Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fletcher Claytor (1859-1949): Born Enslaved, Died Free

Fletcher Claytor was born enslaved in 1859[1]. When the 1870 census was enumerated Fletcher lived in the household of Gloster and Irena Claytor. In the same household were three daughters born after the Civil War and assumed to be the daughters of Gloster and Irena. Also in the household were three  teen-aged boys -- George, Jack, and Fletcher. Perhaps Irena is their mother; we just don't know for sure who their parents were. This Claytor household lived in the Locust Grove district of Floyd County, Virginia. We know from cohabitation registers held by the Library of Virginia, several people formerly enslaved by Harvey Claytor,[2] a large landowner in Franklin County, Virginia, settled in Floyd County.

Fletcher Claytor (1859-1949); courtesy of Daryl Watkins
via Jane Lawry

By 1880 Fletcher Claytor left home as he was not enumerated with Gloster and Irena but I have been unable to find him in that decennial census. Fletcher married Serena A. Reynolds, daughter of Harvey A. and Nancy (Guerrant) Reynolds, on 26 August 1888 in Floyd County. When the 1900 census was enumerated Fletcher owned a farm free and clear with no mortgage, and he and Serena had five children.

In September 1908 Serena became a patient at the Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia. The institution was originally known as the Central Lunatic Asylum and was the first such institution established in the country for "colored persons of unsound mind." Patients of the hospital were admitted for being demented, tubercular, epileptic, criminal, suicidal or suffering from psychosis. Until 1915 some of the supposed causes of psychosis included abortion, masturbation, or typhoid fever. Before the Civil War the enslaved who deserted, were emancipated, or married without permission could be diagnosed as psychotic and committed!

Central State Hospital building for chronically ill females; courtesy of

Fletcher remained on his farm in Floyd County with three of his five children. Ulysses (born about 1894) and Junie V., (born about 1897) were not listed on the 1910 census or on any later record so it is assumed they died some time between 1900 and 1910. Fletcher's wife, Serena, died on 24 October 1918 at the Central State Hospital of acute dysentery.

By 1930 all of the children had left home. Fletcher continued to live on his farm. A married couple also lived on the farm and helped with farm labor and housekeeping. In 1940 a different married couple helped out with the farm and Fletcher had boarders.

Some time after 1940, Fletcher Claytor moved to Garten, West Virginia, where his daughter, Sadie May (Claytor) Ritchie lived with her husband and children.

On 7 January 1948 Fletcher wrote his last will and testament:

I, Fletcher Claytor, residing in Garten in the county of Fayette and State of West Virginia being in sound mind and disposing memory do make and ordain and declare this to be my last will and testament, by revoking all former wills and codicils by me made.

In the Fayette Co. National Bank is $3,000.00. I bequeath to the heirs of my oldest son, Leonard ($1,000.00) one thousand dollars.

To my son, O. M. Claytor, I bequeath ($1,000.00) one thousand dollars and to my daughter, Sadie Ritchie, I bequeath ($1,000.00) one thousand dollars.

I loaned to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Garten ($1,500.00) one thousand and five hundred dollars, which will be due in Nov. 1948 with 6% interest making a total of $1,590.00, one thousand five hundred and ninety dollars. This is to be divided equally among the heirs named above $530.00 each.

Lastly, I evoke[?] constitute and appoint my son, O. (Orestes) M. Claytor to be the executor of this my last will and testament.

In witness whereof I have hereunto subscribed this the 7th day of January in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and forty-eight.

Fletcher Claytor (signed)

The Children

HIRAM LEONARD CLAYTOR was born about 1891 in Virginia, likely Floyd County. He married Isabelle M. Chambliss on 20 January 1924 in Princeton, West Virginia. Hiram, who went by Leonard, was struck by an automobile on 21 August 1933 in Princeton and died the next day from a fractured skull. He and Isabelle had two sons: Hiram Leonard, Jr., and Clarence. Isabelle married Arthur Joseph Forney, a widower, on 17 October 1936 in Tazewell County, Virginia.

ORESTES MEREDITH CLAYTOR was born on 21 June 1892 in Floyd County. He served with the U.S. Army during World War I as a private in Company I, 802nd Pioneer Infantry. Pioneer infantry regiments were trained in infantry tactics but also combat engineering. Twenty of the 37 Pioneer infantry regiments in World War I were filled by African-Americans.

802nd Pioneer Infantry breaks stone to build roads so that guns can be brought
up to be placed in position. Chappy Meuse, France. Oct. 12, 1918; courtesy of
the U.S. Army

Orestes sailed from Brest, France, on the SS Nansemond on 28 June 1919 and was honorably discharged the following month. Some time before the 1930 census was enumerated he married, but his wife's name is not known at this time. On 1 September 1954 in Charleston, West Virginia, he married Lera Alice (Kidd) Berger; both were divorced. Orestes died in on 12 November 1975 in Charleston. He was interred in Spring Hill Cemetery in that same city. No children were mentioned in his obituary.

ULYSSES S. CLAYTOR was born about 1894 in Virginia, likely Floyd County. He died some time between 1900 and 1910.

SADIE MAY CLAYTOR was born on 8 November 1905 in Floyd County. She married Samuel James Ritchie on 17 August 1913 in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Samuel died on 25 June 1965 in Raleigh County and Sadie died on 21 July 1976. They had ten children: Goldie May, Lurinda, Dorothy Evelyn, Henry Orestes, James Leroy, Joseph Edward, William Orswell, Thomas Demaurice, Samuel Vatelle, and Harold Lonelle.

JUNIE V. CLAYTOR was born about 1897 in Virginia, likely Floyd County. She died some time between 1900 and 1910.

NOTE: A Letcher Claytor born about 1860 lived in the household of David and Letitia Claytor in Franklin County, Virginia, in 1870 and 1880 but I have discounted him as being this Fletcher Claytor as other records consistently indicated Fletcher was born in Floyd County. At least that is my current working theory.

[1] Based on his age at death which was 89 years, 8 months, 15 days.

[2] Some think Fletcher Claytor was the son of Harvey Claytor and the family cook, Letitia, who was also enslaved. However, in 1870, he did not live in the same household as Letitia but rather in the household of Gloster and Irena Claytor. I have several DNA matches with descendants of Harvey Claytor and Letitia, but do not with descendants of Gloster or Irena Claytor. Harvey Claytor's mother was the daughter of my five times great grandfather Robert Mitchell (c1714-1799).

In Celebration of Black History Month (or More DNA Discoveries)


  1. I am Ramona Claytor- Majied, my Grandfather was Fletcher Claytor one of the teenage boys mentioned in this article.

  2. I Ramona Claytor-Majied am Granddaughter of Fletcher Claytor who was born in Roanoke Virginia and died in Des Moines Iowa in 1953, he married Doretha Turner Claytor.My father was Morris Claytor (aka Ali Muhammad) changed his name in 1975 Chicago Illinois.died in 2008 Chicago born 1932 Des Moines Iowa 5 siblings (Henry) Freddie,Marie, Helen.

    1. Hi, Ramona. We have communicated before. Nice to hear from you again.

    2. i'm curious if this is the same claytor b/c i have a little bit of conflicting information

  3. Hi Ramona, i'm trying to connect this stuff too, but i'm curious if this is the same Fletcher, b/c i have a post where its saying he passed away in Des Moines, and the above post says he passed away in VA, i think i'm part of this family line b/c my gramother is liz crawfrord, former claytor I believe, she married my grampa melvin, and my mother is dorine she recently passed away a few years ago, hit me up so we can figure this out, this is interesting stuff, i just kinda stumbled upon it.

    1. It is not the same Fletcher Claytor. The man named Fletcher Claytor who went to Des Moines is a different man than the one described in this blog post. See