Clement C. Clay, Jr., A Vintage Vignette

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Clement C. Clay, Jr.
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
August 28, 2007

In his 1916 letter to Thomas McAdory Owen, Robert E. Wiggins wrote that: “The Honorable C. C. Clay Jr. and the Honorable Jeremiah Clemmons {should be Clemens} both U.S Senators from Alabama {were} born within two miles of Madison, on plantations owned at that time by their fathers, who lived on them.” Jeremiah Clemens was, of course, the son of James Clemens, the Founder of Madison. C. C. Clay Jr. was Clement Claiborne Clay, a son of Alabama’s 8th governor, Clement Comer Clay. His mother was Susannah Claiborne Withers, daughter of pre-Madison area landowner John Withers. Perhaps more pertinent, Robert E. Wiggins was born in 1843 on a plantation located near the junction of today’s Martin Road with Wall-Triana Highway. He was 14 years old when Madison began to be a village clustered around the rail depot. He lived in the town all of his adult life, excepting only the four years that he served in the Confederate States Army. As an eyewitness to the town’s infancy and development, Robert Wiggins was an authority on the history of the settlement. His letter to Mr. Owen had been solicited as the basis for the town’s coverage Owen’s official history of the state, compiled while Owen was head of the Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.

Clement Claiborne Clay used the “Jr.” after his name, even though his father’s middle name was Comer. Born in 1817, “Junior” was raised in Huntsville, where his father practiced law. In 1835-7, when “Senior” served as governor, Junior was Private Secretary to his father. He had graduated from the University of Alabama in 1834 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, which was extended to a Master’s degree in 1837. Afterward, he studied law at the University of Virginia and was admitted to the bar in 1840, with a practice in Huntsville. He also became editor of the Huntsville Democrat newspaper, but he was elected to the state legislature in 1842, 1844, and 1845. He became judge of the Madison County Court in 1846, resigning in 1848 and later becoming U. S. Senator, a position which he held for 9 years. He succeeded Senator Jeremiah Clemens in this position. In fact, it was reported that Mr. Clay received every vote cast in the election of 1859.

When the Confederacy was organized, C. C. Clay Jr. served as a Confederate Senator from 1861 to 1863. In 1864 he represented the Confederate Army in Canada, retiring back to Alabama in January of 1865. He was charged with complicity in Lincoln’s assassination and incarcerated with Confederate President Jefferson Davis for a year. His release was won largely by the WDC lobbying efforts of his wife, Virginia Carolina Tunstall Clay. Virginia Clay married David Clopton of Huntsville after her first husband’s death, which occurred on January 3, 1882.

Virginia Tunstall Clay was a close relative of Mary Williams Battle, wife of Alabama Chief Justice and Governor Henry Watkins Collier. Henry Collier was a son of James and Elizabeth Bouldin Collier, who in 1818 moved their family to Myrtle Grove Plantation in Limestone County near Triana. Their children and grandchildren intermarried with the local Slaughter, Pickett, Withers, Blackwell, and Walker families, with “in-law” connections to the Sale, Pettus, and Bibb families of the area. James Collier was a Revolutionary War soldier from Lunenburg County, Virginia. He was wounded in the battle at Eutaw Springs, where his brother Wyatt was killed. Henry’s brother Thomas Bouldin Collier of Myrtle Grove married Mary Harrison Dent, a close relative of Julia Dent, the wife of U. S. General and President Ulysses S. Grant of Civil War notoriety. Thereby, the infamous Union general was related to many Madison families of his day, including connections to Clement Claiborne Clay, a Southern Senator imprisoned for assumed implication with President Lincoln’s murder.

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