AHGP Transcription Project

A History of Clay County

Clay County was enacted in 1861, but it was organized in 1864. The first sheriff was John Patterson, but he could not give the necessary bond and the commissioners appointed J. P. Chastine in his place. Then came James P. Cherry who was sheriff for many years. Wm. McConnell was the first register of deeds. John C. Moore, G. W. Bristol and Harvey Penland were the first County Commissioners. The county seat was named for George W. Hayes. He lived on Valley River near Murphy and was the father of Mr. Ham Hayes, who is still living. He was an extraordinary man and much respected. He had Clay County cut off from Cherokee while he was in the legislature.

John H. Johnson of Tennessee, Robert Martin of Wilkes County, North Carolina, and Elijah Herbert of Wythe County, Virginia, married three daughters of John Alexander, of Abshers, Wilkes County, North Carolina, about 1823, and afterwards moved to Clay, then Cherokee County, when the Cherokee lands were sold. They settled near Hayesville. Elijah Herbert, who had married Winifred Alexander, died in March, 1875, aged seventy-four years. John H. Johnson died about 1895. Robert Martin died about 1880.

Clay county lands are exceedingly fertile and, with the sparkling Hiwassee River flowing through the center from east to west, with its tributaries, Tusquittee, Brasstown, Sweetwater, Shooting Creek and various other smaller streams and hundreds of clear, sparkling springs, make it a well-watered country. It is surrounded on three sides by mountains forming an amphitheater overlooking a valley that is unexcelled for natural beauty. Its soil is adapted to the production of all the grains and grasses but more especially to the growth of apples. This county has long been noted for the morality of its people and the maintenance of a high school at Hayesville, the county seat, the courts seldom last longer than two days, and often only one day, and the jail is almost always free of prisoners.

This county was settled largely by emigrants from the counties east of it. The Cherokee Indians were removed from this particular territory in the year 1838, but a number of pioneers had settled in the county prior to their removal. G. W. Hayes was the representative in the legislature from Cherokee at that time and the county seat was named in his honor. The minerals of the county are gold, corundum, asbestos, garnet, mica, kaolin, and iron.

George W. Bristol
George W. Bristol came from Burke County in the spring of 1844 and settled at the Mission Farm on Peachtree creek. The Bristols came to Burke from Connecticut. His son, Thomas B. Bristol, was born in Burke County July 3, 1830, and married Mary Addie Johnson, a daughter of the late John H. Johnson of Tusquittee, January 22, 1852. He died January 19, 1907. His widow survived him till October 8, 1911.

Archibald O. Lyon
Archibald O. Lyon was born in Tennessee and married Miss M. E. Martin September 14, 1856. She was a daughter of Robert Martin, one of the first and most prominent settlers of Clay County. A. O. Lyon died February 16, 1885. He went to Raleigh soon after the Civil War and obtained a charter for a Masonic lodge at Hayesville, which was organized as Clay Lodge October 2, 1866. He was its Worshipful Master ten years and a faithful member for nineteen years. He was a progressive and successful farmer, and was loved and respected by all who knew him. James H. Penland also married one of John H. Johnson's daughters. Miss Fanny E. Johnson, as did H. G. Trotter of Franklin and Wm. B. Tidwell of Tusquittee two others.

John C. Moore
John C. Moore was one of the first settlers of Clay County and lived in an Indian hut which stood near a beech tree near John H. Johnson's house before the land sale. He came from Rutherford County and married Polly Bryson of Mills River. Their daughter, Sarah, married Wm. H. Herbert about the year 1851.

W. P. Moore
W. P. Moore, universally called "Irish Bill," was a son of Joab Moore and was born in Rutherford County and was a brother of John C. Moore. He married Miss Hattie Gash of Transylvania County. He was a captain in the Confederate army and "every inch a soldier." He is still living at his home on Tusquittee, aged eighty-three years.

Alexander Barnard
Alexander Barnard settled on Hiwassee River, three miles above Hayesville. Eli Sanderson was born in Connecticut and was the father of George W. Sanderson who died some years ago. He and William Sanderson were among the first settlers of Clay County. James Coleman was also among the first settlers and owned a large farm. William Hancock lived below Hayesville and Richard Pass came early from Georgia to Clay County. One of his daughters married S. H. Haigler of Hayesville.

Joshua Harshaw
Joshua Harshaw was the original settler at the mouth of Brasstown creek on a good farm. He came early from Burke County. Abner Chastine came from Jackson County early and died about 1874 or 1875, when an old man. He left several children, among them having been J. P. Chastine the first sheriff of Clay County. Byron Brown married Miss Nancy Parsons and died about 1901. Daniel K. Moore, of Buncombe County, also lived on Brasstown. He married a Miss Dickey and was the father of Judge Frederick Moore. He is still living. Henry Piatt, the father of the present Rev. J. T. Piatt of Clay, was also an early settler, and died many years ago.

George McLure
George McLure came from Macon County long before the Civil War and settled near Hiwassee River. He was the father of W. H. McLure who has represented Clay County in the legislature. W. H. McLure married one of the daughters of R. S. Pass and was one of the California Forty-Niners. He stayed in California till the Civil War, when he returned to Clay County.

The Mission farm
The Mission farm is now partly owned by the heirs of a Mr. Sudderth, originally of Burke County. He was at one time sheriff of Clay and a gentleman of fine character. Fort Embree, one of the collecting forts at time of the removal of the Cherokees, was on a hill just one mile southwest of Hayesville. There is an Indian Mound at the mouth of Peachtree creek on the old Robert McLure farm. It is about the same size as that near Franklin. There is also a mound half a mile east of Hayesville which is highest of all these mounds. It is on the land of W. H. McLure and S. H. Allison, their line splitting the mound.

Among other prominent citizens of Clay should be mentioned Dr. D. W. Killian, Dr. John Duncan, Gailor Bristol and S. H. Allison's father, who came to Clay many years ago. S. H. Allison married Miss Elizabeth Lyon, daughter of A. O. Lyon. John O. Hicks was born in Rutherford County and was among the first school teachers in Clay County. He built up a splendid school at Fort Embree and afterwards moved to Hayesville. He represented Clay in the legislature. He closed his school in 1876 and moved to Walhalla, South Carolina, and then went to Texas, where he died in 1910.

There is now a fine high school at Hayesville. It is in charge of Mr. N. A. Fessenden, who succeeded John O. Hicks. Among those who have distinguished themselves after attending this school are Rev. Ferd. C. McConnell, of Texas, one of the finest preachers of the Baptist church; George Truett, another fine preacher; and Hon. George Bell of the Tenth Georgia Congressional district.

Source: Western North Carolina A History From 1730 to 1913, By John Preston Arthur, Published by Edward Clay Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, of Clayville, N. C., 1914

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