PRINCETON — Being the county seat, as well as a hot spot for civil war battles, Princeton is chocked full of rich history. Some of this history is quite literally under our nose.
One of the more tangible historical reminders in Princeton is the statue of Mitchell and Phoebe Clay, the reported first settlers of Mercer County, that sits on the courthouse’s front lawn. The statue depicts Mitchell and his wife Phoebe in a seemingly somber embrace, and there’s a good reason for that.
The history of the Clay family is an ever-present reminder of America’s dark past. During America’s early years, wars and battles raged and the tale of the Clay family is not much different. In 1783, the Clay family, and American history were changed forever.
In 1774 Mitchell, the Clay family patriarch, was awarded 800 acres of land along Bluestone Creek for his service in the French and Indian War, according to the website An American Family History. This land was located in Clover Bottom, near the now, Lake Shawnee amusement park.
Mitchell then moved his wife and children to the land to build better lives for themselves. After a life full of battles, such as the French and Indian War and the Battle of Point Pleasant, Clay was ready to move his family to their own homestead.
According to an article entitled, “The Massacre of Clay Children,” Mitchell instructed two of his sons, Bartley and Ezekial, to construct a fence on their land. While the boys worked under the hot August sun of 1783, Mitchell was hunting for the family, and several of his daughters were washing their laundry by the river.
As all seemed peaceful, a troop of eleven Shawnee Native Americans ambushed the boys and shot Bartley. Bartley succumbed to his injuries on the scene, according to the article. As the gunshot rang through the valley, the girls immediately set out for their home. Unfortunately, their path to the house coincided with Bartley’s death scene. After struggling with a member of the Shawnee, the oldest daughter, Tabitha, was killed by laceration.
Unfortunately, Ezekial, believed to be aged 16, according to the article, was captured by the troop. After scalping Bartley and Tabitha, the Shawnee set out with Ezekial in tow. As this was prior to the days of cell phones, Mitchell had no knowledge of the happenings. As he made his way home, Mitchell discovered the brutal scene. Before Mitchell returned home, Pheobe fled with her remaining children to a neighboring home, leaving him to believe all his family was now dead.
Mitchell, accompanied by a hunting party, set out to avenge his loved ones. Ezekial unfortunately never saw help in time as he was taken back to the Shawnee settlement and burned at the stake.
After reconnecting and grieving their losses, the Clay family packed up and moved to Giles County, Va.
Though Mitchell and Pheobe moved their family away, the memories of that fateful day have not been forgotten. Even now, the area is believed by some to be cursed, though this is only local lore. In the location now, an abandoned amusement park, named Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, stands, eerie and rusted, as a solemn reminder that history is ever-present.
In Kegley, a memorial to the three lost children stands atop the hill overlooking the thick forest that once housed the Shawnees and the Clay’s. Near the junction of Route 10 and Route 19, guests can visit and read the monuments dedicated to Ezekial, Tabitha, and Bartley. A commemorative sign about Mitchell and the Clay’s can also be found, near the lake, and read as well.
The statue at the courthouse, entitled, “Agony in Stone,” by sculptor Eric D. Dye, was erected in 1977, to commemorate the Clay family’s loss. The statue itself depicts Mitchell and Phoebe in a grievous embrace no doubt in the throes of agony.
— Contact Emily D. Coppola at email@example.com