James Thompson Clayborn
Sixth Child and Youngest Son of Ephraim and Mary Claybourn
19 May 1822 - 5 May 1900
James Thompson Clayborn was born on 19 May 1822 in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Ephraim and Mary Claybourn.[Verner M. Claybourn and Harriette Pinnell Threlkeld, The Claybourn Family (A-1 Business Service, 1959). Subsequent census data would seem to confirm this date.] When James was still a young child of about three years old (c. 1825), his family moved to DeKalb County, Tennessee, and lived two or three miles from the log cabin village of Liberty, Tennessee. At the age of twenty-one, on 21 December 1843, James married Melinda K. Scott, who was born on 17 August 1827.[Ibid.] Roughly twenty years later James's parents left Liberty for Kentucky, but James stayed in the area and settled in on the farm his parents had owned.
James, Melinda, and four of their oldest children are all listed in the 1850 census, with James indicating farming as his occupation.[1850 United States Census, District 11, Dekalb County, Tennessee. The children listed are Mary E. (5 yrs old), Martha M. (4 yrs old), Sarah F. (2 yrs old), and John (0.5 years old).] The following census in 1860, taken as hostilities between the North and South escalated, shows that James and Melinda's family continued to grow. Nine of their oldest children are included with them in this census and James is listed as a farmer with real estate valued at $500 and a personal estate valued at $400.[1860 United States Census, District 11, DeKalb County, Tennessee. The children are Mary E. (16 yrs old) Martha M. (14 yrs old), Sarah F. (12 yrs old), John B. (10 yrs old), Ephraim (9 yrs old), Phebe (7 yrs old), Luticia (6 yrs old), William H. (4 yrs old) and James (2 yrs old).]
It is worth noting that James and Melinda each indicated in both the 1850 and 1860 census that neither of them could read or write, and in the 1870 census James indicated he could read but not write. This may help explain a number of variations in the spelling of this branch's name. In most of the census records the family's name is spelled "Clayborn", and that is also how most of James and Melinda's descendants spelled the surname. Yet on their obelisk headstone James and Melinda used the spelling of "Claybourn", and Melinda's name is spelled "Belinda". Nevertheless, because "Melinda" and "Clayborn" appear to be the most commonly used and accepted spelling during and after their lifetime, that is the primary spelling used in this biographical sketch.The American Civil War affected virtually every family in the country, and James was not immune. Although the state became a part of the Confederacy, East Tennessee was strongly pro-Union before secession, and strongly pro-Union Tennesseans remained there and existed in pockets throughout the state during the war. James and Melinda appear to have been part of this pro-Union group. Both of James's brothers, John B. Claiborne of Arkansas and William Divine Claybourn of Illinois, also stayed loyal to the Union, with William and his sons fighting and shedding blood for the cause. In 1936 researcher Harriette Threlked visited Nancy Johnson, the youngest child of James. Nancy showed Harriette a certificate signed by J. A. Jusan, M.D., certifying that he had examined James and found him unable to perform militia duty because of "hemroids" (sic), signed 16 December 1861.[Claybourn, The Claybourn Family.] William Divine Claybourn once told Harriette that James was "loyal to the Union," so one could speculate that James might have concocted medical problems to avoid fighting for the Confederacy. Either way, James did not fight in the conflict.
Perhaps the most poignant evidence of James's sympathies is that in 1863, at the height of the War, he chose to name his newborn son Abraham Lincoln Clayborn after the famous president leading the Union. Taken together, the evidence strongly suggests that James supported the Union in the conflict and purposefully avoided fighting for the Confederacy.
After the War James appears to have settled into a relatively normal existence on his Tennessee farm. The family is listed in the 1870 census with nine children still living at home.[1870 United States Census, District 2, DeKalb County, Tennessee. The children are John B. (20 yrs old), Ephraim (18 yrs old), Pheba A. (16 yrs old). Lutitia (14 yrs old), William H. (13 yrs old), Thomas F. (12 yrs old), Malinda C. (10 yrs old), Lincoln (10 yrs old), and Nancy J. (3 yrs old).] James is once again listed as a farmer and Melinda "keeps house." Their real estate in 1870 is valued at $800 and the personal estate at $1500. Ten years later in the 1880 census just five children were still living in the house with James and Melinda.[1880 United States Census, Liberty, DeKalb County, Tennessee. The children are Lutitia (24 yrs old), William H. (22 yrs old). Thomas B. (19 yrs old), Nancy J. (16 yrs old), Abraham Lincoln (17 yrs old).]
Life was not entirely idyllic, however, because from 1879 to 1885 James T. and his eldest son, John Branchford, were involved in a legal dispute before the DeKalb County Chancery Court.[DeKalb County Chancery Court Rule Docket Page 160, Entry # 1322, available at http://listsearches.rootsweb.com/th/read/WILDER-SOUTH/2004-07/1090620060.] The two were sued by several members of the Wilder family because James and John had apparently fallen behind on payments under a note for land. The Court ruled that title in the land was to vest in the heirs of the Wilder family. However the Wilder heirs could not divide the land among themselves satisfactorily, so it was sold to J. W. Scott and his son E.Y. Scott.
During Harriette's visit to the family farm in Liberty in 1936 it was owned by "Peps" Johnson, the brother-in-law of Nancy Johnson, James's youngest daughter. Nancy was the only one of his children living at the time. Harriette reports: "She was a neat, tiny little lady 69 years of age. We spent the afternoon visiting with her and her son's family on his farm about two miles southwest of Ephraim's farm. We went through Dismal from Liberty to reach this place." [Claybourn, The Claybourn Family.] She goes on:
We examined James T. Clayborn's family Bible and copied the birth dates of his family from it. We saw his large framed photograph, and he bore a striking resemblance to the photo of his brother William Divine Claybourn. "Aunt Nan," as she was called, answered instantly that her grandfather was Ephraim Claybourn, but when asked her great grandfather's name, she couldn't recall it. When asked if it were Joshua, she brightened up, as if remembering, and said, "Yes, that's it." She had learned of a William Hawker, near Liberty, when asked if any Hawkers lived there then.
The letter continued, "Tell Ephraim [this would be Martha's nephew] that he is certain of my prayers though he must put his whole trust in his Maker. He must not depend on a poor speckled worm of the earth like I am. - - He must put his whole trust in God. I am very sorry for you being in such trouble about your children." [Ibid.] If 1870 is the correct date, the nephew Ephraim was then 28 years old and as shown below, lost his first three children. Harriette goes on:
The other letter was really an undated fragment and so worn along the edges that many words could not be made out, but it was written by Polly Claybourn to her son James. She was visiting somewhere and wanted to know when James could come for her.
James died on 5 May 1900 in Liberty, DeKalb County, Tennessee and is buried in Dismal Cemetery in Liberty. Melinda died on 5 November 1907 and is also buried in Dismal Cemetery. The inscription at the bottom of James's side of the obelisk states:
"Be ye ready forHeadstone Obelisk Restoration In 2015 the Claybourn Genealogical Society undertook a project to repair and restore the headstone obelisk for James and Melinda/Belinda. As pictured below, it had fallen apart in a terribly disrespectful state. Thanks to the donations of members and supporters, the obelisk was restored to its original state. The restoration involved a new footer of level concrete slab, a level base on the footer, and concrete adhesive to secure the base, pedestal, and obelisk.
in such an hour
as ye think not the
Son of Man cometh."
References and Notes