Charles A. Clinton and DeWitt Clinton, Sons of George W. Clinton
by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden, April 26, 2014
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Charles A. Clinton and DeWitt Clinton, Sons of George W. Clinton

 

P. M. Eckel, P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; email: mailto:patricia.eckel@mobot.org

 

Having recently made the discovery that the Hon. George William Clinton was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York, and having prepared an on-line paper discussing this:

 

http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/Hist/Obit/1_ObitClinton-1.htm

 

I discovered I had made an error regarding one of George Clinton’s sons, DeWitt, indicating that the grave stone with his name was a cenotaph and that he was buried in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was discovered, however, in another obituary, this reproduced below, that his remains were actually taken back to Buffalo, New York, and they are interred at Forest Lawn.

 

According to Guy Clinton (1936), Judge G. W. Clinton had the following seven children, four boys and three girls:  DeWitt, Charles A., Spencer, Catherine, Mary Natalie and George Clinton. Three of George Clinton’s boys are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery - the girls are most likely buried with their husbands, and not with the male line of the Clinton Family.

 

One son, Charles A., was not accounted for in Buffalo, and that is because he is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint Louis. His obituary was published as follows:

 

Commercial Advertiser

  Buffalo:

  Thursday Evening, April 2, 1885

Summoned to Rest

Death of a Descendant of the Illustrious Clinton Family of New York

 

  Under the above heads the St. Louis Republican of March 28th, had the following notice of the death of a son of ex-Judge Clinton:

 

  Mr. Charles A. Clinton, civil engineer, and a member of the illustrious Clinton family, died on Thursday, after a severe illness, at the residence of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Rebecca Southard, on Fairfax Avenue. Notwithstanding his intense suffering from a tumor, some of his friends who were present, say his last hours were borne with patience and Christian fortitude.

 

  He was 48 years of age and was born in Buffalo, N.Y. He was the son of Judge George W. Clinton, late judge of the superior court of Buffalo, who, with his wife, now reside in Albany (where the judge was born) and is the grandson of the illustrious DeWitt Clinton, the projector of the Erie canal, and who was not only eminent as a statesman, but occupied a conspicuous rank as a man of learning, and died while governor of New York in 1828. His great grandfather, James Clinton, the father of DeWitt, marched with Montgomery to Quebec, and during the revolution rendered eminent services to his country, and was a member of the convention for the adoption of the present constitution of the United States. His grand uncle, George Clinton, served as brigadier-general in the Continental army; was elected governor of New York in 1777, and continued in the office eighteen years, was re-elected in 1801, and after filling the executive chair three years, was elected vice-president of the United States, retaining that position until he died in 1812.

 

  Mr. Charles Clinton, possessing the advantages of a fine education, came West about twenty years ago, and has since become prominent as a civil engineer. He was the resident engineer under Chief Engineer K. T. Booth in building the Chicago and Alton extension from Mexico to Kansas City. He was also employed as engineer on the West End Narrow-Gauge railway of St. Louis, and was chief engineer of the Springfield and Memphis railroad from Springfield, Mo., to Memphis, Tenn. He was compelled to give up his work in the South on account of failing health. For the past nine months he was confined to the house. He leaves a wife to whom he was married twelve years ago, and one son. The funeral will take place this afternoon at 2 o’clock from the late residence, 3952 Fairfax Avenue to Bellefontaine cemetery.  The Rev. Dr. Tudor of Centenary church will officiate.  The pall-bearers will be D. N. Burgoyne, C. C. Anderson, George A. Baker, Willie Gry, H. V. Morris and C. R. Garrison. [end]

 

Since I now reside in Saint Louis, I thought I would visit Charles’ grave and report on it as part of developing a documentary basis for a biography of the Hon. George W. Clinton. So on April 25 (2014) on a beautiful spring day in Saint Louis with the lavish urban forest of ornamental trees in full flower and fragrance, I set off for the Cemetery, accompanied by Richard Zander, who was Curator of the Clinton Herbarium for thirty years at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

 

The Bellefontaine Cemetery is just as lovely as expected, an oasis of peace and greenness, just as the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. It is filled with the illustrious ones of Saint Louis, just as Forest Lawn is filled with those to gave great service to their community.  After making inquiries in the administration building, we were directed to the area where the remains of Charles A. Clinton were interred. When we found the plot after a winding labyrinth of roads we were quite disoriented.

 

This is because the second eldest son of George Clinton is buried in an unmarked grave. Perhaps the reader is familiar with such a situation, but we weren’t. An unmarked grave recognizes an interment with nothing on the surface of the ground to indicate who lies sleeping beneath the grass or precisely where or with whom. We were completely unprepared for what the reader may forgive a feeling of profound neglect.  We were informed that circumstances of such a burial condition are standard, in a way - there are over 2,000 unmarked graves in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

 

 

I am afraid we wandered around in our confusion and something that felt like sorrow. There were monuments all around us, to the Penrods, and the many Pecks, the Ely’s, the Loves, the Tidds, but no Clinton whatsoever. Only green grass, carpeted with the white flowers of Claytonia virginiana, the purple of Viola sororia, and the starbursts of the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) met our eyes.  One lone obelisk stood of some stone, fading or melting down in the weather, barely legible - only a letter or two could be discerned: a W stood out, and a terminal D - nothing that resembled Clinton.

 

Any yet, according to the map given us by the administration, this was not only the burial place of Charles A. Clinton, but also of a whole row of other people, none of whom had any marker over their remains. Upon examining the map where other interments are depicted, perhaps one funereal custom was to erect a central monument and surround it with the unmarked graves of those sharing the same name or family connections.

 

 

Yet, it was without a doubt that we had found where lay Charles A. Clinton, of the obituary just copied above.

 

There are many people who choose to lie in death below the ground, free at last of the burden of their social lives and lie unmarked as a token of their humility. The former President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, chose nearly such a self effacing condition, which made their monumental contribution to the peoples of the world after the devastation of World War II even more poignant, but for some reason I thought the grave treatment of this man was not like that.

 

For one thing, Charles died in 1885, at the beginning of this month, in April, just a few years before his father died, in September, in the rural cemetery in Albany, New York. His father and mother both were living in a boarding house at the time, having recently left Buffalo in early 1881.  In various memorials given by his father before the public during the 1870s, he described himself as old, worn out, but above all, as poor. I have already supposed elsewhere that Charlie’s death may have precipitated the death of his father, at the beginning of autumn of the same year. The bodies of DeWitt, his father, and later his mother from cities distant from Buffalo, were transported back to Buffalo, but not that of brother Charles, who lies in an unmarked grave in Saint Louis.

 

The following is the telegram George Clinton received in Albany, notifying him of his son’s death. George Clinton preserved it in his scrapbook.

 

 

If Charles A. Clinton was 48 years old when he died in 1885, then he was born around the year 1837, pretty close to if not after the Clinton family had moved to Buffalo from Canandaigua, New York. Guy Clinton (1936) indicated that Charles Clinton’s wife was Mary L. Prather. Together they had a son, George W. Clinton, who is not recorded as having been buried together with his parents in Bellefontaine Cemetery. Charles’ mother-in-law was Mrs. Rebecca Southard, and she apparently lived together with her daughter and son-in-law on Fairfax Avenue in Saint Louis.

 

Consulting again the cemetery map given to us, there is indeed a Mary L. Clinton buried beside Charles. There is also a child, Mary V. Prather that lies buried between the two.  And then the letters on the old obelisk made sense - the W and the final D. The plot in Bellefontaine was that of the Southard family, Rebecca, William W. and a conjoined coffin of [?] and Amelia B. Southard, Charles’ in-laws.

 

At first, I expected there to be a monument commemorating Charles A. Clinton’s death, but then I realized that Charles had been with his wife and in-laws for twelve years. His brother, DeWitt had known his own wife only a few years, had taken her away from Texas, where he met her, to Minnesota. During those few years DeWitt had suffered from malaria. Apparently, Charles Clinton had known the family of his wife long enough to make a strong commitment of affection with them, and so, it was more his will to remain in Saint Louis, than to return to Buffalo. Note that Charles’ mother-in-law was “Mrs. Rebecca Southard” of the obituary above. Mrs. Southard’s maiden name may have been Prather, hence her daughter, Charles’ wife, may have Mrs. Southard’s maiden name. The name of the child buried between Mary and Charles Clinton, Mary V. Prather may have been Mary’s sister, but the exact nature of these relationships is conjectural.

 

 

Thus, the one tall monument for the Southard extended family includes Charles A. Clinton and his wife Mary L., whose graves lie in to the right and forward of the monument, approximately in the center of the photograph above.

 

---

 

The text of DeWitt Clinton’s obituary is transcribed here in full to correct the error made in an earlier publication regarding whether the grave in Forest Lawn Cemetery was a cenotaph. It is not.

 

The obituary of DeWitt Clinton, eldest son of Hon. George W. Clinton.

 

Buffalo Courier. Saturday Morning, August 16, 1873

Obituary - DeWitt Clinton

 

  An obituary notice in The Courier yesterday announced the death of Brevet Lt. Col. Dewitt Clinton, eldest son of Hon. George W. Clinton of this city. The said event occurred on the 13th inst. at St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was stationed.

 

  The deceased was born in Canandaigua April 18th, 1833. He received a partial collegiate education, but did not complete a full course. After leaving college he read law in the office of his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1854.  He practiced his profession in this city until 1861, when he entered the army, receiving a commission as Second Lieutenant in the 10th N. Y. Vols.  He was at once assigned as aide-de-camp to General Wool, and served with that officer at Fortress Monroe, and at New York city during the time of the riots.  With General Wool he also acted as military censor and judge-advocate. When General Canby relieved General Wool, Lieut. Clinton was transferred to his staff, and was attached to the department of military [next photo] justice, at Washington, when Canby was acting Secretary of War. In May, 1864, the deceased was appointed judge-advocate in the regular army with the rank of Major.  In this capacity he went to New Orleans with General Canby, and served under that officer and his successor, General Terry, as Judge-advocate of the department, in Louisiana and Texas.  In the fall of 1872 he was ordered to the Department of the Dacotah, under General Hancock, and was Judge-advocate of that department when he died.

 

  His death is attributed to a malarial fever which he contracted in Texas two years ago. Though his health has been impaired from this cause, his decease was not expected by his friends.  He was married in Texas in February, 1872.. His widow survives him.

 

  The remains were to have left St. Paul last night, and will be interred here. Notice of the funeral will be hereafter given.

 

  The greatly respected family of the deceased in this city, as well as his mourning widow, will have the sympathy of the entire community in their affliction. [end]

 

Acknowledgements.

 

We wish to thank Jean Pate, Office Assistant at the Bellefontaine Cemetery for her essential assistance in understanding and locating Charles Clinton and his wife’s gravesites. We would also like to Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library and Archives, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, for her assistance.

 

Literature Cited

 

Clinton, Guy. 1936. The Clintons appearing in the early American Records. [type-written copy] Research Library, Buffalo History Museum, 1 Museum Court, Buffalo, NY  14216.