Clayburn Pierson

Clayburn Pierson and some members of his family

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Here is a brief description of my great grandfather, Clayburn Pierson. He married Charlotte King who gave birth to my grandmother Corinda Pierson. Corinda married William Rosencrans Reed (former Clay County Sheriff). William and Corinda's son, Thomas Brackett Reed (deceased 1946), was my father. Everyone on both my mother's and father's side, almost as far back as you look --- the Reeds, Sheltons, Neels, Jarvises, Piersons, Morrises, Downeys et al--- was born or settled in Clay County.

In 1898, slightly more than forty years before I was born, my great grandfather, joumalist-hyphenate Clayburn Pierson --- in a manner mixing boosterism along with solid economic sense --- wrote about my Kanawha County home town as follows:

"With great natural resources and natural facilities, Charleston ought to have surpassed any other town in the state. Instead, all depended on local trade and none with courage to risk an Almighty Dollar in an effort to start any one of the numerous industries that would have made Charleston today the most prosperous city in the land."

In other words, a decade before the fact, Pierson had the prescience to foresee a time when Charleston would become known as the "Chemical Capitol of the World."

When the political boat listed to the right, Pierson, to judge from his surviving newspaper articles, moved his seat compensatorily to the left, and in more radical times, vice versa. At one juncture or another he was, contradictorily, a member of the isolationist Know Nothing Party and a supporter of isolationist Millard Filmore; 180 degrees from that enthusiam, a supporter of popular utopian writer Edward Bellamy and, at some point in time, a fervent socialist. Clearly he was at war with himself politically and economically. If so, he had earned the right. Born in 1825 in Nicholas County, Clayburn was but latest addition to a nearly unbroken line of illegitamacy stretching back four generations, with his great grandmother, Sally McKee, having been an indentured servant to a family in Virginia. Since, in all of his voluminous writings, Pierson made no mention of his personal background, nor did anyone ever hear him talk about his forbearers, it has always been a family assumption that he ran away from home and took full adult responsibility for himself while in his mid-teens. Like many persons of his era --- and making matters worse, the extreme Dickensian circumstances of his existence--my great grandfather was able to secure for himself only a very rudimentary education. And yet, in spite of this, he managed, in 1847 at age 22, to become a school teacher. Later, he was a land surveyor; a lawyer; postmaster; superintendent of Clay County schools; beginning in 1877, a clerk of the circuit court; and a hotel owner and publisher of the weekly "Clay County Star," where some of his Bret Harte-like pieces, such as "One Thousand Feet Under Droop Mountain," The Devil's Den," and "A Bear Hunt of Sixty Years Ago" first appeared.

In 1925, long after Pierson's death in 1904, one of his old friends, W.P. Gould, still could not forget him. He wrote:

"Pierson was honest, earnest and frank, and a lasting friend. He never received any financial rumuneration from his writing, and it is hard to understand how, driven by the perpetual necessity of working early and late, to support a large family, he found time for the amount of reading and writing he did. He just loved to read and write. . .."

I've managed to amass a fairly impressive collection of my great grandfathers works and whenever reading them, I never fail to be amazed by the fact that someone bom a century-and-three-quarters ago could obtain to such clean, lucid, grammatically correct, perfectly punctuated prose; and how someone from such lowly circumstances could attain such a high standing in his community.

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The above article was submitted by Bill Reed of Los Angeles, California, in August of 1998. He is interested in hearing from anyone who may have information about Clayburn Pierson. He has a copy of his father's Clay County High School yearbook ("Clacohs") from 1916 in case anyone needs something looked up or researched. Questions concerning this information should be addressed to Bill.