Friday, December 30, 2016

Clifton Family and Ashley's Sack

As an addendum to my Southern Spaces piece on the search for Ashley’s Sack, here are my current thoughts on the maternal relatives of Ruth Jones Middleton, who in 1921 embroidered the sack that had been passed down to her from her grandmother, Ashley.  I would be very grateful for input and guidance from members of the extended Clifton family, or from friendly genealogical researchers—as we try to establish precise genealogical connections that might link present day Clifton descendants to Rose, Ashley and Ruth.
Ashley's Sack, courtesy Middleton Place

Candidates for” Ashley”
At this point, I see two leading candidates for Ashley, whom Ruth Middleton refers to as her “grandmother” in the 1921 needlepoint. The most likely strikes me as Sarah Clifton, who in 1880 is residing in Orangeburg County, SC; the second candidate is Dosky or Dasky Clifton, who in 1870 and 1880 resides in Columbia SC (where Ruth (nee Jones) Middelton grew up.)

Let us consider the available evidence:

When Ruth Jones applied for a marriage license in 1918 in Philadelphia, PA,  as she prepared to marry Arthur Middleton, she listed as her mother’s maiden name, “Rosa Clifton.”   We do know that in the 1910 census, Ruth Jones is about seven years old, living in Columbia SC with her parents Austin and Rosa Jones, both listed as servants at the Univeristy of South Carolina.  Austin and Rosa appear to have married in 1902, so before that time, Rosa presumably lived under her maiden name, Rosa Clifton.

The 1900 census lists three African American Rosa Cliftons residing in South Carolina.  One is seven years old and another is a newborn so neither could be old enough to be Ruth Jones’ mother. However, a Rosa Clifton is residing in Columbia, SC, born in January 1880, recorded as single and working as a chambermaid.  She lives in the home of a Wesley Perry, who is married to a Hattie Perry, born January 1875. Rosa Clifton is listed as the “sister in law” of Wesley Perry, so logically, she would  seem to be the sister of Hattie.

There is no surviving 1890 census, and the 1880 census only lists one “Rosa Clifton” in South Carolina; she is about nine years old, born 1871, and residing with her parents David and Betsy Clifton in Bamberg, Barnwell County, SC. She would appear to be too old to be the Rosa Clifton who will become the mother of Ruth Jones (Middleton), but she does enter in the story later, in  suggestive way, as will shall see below.

But if this the “wrong” Rosa Clifton, where in 1880 is the Rosa Clifton we are seeking, the future mother of Ruth Jones Middleton? It is possible that in June 1880, when the US census was enumerated, “our” Rosa had not been born yet and thus is not showing up in the census records (It is true that the 1900 census lists this Rosa Clifton as born in “January 1880,”  but it should be noted that when census enumerators could not determine a precise month of birth, they sometimes wrote down “January” so that is not a very reliable month in census records.)

To go back to the 1900 census, if Rosa Clifton (single) is the sister of the married woman Hattie Perry, then it seems reasonable that Hattie’s maiden name was “Hattie Clifton.”  There is in fact a Hattie Clifton in the 1880 census. She was born in 1874,  which is consistent with the “1875” year given for Hattie Perry in the 1900 census in Columbia, SC.  This nine year old Hattie Clifton in 1880 is residing in Goodland township, Orangeburg County, South Carolina, immediately east of Springfield, SC, about 40 miles southeast of Columbia, SC, where Hattie and Rose were living in 1900.  Hattie  in 1880 lives with her parents William and Sarah Clifton, and her siblings—Nathan, Ella, William, Moss, Robert and Caroline, and Caroline’s infant child (Caroline’s last name is given as Walker, but her sons will later take on the surname Clifton.)

So it seems a reasonable conjecture that “our” Rosa Clifton (the future mother of Ruth Jones Middleton) was not yet born in  June 1880 during the census enumeration, but was born soon afterwards.

It may be that Sarah Clifton, the mother of Hattie (and the likely mother of Rose) was in fact “Ashley,” whom Ruth Jones Middleton refers to on the sack as her grandmother. But we have no direct proof of this.  Sarah is listed born around 1849, which is a little young for Ashley, whom i have estimated was born around 1844, but years of birth for African Americans in these early census are not considered all that accurate.

What about Wesley Perry, the eventual husband of Hattie, with whom Hattie and her sister Rosa Clifton are living in 1900?  Where was he in 1880?  As it happens, there is in the 1880 census, also in Goodland township, SC, a Wesley Perry, born around 1857. He is married to a Nancy in 1880, so presumably he remarried the younger Hattie at some point prior to 1900. In 1880 he is listed, it is interesting note, as having daughters “Hattie” and “Rosalie,” so it possible there are some tangled family connections between the Cliftons and Perrys, perhaps dating back to slavery times.

There is, I should note, another serious candidate for Ashley, the grandmother of Ruth Middleton. This would be Dosky or Dasky Clifton, who appears in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, residing in Columbia SC, born around 1845. As noted in the Southern Spaces article, the sale of nine year old Ashley most likely took place in 1853, so Ashley was probably born around 1844.  Dosky does certainly fit this time frame. She is married a John Clifton, born around 1842 (He is likely the same person as the John Clifton who served in Company D the fabled African American 55th United State Colored Troop regiment during the Civil War).  Their children are Mary, James, Henry, Viola, and Nathan Clifton.  (No Rosa is listed, but again, it is possible that Rosa was born after the 1880 census was enumerated in June.) 

Although Dosky Clifton’s age fits a bit better than Sarah Clifton’s,and although she was living in Columbia,  the case of Hattie (Clifton) Perry, which points to her sister Rosa having come from Goodlands township, indicates, in my judgement, that Sarah remains a more likely candidate as Rosa Clifton’s mother.

Other Cliftons in post Civil War South Carolina

There are other clusters of African American Cliftons in post-Civil War South Carolina, who may be related in some way to the William/Sarah and John/Dosky Clifton families.  There was one  antebellum slaveowning family named Clifton in antebellum South Carolina, based in Chester County, in the northern part of the state. Among these slaveowners was Benjamin W. Clifton. An estate slave sale after his death is described by the former slave Peter Clifton in his WPA narrative: Peter’s mother and sister Lizzie were purchased by Bigger Mobley from this estate sale in Camden, Kershaw County).  The 1870 census lists about 29 African American Cliftons in Chester County and adjacent Lancaster County, whose families presumably had come off of the local white-owned Clifton plantations.

There is also a substantial cluster of Cliftons in Barnwell County, SC, adjacent to Orangeburg County.  who all appear descended from Landy Clifton and his wife Mary Ann Ray Clifton. residing in 1870 George’s Creek, near Blackville, These married children include John, Sam, David and Henry.   It strikes me as plausible that William Clifton (the father of Hattie Clifton and possibly father of Rosa Clifton), residing in 1880 in Goodlands township, is another son of Landy Clifton.

Montgomery County, PA and Philadelphia PA Connections
As noted in the Southern Spaces article, Ruth Jones Middleton from 1918 onwards seems to have lived exclusively within Philadelphia (although there are no direct records of her at all from 1919-c.1925.) Dorothy Helen Middleton Page, who appears to have been the only child of Ruth Jones Middleton, passed away in 1988 in Wyncote, Montgomery County, PA, a north Philadelphia suburb.

There appear to be a number of other African American Cliftons or Clifton descendants from South Carolina who have resided in this general area of Montgomery County, PA., north of Philadelphia.   These include:

1. Rosa Clifton Joyner,  from Bamberg, Barnwell County, SC. She was married to an Andrew Joyner, and resided in the late 1920s in North Glendside, PA, a community immediately adjacent to Wyncote, PA.  She died in the state hospital in Norristown, PA, and  is buried in the beautiful historically African American Fairview Cemetery in Willow Grove, PA.  As noted above, she was born Rosa Clifton, the daughter of David and Betsey Clifton, and the granddaughter of Landy Clifton.

2. Annie Ruth Clifton  (1938-2000). She died in Willow Grove, and like Rosa Clifton Joyner, is buried in Fairview Cemetery. Parents: Bryant Clifton and Lucile Clifton. Bryant’s father was Robert Clifton and his mother may have been Ada Robinson.  Robert’s parents were William and Sarah Clifton, the parents of Hattie Clifton and perhaps the parents of “our” Rosa Clifton, and thus the grandparents of Ruth Jones Middleton.

3. Wagan Clifton (1919-1997). the brother of Bryant Clifton (and uncle of Annie Ruth Clifton) resided in Philadelphia, PA  from at least 1950 onwards and passed away in Philadelphia 

4, Wagan’s wife Commeseain Huffman Clifton (1923-2004)  worked as dietician in the Philadelphia School District. She passed 8 November 2004 in Philadelphia PA.  (Her parents were   John L Huffman and Errie D Livingston ) Her children John. A Clifton, Yvonne C. Clifton and Alvin Clifton all resided in Philadelphia as well.

I know there are a number of other African American Cliftons residing in Willow Grove and surrounding communities. Perhaps some of these families are connected into this story as well.

Please share your suggestions or ideas on any of the above, or on other possible leads, as we continue to search for the family of Rose, Ashley and Ruth.


  1. Hi!
    As an amateur geneologist, I'd thought you'd like to know that there's a Sally and Bill Cliffton mentioned in the 1870 census in Orangeburg, they have a 10-year-old daughter, Caroline, and Sally is listed as being 30 years old (thus, about 12 in 1852)
    Hope to hear more updates!