Eleazar Clay (1744-1836)

1ST BAPTIST MINISTER
OF
CHESTERFIELD CO., VIRGINIA

Researched and written by Dennis Nofsinger

presented June 12, 1961

Introduction:

In the waning years of the colonial period a new religious influence entered Chesterfield County and was to find drawn into its ranks a stalwart and zealous leader, Eleazar Clay. Eleazar Clay (1) was the first local Baptist minister in Chesterfield County, and through his untiring work and generous donations Chesterfield Church, the first Baptist church in Chesterfield, was established. Mr. Clay was the member of a distinguished family and achieved(2) prominence in his own right. The importance of the impetus which he gave to the Baptist movement in Chesterfield cannot be overemphasized. It is hoped that this paper will give new information on his life and present for the first time as complete a story as possible, using all known sources of material.

Eleazar Clay, His Honorable Heritage

Eleazer Clay was born on August 4, 1744, the son of Charles and Martha Green Clay. Very little is known about his early life. The Epitaph on his marble(3) tombstone states that he “went into the French and Indian War in March, 1758”. The enlistment of a fourteen year old boy is no mean accomplishment, and certainly this attests to the strong character that was later to show itself in the trials of religious persecution.

The Clay’s of Virginia trace their ancestors in the New World to “Captain” John, ‘the English Grenadier’, who arrived at Jamestown a few years after the planting of British America.

Charles Clay, the first of Henry’s ancestors born in the New World (4), fought with Bacon’s frontier(5) democrats of Virginia’s Great Rebellion of 1676. His revolt against Charles the 2nd’s royal Governor, like that of his grandson, Baptist John,…………….. was significant of the family’s temperament (6)and position; the democratic, strong willed Clays of colonial Virginia were prosperous yeomen farmers, of the upper middle class, but not of the ruling gentry.(7)

Charles Clay had a son, Henry, 1672-1760, who lived and is buried in Chesterfield County, and was the great grandfather of Henry Clay the Statesman. Henry Clay the first, married about 1708-09, Mary Mitchell, daughter(8) of William and Elizabeth Mitchell. They lived on the farm later owned and occupied by Eleazar Clay, and located on the west side of Swift Creek. Henry died at “The Ralles” August 3, 1760. The inscription(10) on an historical marker south of Swift Creek on Bailey’s Bridge Road, reads “Henry Clay, the elder born 1672 Chesterfield County, was the great grandfather of the statesman, his tomb 1/4 mile east bears the inscription in memory of Henry Clay who died at dinner with his children and grandchildren at an annual festival given them on August 3, 1760”. In a portion of Eleazar Clay’s will, he gives to his son Matthew “the remainder of my tract of land on which I live, except four square polls (sic) of land around my grandfather Henry’ Clay’s grave”.(12)

John Clay, Jr., grandson of the first Henry Clay was the father of the Honorable Henry Clay and the Reverend Porter Clay.(13) When John Clay, in 1765 married fifteen year old Elizabeth(14) Hudson of Hanover, he lived in neighboring Chesterfield, on the Southside of the Richmond and the James River. There he became a Baptist exhorter, a leader of lowly and despised dissenters from the politically and socially elect Church of England.

Eleazar Clay’s father(15) Charles was the uncle of John Clay Jr. Charles Clay son of Henry and Mary Mitchell Clay was born January 31, 1716(16) and died in Powhatan County, Virginia, February 25, 1789, He married Martha Green, November 11, 1741. Among their eleven children(17) attention will be called to Eleazar Clay(18) Baptist minister born August 4, 1744, Charles Clay, Episcopal minister, born December 24, 1745, Henry Clay (not one of the Henry’s previously named) born March 5, 1745, and died in 1777 in Trenton, New Jersey, while a soldier of the Revolution; Matthew Clay born March 25, 1754, a patriot in the Revolution and a member of Congress; Green Clay, General Green Clay of Kentucky, born August 14, 1757.(19)

Eleazar married three times, the first to Jane Apperson,(20) then Elizabeth Whitehead, widow of E. Swepton, or Swepson, and late in life, February 13, 1826, Phoebe Newby, who survived him a few years. Eleazer Clay had ten children by his first wife. His known issue(21) includes Phineas Clay, buried standing erect in a tomb(22) located in Chesterfield County near the junction of US Route 360, and Ottersdale Road; Colonel Samuel Clay, a justice of Chesterfield died January 11, 1831 age 52 years and married March 3, 1802, Martha Burfoot; Matthew Clay married Miss Turpin, Lavinia Clay married Robert Aikin, Jane Clay married October 2, 1797, Edward Trabue, a Revolutionary soldier who fought at Guilford Courthouse and was present at Gates’ defeat; Dorcus Clay married Mr. Graves, Cynthia Clay married Daniel Sullivan of Danville, Virginia.(23) Ann Clay who married John Coates Russell son of General William and Tabitha Adams Russell of Culpepper County, Virginia; Martha Swepton Clay, born March 30, 1789(24), died 1824, married December 4, 1803, Lawson Burford(25).

ELEAZAR CLAY GAINS PROMINENCE IN CHESTERFIELD 

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