The Graves of George William Clinton (1807 - 1885) and Family
by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden, April 17, 2014
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The Graves of George William Clinton (1807 ‑ 1885) and Family

 

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

 

 

(Part 1.) Introduction

 

While preparing various editorial essays on the letters of people who corresponded with Hon. George W. Clinton, of Buffalo, emphasis has been so far made on details regarding the correspondent and his or her biography, but not of Clinton himself. The pleasure of preparation of Clinton’s biography had been planned for some future time until, quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon information leading me to understand that G. W. Clinton, together with certain of his family, was actually buried in Buffalo, New York, and that access to his gravestone was possible.

 

G. W. Clinton’s correspondence, some 2,532 letters archived at the Buffalo Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York, displays several undercurrents in American botany detected as unspoken themes that permeated Clinton’s literary and professional relations during the period 1862–1879. The period of Clinton’s residence in Albany, a brief period leading up to his death, seems to shed light on some of these themes.

 

Preparation of a biography is still some time in the future, but a good beginning could be had by trying to elucidate details of Clinton’s obituary published in the New York Times in 1885 (reproduced below), and attempting to understand who, in the family, was buried alongside Clinton and his wife in the Forest Lawn Cemetery. One of the striking items about the Clinton family genealogy, which I did not want to touch, is the overuse of the names “George” and “DeWitt” in the various male descendants. Additionally, nice people who have attempted to create a Clinton family genealogy, often Clinton descendents, were not overly precise in their spelling and transcriptions of floruit dates. It appears that nearly every first-born son was given the name George. This confusion is intensified by the fact that several different, but related, Clinton progenitors fought during the War of Independence, and on different sides of the battle lines—every one of them contributing to this distinguished bloodline.

 

One cannot study the correspondence of Hon. G. W. Clinton for so long without developing a personal feeling for this man, however unexpected. And so, given this opportunity, it was felt necessary to visit Clinton’s gravesite and pay one’s respects, which, by this time, were considerable, and so, on April first of this year (2014), I found myself in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. The administrative office at first could not distinguish G.W. Clinton from numerous other George Clintons, because his middle initial was not included in the database. However, his grave was located on paper maps of the cemetery, within the “Clinton [family] Plot.”

 

Spring had just begun, the leaves of the lovely trees in the cemetery had not yet burst their buds, there were no flowers blooming, with the exception of one clump of delicate white flowers, on someone else’s grave, which will be described below. It was damp, there was a chill in the air, but the sky was a beautiful, rain-washed blue. It had been a hard winter. In a few weeks it would be Easter.

 

The passing away of Judge G. W. Clinton, of Buffalo, at least to this writer, is strongly  colored by texts such as that of Charles Zenkert (1934) who wrote that Clinton had departed the City of Buffalo in 1882 “after having served as president of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences for twenty successive years, to live in Albany, New York, and work on editing the Clinton Papers,” referring to the volumes of documents relating to his great uncle, George Clinton (the Great Clinton) (July 26 [O.S. July 15] 1739–April 20, 1812), housed in the New York State Archives. “Three years later, on September 7, 1885, he [G. W. Clinton] was suddenly stricken while wandering through the Rural Cemetery of that city, being found dead with some flowers in his hand, which were fittingly interred with him” (Zenkert, 1934).

 

Encomiums were written about him in the botanical publications of, among others, David F. Day (1882) and Frank H. Severance, “the historian of the Niagara Frontier, who himself had a botanical training” (Zenkert 1934).

 

The fact that Clinton was descended from such distinguished elders as Governor George Clinton and his own father, Governor DeWitt Clinton, the latter political author of the construction of the Erie Canal and both former governors of the State of New York, may lead some, as it did myself, to believe that when Clinton died in the Rural Cemetery in Albany, and the fact that he died in a cemetery, would lead one to believe he was buried in eastern New York State, in Albany, perhaps in the Rural Cemetery in Albany,  or in New York City, like his father DeWitt.

 

George Clinton (the Great George) (July 26 [O.S. July 15] 1739 – April 20, 1812) was born in Little Britain, Orange County, New York. He served “as lieutenant of rangers in the expedition against Fort Frontenac,” became a lawyer, became a member of the Continental Congress in 1775–1776, was brigadier general of militia under General George Washington (“major general in the revolutionary army”), the first Governor of New York (1777–1795) and also 1801–1804. He was elected Vice President in 1805 to 1812, serving under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, elected “as a State Rights Democrat” and “served until his death in Washington, D.C.” His final resting place is in Kingston, New York, “in the First Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery.” reinterred there from the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/vice-president-george-clinton-0 (Association for the Preservation of The Historic Congressional Cemetery; viewed April, 2014)). He is considered to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

 

Note that his only son, among five daughters, George Washington Clinton (October 18, 1778 – March 27, 1813) is often confused in the literature with the son of DeWitt Clinton, Judge George William Clinton, of Buffalo.

DeWitt Clinton (March 2, 1769–February 11, 1828) was the nephew of George Clinton (the Governor) and also had a distinguished political career, being three-times elected mayor of New York City, Lieutenant Governor of New York State, and twice Governor of New York State (1817–1822; 1825–1828). He is buried with a finely sculpted monument in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeWitt_Clinton (viewed April, 2014).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank Mary Paschis who works in Administration of the Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York, for her help and her generosity when we visited the Clinton graves.  I would also like to Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library and Archives, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, for her patience and extraordinary zeal and delight in being of assistance to the public. Richard Zander accompanied me in my visits, provided expertise in formatting and digitizing information, photography and botanical and historical knowledge of Forest Lawn from his experience as Curator of Botany at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Part 2. The Times Obituary of G. W. Clinton (click here)

Part 3. The Graves (click here)

Part 4. Some plants noted at the G. W. Clinton and D. F. Day gravesites (click here)