Jackpot! Major Samuel Clark’s Sword Found

During our renovations of Willowbrook, removing the plaster on the inside of the original Byrnside’s Fort logs, we found an old dusty envelope with the following words written on it: “Key’s to Major Samuel Clark’s Sword Case.” Inside the envelope were two tiny old keys – both with the same wording. So naturally I began to tear the place apart, figurative speaking, looking for the sword.

Tearing out the 1858 plaster from the interior of the log walls is a dirty job, and all sorts of things are found in the walls and in the massive spoil heap.

Fort era carved hanger on log wall

I didn’t find the sword, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. I asked the former owner of the house if he had found a sword. He hadn’t. I asked the former caretaker of the property if she knew anything about it. As it turned out, that would be the key to solving the mystery. But we had plenty of work to do, so we moved on.

Willowbrook Plantation

I knew who Major Samuel Clark was.

The last person to live in Willowbrook was Margaret Clark. She had lived there since she was born in the 1920’s. Her mother, Constance Johnson, was born in the house in the late 1800’s and also grew up there. That was her family in the photo below. Margaret’s father was named Samuel Clark, a local WW1 war hero. His father was from another early prominent family in Monroe County, West Virginia, who had been here since the 18th century.

Samuel Clark’s father was Shelton Clark (1857-1936). His grandfather was Samuel McCutcheon Clark (1829-1887), and his great grandfather was John Clark (1788-1869), son of Samuel’s great great grandfather, Major Samuel Clark (1764-1857). They all lived and died in Monroe County, West Virginia.

Major Clark came here as a settler following his successful Revolutionary War career, I believe around 1783. He was one of the builders of the Old Rehoboth log church in 1786, which was purposefully built close to Byrnside’s Fort in order to offer protection to worshippers.

Old Rehoboth Church – 2 miles away from Willowbrook. Built in 1786, with the assistance of Maj. Samuel Clark.

Tradition records that the congregation was required to bring their flintlocks to services. Presumably Major Clark spent some time at our fort during this period. Undoubtedly, he was closely tied to the Byrnside Family, as they both were early fathers of the community, respected combat veterans, and wealthy landowners. At least at one time. Apparently later in life, it became necessary for Maj. Clark to apply for a pension – though he certainly deserved it, if anyone did….

Willowbrook Plantation, from above.

I knew a little about Samuel Clark’s Rev War service because I had already reviewed his pension application. From The History of West Virginia, Old and New (1923):

Samuel Clark was a near relative of George Rodgers Clark, who was born in Virginia in 1752 and who became a great pioneer and woodsman. He was, like Washington, a surveyor with chain and compass. With an axe and rifle he pushed his way far into the lonely forest of the upper Ohio. He was one of the scouts of Virginia who aided the Governor of Virginia in the expedition against Cornstalk and the one who aided in his defeat at the battle of Point Pleasant at the mouth of the Kanawah River.

Later Clark made his way into Kentucky with Daniel Boone. Major Samuel Clark, the revolutionary soldier, was both a courier and scout, a devoted friend of George Washington. On being sent out once as courier to deliver a dispatch for Washington the Indians chased him so closely he was on one hill, the Indians yelling at him on the other.

And as for the pension application I mentioned, check this out, it’s not your average pension resume:

Pension Application of Samuel Clark S9188
Transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris
State of Virginia } SS. Monroe County }

On the 22d day of August 1832 personally appeared in open Court before the County Court of Monroe now sitting Samuel Clark a resident of the said County of Monroe in the said State of Virginia aged 68 years who being first sworn duly according to Law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed the 7th June 1832.

That he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated: that he entered the service as a substitute in the room of Thomas Means who was drafted in the County of Augusta and State of Virginia in the month of September 1780 under Captain Samuel McCutchen Lieutenant John McCamey [John McKeamy] and the Ensign not recollected. the Company under the command of the Samuel McCutchen marched from the said County of Augusta and State of Virginia in the said month of September 1780 through the counties of Albemarle Fluvanna & Goochland to the City of Richmond in the said State of Virginia in Company with Captain John Dickey Francis Long & Thomas Smiths companies and anther company whose officers he cannot now recollect, and the said five companies were stationed near and below the City of Richmond and were called the Augusta troops or militia & continued in that service at that station for the space of three months, when he and the rest of the troops at that place were discharged and that he marched back with the same troops he went with, that his discharge if he got one, which he does not recollect, is now lost and he has no other evidence whatever of the said service now in his power to produce, that he knows of no one now living who saw him enter the service or who was in it, or at his return: that those five companies which were stationed as aforesaid had no engagement and consequently he was in none during that time.

That he was drafted to serve a tour of three months, in the month of January 1781 from the said County of Augusta, that he marched under Captain James Trimble from the said County of Augusta early in the said month of January 1781 through the counties of Albemarle Orange & Spotsylvania to Fredericksburg thence through the counties of Caroline King William James City, and crossed James river at Sandy Point, thence through the Counties of Surry, Isle of Wight & Nansemond within about twenty miles of Portsmouth in the County of Norfolk, where the British were then encamped. The company to which he belonged marched to this station as aforesaid with the companies commanded by Capt. John Cuningham [sic: John Cunningham] Charles Camaron [probably Charles Cameron, pension application W6624] Joseph Patterson & [Thomas] Hicklin (the latter Captain was cashiered at the said Station for cowardice) The militia companies that were stationed there were commanded by Col Sampson Matthews [Sampson Mathews] Lieutenant Col William Bowyer and Maj’r. Alexander Robertson General Mughlenburg [sic: Peter Muhlenberg] of the United States Army occasionally visited this station and seemed to have the command of it. the Rockbridge militia under the command of Col John Bowyer were stationed within some few miles of our station and the Bedford Militia within view of it, but he does not now recollect who commanded them, that a Capt. or Maj’r. Wm. Long of the United States Army visited this station sometimes for the purpose of disciplining the troops that during the time he was at this station he with the other men under command of Captain John Cunningham had a skirmish with the British in which Captain Cunningham was wounded; that he was discharged in the month of April 1781:

In the month of May 1781 he volunteered his service as a substitute in the room of John McCutchen a relative of his, who was drafted for a tour of three months & who from the situation of his family could not with safety to them leave home; that his Captains name was Patrick Buckhannon [Patrick Buchanan], his Lieutenant John Boyd, & his Ensign not recollected; that he marched in the said month of May 1781 in company with Captain John Campbell & Captain Charles Baskins, the other company officers not recollected, Field Officers Col Thomas Huggart [sic: Thomas Hugart] Lieutenant Col John McCrery [sic: John McCreery] & Maj’r. [John] Wilson; he marched through the Counties of Albemarle Fluvanna Goochland Henrico New Kent and James City, in which latter County the said companies of Buckhannon, Campbell & Baskins joined a detachment of the Army under the command of Generals Anthony Wayne & La Fayette [sic: Lafayette], that some short time after joining said detachment of regulars & Militia within about five miles of Williamsburg a foraging party of the British was discovered, & three companies sent to drive them back towit Captain Buckhannons, one from Rockbridge and one from Rockingham under the command of Maj’r. Willis, which detachment was defeated by the Brittish, that then the whole detachment under Generals Wayne & La Fayette marched to James Town [sic: Jamestown Island] were an engagement took place with the enemy [Battle of Green Springs Plantation, 6 Jul 1781] in which engagement he was wounded in the head by the sword of a brittish Horseman, and Col Wm Bowyer was taken prisoner and the Regulars & militia commanded as aforesaid by Generals Wayne & La Fayette were defeated he was then taken to the hospital on Pamonkey [sic: Pamunkey] River where he remained until discharged in the month of August 1781.

He was then drafted to serve a tour of three months duty and was commanded by Captain Francis Long and March’d from the county of Augusta in company with Capt. [James] Trimble Capt. John Dickey and Capt. Patrick Buckhannons companies through the counties of Albemarle Fluvanna Goochland Henrico New Kent James City to York Town and there remained in service until after Cornwallis was taken [19 Oct 1718] and then he was discharged, which discharge he has lost & has no other evidence now in his power of said service he recollects to have seen Generals Washington LaFayette Wayne & others at that seige. That in April 1782 He volunteered to perform a tour of duty of three months against the Indians on the Ohio & Monongahalia [sic: Monongahela] Rivers that he was marched under the command of Capt. John McKitrick [John McKittrick] to the west fork of the monongahalia and was stationed in Tygarts Valley, that he served his three months in the office of a spy after which time he was discharged and returned to the County of Augusta aforesaid.

He have no documentary whatever of any of the said service & knows of no one except Berryman Jones [pension application S5632] who now lives in the county of Greenbrier, who can testify to said services, the said Berryman Jones served one two or three Tours with him that he remained in the said County of Augusta until the month of March 1786 when he removed to the county of Greenbrier & settled in that part of said County which is now the county of Monroe where he has resided ever since, that he was born in the County of Augusta aforesaid the 18th day of April 1764 as he has been informed by his mother in her life time, his father having died when he was very young & not having seen any record of his age.

The above statements are made agreeably to the best of his recollection & he verily believes them to be correct.

He hereby relinquishes his every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of the agency of any state. Sworn to and subscribed the day & year aforesaid [signed] Sam’l Clark

NOTE: On 7 Sep 1835 Samuel Clark filed another deposition, which adds no new detail. On 11 Apr 1855 Clark applied for bounty land. A document in the file states that he died 27 Jan 1857.

See Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements.

So the caretaker of Willowbrook, who had grown up on the property, and who had taken care of Margaret Clark in her later years, recalled that she had donated “a sword” to the local Masonic Lodge. So when it popped back in my mind one day, I spoke with one of our local magistrate judges, Kevin Miller, who I knew was a member of the local lodge – which in itself is housed in a great antebellum historic building on Main Street – just down the road from my office.

Keys to Maj. Samuel Clark’s sword case, the moment I found it.

When I asked Kevin about a sword from the Clark family, he said, yeah, we’ve got a sword on the wall up there. I replied, well, I’ve got these keys… So he invited me to see it yesterday, finally, after we both had some courtroom business.

Masonic Lodge on Main Street in Union, WV. Circa 1940. It looks about the same today.

So he took me up there, and there indeed was a sword hanging on the wall, in a large display case. So it wasn’t a carrying or storage case – it was a display case. Of course. Is it locked, I asked him? Yes, he said, it’s been on the wall since he joined the chapter in the mid-80’s, and he’s never seen the display case opened. So we got it down. And it indeed was locked. There were no keys for it.

The sword.

The sword looked great, and it’s definitely old. But it’s hard to see through the glass, and it certainly wouldn’t photograph well. So I said I’d be back. So I went out to Willowbrook and grabbed the envelope with the keys, and returned. It took a few minutes, and a few careful jiggles, but voila! the key worked….

Samuel Clark sword.

So here it is. It’s a circa 1812 officer’s cavalry saber, probably imported from Germany. I’m no expert on swords, but that what it seems to me given my research so far. We have several War of 1812-ish swords in the Scavengeology collection, and this one is similar. The only marking on the blade is, “Warranted,” along with engraving on the blade. This is common for swords of that period. If I’m not mistaken, they were produced by foreign makers under contract to US government specifications of various sorts. There is a description included in the case, as seen below.

So I sat down to research the sword in the History Cave. I would have liked to have found Maj. Clark’s Rev War era sword, but it wasn’t to be. It’s a little later. But that actually makes sense. When Clark was in the Rev War, he was apparently a grunt – a private. He wouldn’t have had a sword. Much less a fancy one.

As much as I wanted to find evidence pushing this sword back into the Rev War, I knew from the general design and fancy engraving that it was probably a War of 1812 sword.

Records seem to indicate that even after his illustrious Rev War service, he remained an officer with the local Monroe County, Virginia militia, and even served in the War of 1812. I haven’t been able to find anything about his service in the War of 1812 – even in the Fold3 military records. At least not yet, though I’m still looking.

The sword has its original leather sheath.

One interesting aspect of the sword are the slash marks on the edge of the blade. It’s difficult to tell from the photos, but they appear to be indications of sword fighting. I’d love to know more about it. They all seem to be directional in nature, consistent with a downward swing, as if from horseback. Again, I’m not a sword expert, but those caught my eye.

A better view of the handle and guard. Seems to me to be circa 1805-1815? They started usually putting eagle heads on these, and it may indicate it’s early 19th century, given the lack of an eagle head on the pommel.

Here’s a similar one in the Scavengeology Museum Collection, mimicking a photo of the closest sword I could find in a book – belt and all.

A couple of the other War of 1812 era swords:

This is a wonderful piece of West Virginia history, with a completely known provenance, having been donated by the great great granddaughter of a local Revolutionary War hero – and with a connection to our fort as well. I would have loved to have found this sword still in the fort – though I probably would have had a heart attack. But I’m really happy to know that it has had, and still does have, a great permanent home in the community.

Now to find out more about his War of 1812 service….

4 thoughts on “Jackpot! Major Samuel Clark’s Sword Found

  1. Great find, John, and some serious sleuthing to bring all the pieces together! Are you going to allow the keys to stay with the case now?

  2. What a great find of a real link to the past in your own home. Love the work you are doing to preserve the history of such a unique fortress home. I do wish you the best of luck in your historical conservation. My family (Pack) were some of the oldest residents of the upper New River and I wish I were there with you to learn more about the area, its people and most especially its regional history. Warmest regards!

Leave a Comment