Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Clement-Witcher Feud

A few miles from me as the crow flies, three brothers who all died the same day in 1860 are buried in a single grave on the family plantation—"Mountain View" on Snow Creek Road in Penhook. How did this triple death happen? Turns out a woman was involved—and she was a Smith, though I don't know if she and I descend from a common Smith ancestor.

Victoria Smith, the daughter of Albert G. Smith, was beautiful and had many beaux in the Franklin-Pittsylvania County area. She came from a good family; her grandfather was Vincent Oliver Witcher, the great-grandson son of Revolutionary War Colonel William Witcher and the son of Capt. Vincent Witcher who served in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates prior to the Civil War.

Victoria married James Clement, the son of Dr. George W. Clement, and here's another  Smith connection: James's mother was Stella Smith, daughter of John Smith of Lewis Island (the road I live on used to be called Lewis Island Road). This John Smith was the son of John Smith of "The "Pocket," a large plantation in the bend of the Smith River.

Unfortunately, the marriage was not happy, and Victoria became so afraid of her husband that she sought divorce. The divorce proceedings were where thing turned ugly.

The story has been told in print several times. One of the oldest is from An Old Virginia Court, by Marshall Wingfield, D.D., who wrote several histories of Franklin County.

From "An Old Virginia Court" by Marshall Wingfield, D.D., Memphis, Tennessee, The West Tennessee Historical Society.

The killing of three Clement brothes---James,William and Ralph by Capt. Vincent Witcher, John A Smith, Vincent Oliver Smith, Samuel Swanson and Addison Witcher. Addison Witcher was the son of Vincent Witcher. John and Vincent Oliver Smith were his grandsons. Samuel Swanson was his son-in-law.

James Clement married Victoria Smith on March13, 1858. He was one of ten children of Dr George W Clement, born1786; married 1811; died 1867. Dr Clement was educated at Hampton-SydneyCollege and the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania. His mother, Stella Smith, was the daughter of Major John Smith of LewisIsland. Their Franklin County home was called "Mountain View".

Victoria Smith was the daughter of Albert G Smith and the granddaughter of Capt. Vincent Witcher. She was born in 1837. The Smith family regarded the Clement family as of inferior social station. Dr Clement was very proud of the beauty and wit of his daughter-in-law, Victoria. Two of her old sweethearts continued their attentions after her marriage(of innocent nature). They were William P Gilbert and Samuel D Berger. Her husband, James Clement, accused her of unfaithfulness and humiliated her. Fearing physical violence, Victoria Smith Clement,fled from her husband on the night of August 24, 1859, and found refuge in the home of Sherwood Y Shelton, who lived a mile distant. She left behind her six month old baby, Leila Maud, born March 1, 1859, so great was her terror., In three weeks, the taking of depositions was begun at Dickenson's Store, to be read as evidence in the suit then pending between John A Smith, next friend of Victoria Smith Clement, plantiff, against James R Clement, defendant. The taking of depositions continued until February 25, 1860, when the Clement brothers were killed. Capt.Vincent Witcher objected to having Elizabeth W Bennett make part of herstatement on Saturday "and then being left in the hands of the oppositeparty to be picked until Monday." He made the statement that shewas under control of the Clements.Ralph Clement said "that whoever saidthat was a damned lie." Capt. Vincent Witcher drew a "five shooter" and started firing at Ralph Clement. Addison Witcher conducted the examination for the plantif. (Robert Mitchell, Justice of the Peace,appeared to have forgotten everything that transpired).

The bodies of the Clements were riddled with bullets and gashed with knives. William Clement was disembowled; James Clement's throat was slit from ear to ear. Ralph Clement lived three hours and made a dying declaration: I never attempted to draw an arm. Addison Witcher caught and held me and told them to come shoot me. A damned rasccal Robert W Powell stated in his deposition that Addison Witcher held RalphClements while Vincent Oliver Smith shot him. George Finney statedin his deposition that John Anthony Smith shot and stabbed James Clement. Both James and William Clement were reclining on a bed in the Counting Room when the firing began. Some thought the early firing came from the bed. The Pistols of both James and William Clement had been fired until empty, but Ralph had not drawn a gun. The three bodies were carried from Washington Dickinson's Counting room, in a farm wagon, and buried in a simple grave near the shaded driveway to the old brick house,their boyhood home.

The defendants claimed self-defense and charges were dismissed, March 23, 1860. In June 1860, the depositions were published in book form by Dr. G W Clement, Sr.

Dr. George W Clement's mother, Stella, was the daughter of John Smith of Lewis Island, son of Mr John Smith of "The Pocket". 1700
(Clement: History of Pittsylvania County)

You can read more online about the Clement-Witcher feud at these sites: "The Clement-Witcher Case," "Allegations of Infidelity at Heart of Massacre," "The Witcher-Clement Case," and a page on Rootsweb.

Some print books about the case are also available. The late Franklin County historian A.D. Ramsey wrote about the case many decades ago. I bought his booklet at The Frankin County Historical Society several years ago. Local historian Beverly Merritt's book, The Untold Story of the Clement-Witcher Feud, is a transcript of the trial.

Victoria was in her early twenties when the picture at the top of this page was taken. Here is a picture of me when I was twenty. 

If you squint a bit, I look like her just a little around the eyes and nose Or maybe it's my imagination. But I would like to know if she and I might might somehow be kin on the Smith side.

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