlement of Sherwood Forest,”[18] and a continued barrage of letters, William Clopton was released in late June, John Tyler, in mid-July.

 

 

 

There was great surprise when recently widowed President Tyler chose the beautiful and vivacious Julia Gardiner as his second wife.  She brought glamour and fun back to the White House, banishing the gloom that had filled the White House following the death of  the President’s invalid first wife.  She became the first incumbent president’s wife to pose for daguerreotype and to hire a press agent.  She introduced public dancing to polite society.   Both she and her husband loved to dance, and their beautiful home, Sherwood Forest, boasts a marvelous long room designed specifically for dancing reels.  She gave birth to five sons and two daughters.

 

 

 

               

The men returned to find Sherwood Forest had been turned over to the local Negroes who sacked the contents, destroyed furniture and crushed mirrors.  “Old Fanny was the leader in tearing down the curtains and gathering things up generally,” wrote our kinsman.[19]  The house, barns and other outbuildings were occupied by the neighborhood Negroes who wandered aimlessly through the countryside

                In a letter[20] to Mrs. Tyler, William outlined the situation at Sherwood Forest.

 

 

                                                                July 1, 1864

 

I passed your place yesterday – it is occupied yet as a school house by negroes and whites[21] – the trees are nearly all destroyed and a good many houses erected around the lot.  The last was all ploughed up pretty close to the Dwelling – the house looked to be in very good repair outside as I could see from the road. . .

                I saw Mr. E. O. Waters yesterday, who said all his negroes had left.  Truly these are terrible times – the loss of my negroes gives me no concern up to the present.  My feelings have been so changed in regard to them I don’t feel that I ever care to see another.  I sent Tom to Richmond a day or so before I was taken[22], with Estelle and Lu[23] writes me he died just three weeks from the day he left home.  I feel very said about it, but my wish to be with my dear Wife overrides everything else.  Don’t think for a moment I am low spirited, for I am as far from it as I ever was and bear up under it all.  I think I am blessed so far above thousands languishing in prison, where I should have died. . .

                                                                                W. H. C.

 

 

Delicate Maidens

 

                Virginia ladies normally did not marry

                Common Yankee soldiers in the middle

                Of the Civil War.

 

 

While Lucretia Clopton was undoubtedly distressed by the turn of events, Maria Tyler was terrified.  She begged Mrs. Tyler to permit her to come to Staten Island.  She was sick and panicked when the men were arrested and put in prison.

 

 

“I do not know what is to become of me.  My health is feeble, very [and] . . .   I am surprised that you do not seem yet to understand the complete wreck at Sherwood. . . Wish I could have an interview if only of one hour’s duration with you, dearest of all friends – perhaps you could then form a more correct idea of my desolate condition. . . provisions are scare I assure you – almost to starvation.  The prospect is gloomy in the extreme.”

 

 

The delicate maiden Maria, had moved in with the Cloptons.  Mrs. Tyler had feared only The Fate Worse Than Death for the 27 year old; she had not even considered the fate that did await the young woman.

 

 

Maria is married to a little Dutchman who will be twenty one in August from Buffalo, N.Y., entirely without any of the civilities of life about him.  He sits in the parlor or dining room [of Selwood] and spits on the floor as though he was outdoors.  When I got home she had made it all up to suit herself.  He was left at Mr. Major’s in hire for a guard. . . Lu thinks it awful she did not consult anyone about it, John[24] nor me. . . She passed herself off for 23. . . Mr. James Christian[25] came and married them. . . He spits on the floor and piles fish bones on the table around his plate – but enough!  I feel that I am lowered in the world by being compelled to admit such a thing to take place in my house.  But the force of circumstance could not be overcome.”

                                                                                W. H. C.[26]

 

 

 

William threw Maria and her Yankee husband, Private John Kick[27] out!  Mrs. Henry Holt of Charles City finally took Maria in but refused to accept her bridegroom.

                Mrs. Tyler explained the shocking marriage was no doubt due to the fact that Maria was, well, crazy.

 

 

[Poor Maria had for some weeks been] bordering on insanity.  The terrible scenes she depicted [in her last letter] have evidently banished reason from its throne.  Otherwise I think she would have braved the starvation which by her account stared her in the face, or met death in any form rather than have taken the step of which you inform me.  It is to be hoped, however, that the loyalty of her husband[28] to which you particularly allude will soon promote him to high military rank. . .[29]

 

 

Alas, no further documents have surfaced to tell us how William and Lucretia lived out their remaining days.  Mrs. Tyler spent her last years living in a house on the corner of Grace and Eight Streets in Richmond, opposite St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral,[30] but often returned to visit her family and friends at Charles City.[31]  She lived to see Sherwood Forest gradually returned to its antebellum beauty and often visited the plantation.  She died July 10, 1889 at Richmond’s Exchange Hotel, at the age of sixty-nine, in room 27, only a few doors down the hall from where her husband had died in 1862.  She was buried beside her husband at Hollywood Cemetery.[32]

 


                1.  William Henry22 Clopton, Sr. of "Selwood"  (James21, William20, Walter19, William18, Walter17, William16, William15, Walter14, William13, Richard12, William11, John10, William9, Thomas8, Walter7, William6, Walter5, William4, Walter3, William2, Guillaume1 Peche, Lord Of Cloptunna and Dalham) was born November 28, 1810 at New Kent County, Virginia, and died March 14, 1876 at "Selwood," Charles City County, Virginia. He was a member of Emmaus Baptist Church, New Kent County, Virginia1.  He married (1) Elizabeth Brumley November 28, 1833, daughter of William Brumley.  He married (2) Lucretia Roberts, of Hampton 1849, daughter of Zerubabel Roberts and Margaret Trower.

       

Children of William Clopton and Elizabeth Brumley are:

        2                 i.    Mary Foote23 Clopton, of "Selwood".  She married Edward Wilcox.

        3                ii.    William Henry Clopton, Jr., of Selwood".

        4               iii.    Ann Brumley Clopton, of "Selwood", born Abt. 1835; died October 9, 1844 at her parent's home, New Kent County, Virginia of a diseased brain2.

 

 

Endnotes

 

1.        Religious Herald (Richmond, Virginia) Marriage Notices,  (Copy located Clopton Family Archives, courtesy of Darlene Slater, Research Assistant Virginia Baptist Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia), April 13, 1876 Issue, "Died on Tuesday, 14th of march, at his residence in Charles City county, William H. Clopton, formerly of New Kent county, Va., in the sixty-sixth year of his age."

2.        Religious Herald (Richmond, Virginia) Obituary Notices,  (Copy located Clopton Family Archives courtesy of Darlene Slater, Research Assistant, Virginia Baptist Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia), December 26, 1844 Issue, "Died, at her father's in New Kent, on the 9th of October, after sixteen days painful illness of diseased brain,  Ann Brumley, second daughter of Wm. H. Clopton, aged eight years and eight months.  The Saviour said, suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

 

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[1]A Beast Comes Calling is an excerpt from The Ancestors and Descendants of Sir Thomas Clopton, Knight & Dame Katherine Mylde, and is the property of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society which holds the copyright on this material.  Permission is granted to quote or reprint articles for noncommercial use provided credit is given to the CFGS and to the author.  Prior written permission must be obtained from the Society for commercial use.

Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton is Founder and Executive Director of The Clopton Family Genealogical Society & Clopton Family Archives.

The Society wishes to thank Mr. & Mrs. Harrison Tyler.  Mr. Tyler is the grandson of President John Tyler; Darlene Slater, Research Assistant, Virginia Baptist Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia; and, Juleigh Clark, Public Services Librarian, and the staff of the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Library of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia who assisted in the preparation of “A Beast Comes Calling.”

[2] Robert Seager, II, and Tyler too, A Biography of John & Julia Gardiner Tyler, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, 1963, LCCCN:  63-14259, p. 488.

[4] William Henry Clopton, Sr. and John Bacon Clopton were third cousins twice removed.  William H. Clopton was the son of (Elder) James Clopton and his wife, Martha Winfree.  An abbreviated genealogy follows.  .  For a complete genealogy of this Clopton line, see The Descendants of Walter Clopton, The Elder & His Wife Mary Jarratt.

[5] On old maps, the name of the plantation is sometimes spelled “Selwood,” and sometimes, “Sellwood.”

[6] John Tyler was born at “Greenway,” a Charles City plantation in 1790 and he lived there with his first wife, Letitia, from 1821 until 1829.  According to The Letters and Times of the Tylers, by Lyon G. Tyler, Da Capo Press, New York, 1970, Volume III, p. 25, John Tyler, in November, 1816, was chosen to fill the vacancy in the United States House of Representatives, upon the death of the Honorable John Clopton.  See May You Live a Thousand Years My Friend.  He became the first Vice President to succeed to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor and Clopton kinsman, William Henry Harrison.  He settled in 1845, at “Sherwood Forest,” and lived there until his death.  It is still owned and occupied by President Tyler’s descendants and is open for public tours.  It is located on scenic Route 5, John Tyler Memorial Highway, about 18 miles from Colonial Williamsburg.

[7]Seager, and Tyler too, p. 475.  McClellan’s unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign occupied Yorktown and Williamsburg on May 5-6, 1862.  By May 14, Charles City was well behind Union lines.  With the encouragement of a Northern friend of Mrs. Tyler’s, General John Ellis Wool persuaded McClellan to place a protective guard at “Sherwood Forest.”  No doubt this action kept the two Clopton plantations relatively safe.  At least there were no reports of looting, raping, or burning.

[8]Stewart,Sifakis, Who Was Who In The Civil War, Facts on File Publications, New York, p. 311.  Edward Winslow Hinks (1830-1894), a Massachusetts politician, is best remembered in Civil War history for commanding the first division-sized unit of black troops in major action.  He would lead his black troops in the initial assaults on Petersburg.  Upon retirement as a colonel in 1870, he was employed in the care of disabled volunteers.

[9]Seager, and Tyler too,  p. 489.

[10] Sifakis, Who Was Who, p. 96-97.  In August 1861, he led the successful capture of New Orleans, and shortly thereafter, issued his infamous “Woman Order.”  The women of that city showed their contempt of the Yankees by a number of methods such as throwing the contents of their chamber pots on officers who strode beneath their windows, and spitting on soldiers in church.  A portion of his order read:  “Hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a women of the town plying her avocation.”  His military career was marked by scandal and failures.  A highly successful criminal attorney in Massachusetts, he would later serve five terms in Congress and one as governor.  He ran for president in 1884 as the Greenback Party candidate.

[11]Sifakis, Who Was Who, p. 713.  Edward Augustus Wild (1825-1891) was a graduate of both Harvard and the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.  A native of Massachusetts, he studied further in Paris.  Long an abolitionist and believer in equality of the races, he was one of the first men to offer their service.  He was often at odds with his superiors and mustered out on January 15, 1866.

[12] Clopton Family Newsletter, April 1991, p. 7.  Cites an article by Dr. Stephen V. Ash:  “White Virginians Under Occupation,” in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April 1990.  A colorful account is found in Seager’s and Tyler too, p. 489.  Additional references to the whipping may be found in Ira Berlin’s, A Documentary History of Emancipation, “The Black Military Experience,” Series II.  Also, Plantation of the James, privately printing in 1977, by Ransom Badger True.

[13] Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War, Patricia L. Faust, Editor, Harper & Row, New York, 1986, ISBN: 0-07-181261-7, p. 276, states For Monroe, was located at the tip of the Virginia peninsula.  It was originally erected to protect the waters of Hampton Roads, where the James River spills into Chesapeake Bay.  In April 1861, it became headquarters for the Union Department of Virginia under the command of  General John Ellis Wood (1784-1869)  who came to Mrs. Tyler’s rescue mentioned above.  In 1864, it served as the headquarters for the Army of the James.

[14] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 488.

[15] Ibid., p . 488-489.

[16]Sifakis, Who Was Who, p. 713.

[17] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 490

[18] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 490

[19] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 490

[20] The original letter is found in the Tyler Family Papers

[21] Seager, p. 491, notes that a white laborer, Oakley, was described as “no better than the negroes, and he joyously joined in the plunder.”

[22] Arrested

[23] His wife, Lucretia (Roberts) Clopton

[24] Nephew John C. Tyler

[25] Two of William Clopton’s sisters, Martha Mildred and Mary Susan, both married John Henry Christian.  Martha Mildred Clopton was the mother of seven children when she died.  He twin sister, Mary Susan (Clopton) Carter, then married John Henry Christian.  In a speech given August 1, 1954 at Emmaus Baptist Church by Minnie S. Talley, entitled “Sketch of History of Emmaus Baptist Church,” Ms. Talley stated that John Henry Christian built “the house at Poplar Springs” across the road from their [James Clopton and Martha Winfree Clopton] home.”  She also said that “The Christians and some of their descendants are buried in the church yard.

[26] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 493

[27] Company F, 2nd Regiment, New York Mounted Rifles

[28] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 493.  Letter to General Butler.  Butler saw the great humor in the situation and could not resist needling Mrs. Tyler.  He wrote:  “I have just taken measures to give the bridegroom a furlough to spend the honeymoon in.  This step of Miss Tyler’s may tend to relieve your mind of any anxiety as to her health which you have suffered for some time past.  Allow me my dear Madam to congratulate you upon so loyal an alliance of your relative and so happy a recovery of her health.”

 

[30] Mrs. Tyler was a Catholic

[31] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 551

[32] Seager, and Tyler too, p. 551.  She had just returned from visiting the Tidewater area and her house had not yet been opened and freshened so she took a room at the hotel.