John Robert (J.R.) Clifford was born in 1848, to Isaac Clifford (c.1824 – c.1903) and Satilpa Kent Clifford (c.1816 – c.1850) in what is now Grant County, West Virginia. J.R. had two older brothers, Theodore and David. The ancestors of both Isaac Clifford and Satilpa Kent Clifford can be traced back to the late 1700s in West Virginia and appear to have been free men and women throughout that time period. While this wasn’t typical in much of the south, it might not have been surprising in West Virginia. Some of the Clifford’s ancestors were from Hardy County, which had more free people of color than slaves in the late 1700s.
There is limited documentation from that era, but we know that J.R.’s father Isaac Clifford was a farmer, and a moderately successful one. In 1860, he reported personal property worth $400 – not much by today’s standards, but respectable in that era. J.R.’s brother Theodore served in the Civil War and became a minister in the United Brethren Church. He married Sarah Jane Turney Clifford and had 11 children. J.R. himself served in Company F, 13th Regiment, U.S. Heavy Artillery during the Civil War and was honorably discharged in 1865. After graduating from Storer College in 1875, he married Mary Elizabeth Franklin in Harpers Ferry. They went on to have 10 children.
The reuse of names within the family is another complicating factor in putting together a family history. J.R. Clifford’s father was named Isaac, but so was his grandfather. A court record from 1796 shows that an Isaac Clifford sued a man named James Ryan for battery and false imprisonment. Based on the date this must be the elder Isaac, since the younger Isaac wasn’t born until 1824. The first Isaac Clifford appears in the 1800 census as the head of a household consisting of 5 people in Allegany County, Maryland, but by 1810 is listed in Hardy County, West Virginia. In 1830, the family seems to have grown, and Isaac appears as the head of a household of 8 persons in Hardy County. Carter G. Woodson’s book Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830, lists two other families of “free colored” Cliffords in the United States.
Thank you to the Clifford family for sharing their geneological information with us. Any errors in this account are the responsibility of Friends of Blackwater and not the Clifford family.