The story of the Clark family is filled with characters who played leading and supporting roles in American history. Among their numbers are veterans of the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, prisoners of war who languished on prison ships in New York harbor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, colonial politicians, rebels, and churchmen. In Georgia, the Clarks meet every October at the Clark Chapel outside of Augusta.
Their story begins with Samuel Clark, who was born about 1650 in Herefordshire, England. He died about 1709 in Westfield, New Jersey. His brother seems to have been Richard Clark, who settled first in South Hampton, Long Island before moving to Elizabethtown (now called simply Elizabeth), New Jersey. Richard's grandson, Abraham, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence for New Jersey. William Clark, one of Samuel's sons, was an appraiser of Richard's estate.
William's son, Charles, who was born in 1726 and, like much of his family, is buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery in Westfield. Charles was a captain in the French and Indian War. His son, William, was an ensign in the 3d New Jersey regiment during the Revolutionary War. He later attained the rank of 1st lieutenant and was severely wounded at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777, forcing his retirement from the army. Another of his sons, also named Charles (and my ancestor), served in the Revolution as an ensign in General Striker's brigade. At one time, Charles was also the acting governor of New Jersey.
Charles II, the Revolutionary War soldier, had seven children, of which one was another Charles, born January 30, 1782 in Westfield. Charles III married first a lady by the name of Eleanor Carswell with whom he had eight children. Although I am not certain, I believe that Eleanor or her family was from Edgefield District in South Carolina where there was a large Carswell family that had also intermarried with the Rhodes and Murpheys. (Edmund Murphey's son Nicholas's second wife was Nancy Carswell.) Charles III's second wife was Sara Collins Murphey, the daughter of the aforementioned Nicholas Murphey and his first wife, Nancy Collins. Charles and Sara had fifteen children, making for a total of 25 children fathered by Charles III! His daughter (by Sara), Nancy Mariah Clark, is my paternal grandfather's grandmother.
When not siring children, Charles was busy with his farm and building the chapel that still stands today. This article from the Augusta Chronicle of October 21, 2000 relates a lot of the chapel's story.
Chapel means a lot to family
By Virginia Norton
Clark's Chapel is a family affair.
Generations of Clarks and their relations have worshipped on the same spot on Springhill Church Road south of Keysville, Ga., since patriarch Charles Clark built the wooden chapel on his Burke County farm in 1847.
The white chapel with its ample porch passed into the hands of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1878. The family resumed responsibility for the chapel's care after the last circuit preacher left in 1977. The United Methodist Church retains ownership.
Today Clarks return for weddings, reunions or to bury their kin in a cemetery plot near the church.
Charles Clark and his two wives are buried near the original farmhouse, about two miles away, said Frank Wright, who organized the 66th-annual reunion earlier this month. ``When the house was sold there was a cobbler's bench on the third floor. Charles Clark made his children's shoes. He had many talents, including having many children.''
Most of his 25 children survived into adulthood. He built the chapel because it was so hard taking a family that size into town for services, Mr. Wright said.
He and son John Christopher Wright, both of Augusta, want to start a Web site to help find other Clark descendants. Fewer than 10 percent have ``Clark'' as their last name, but hardly a generation is without a ``Charles,'' ``Walter'' or ``Edmond,'' though spellings vary, he said.
This year's reunion roll call showed that descendants from five of the original children were present, including some from Susan Augusta Clark, the youngest of Charles Clark's children. She was 4 when her father died, just short of his 70th birthday, Mr. Wright said.
Ed ``Mandy'' Clark of Thomson offered the reunion prayer on behalf of some 100 Clark family members who gathered in the chapel to sing old favorites. The service is another tradition, though members today are as likely to be Baptist or Catholic as Methodist. ``He blessed everybody from here to the Middle East. It was really nice,'' Mr. Wright said.
Lillian Bartlett of Waynesboro, Ga., went to her first reunion when she was a teen. She and other nearby relations worked to ready the chapel and grounds before each year's gathering, said Ms. Bartlett, 79.
Going to Clark's Chapel meant a great deal to her ``because it meant a lot to my father. That was where his mother would take him. It is just like being on hallowed ground,'' she said.
Some of the family's history is recorded in the chapel's opalescent glass windows with their milky pastel pinks, greens and blues.
There are three windows across the front of the church and four down each side wall. The style suggests they were installed sometime between the 1920s and 1940s. ``We don't know what the original windows were,'' said Mr. Wright.
The front-center one is dedicated to Charles Clark. In the 1800s Young Charles left New Jersey and headed for Savannah, where he met Eleanor Carswell. The two married and moved to Burke County.
Eleanor gave him nine children before her death. She is memorialized by the window on the left.
Charles took Sarah Murphey as his second wife, and she bore him 16 more children. The window on the right honors her memory.
Despite a lack of modern medicines and life's rigors, all but three of the 25 Clark children reached adulthood, and many of those served in the mission field in Florida and Oklahoma, said Ms. Bartlett.
The names of various members of the first generation and later ones and their spouses are inscribed on the eight side wall windows.
Although the church was damaged by fire in the 1800s, the heart-pine floors, pine pews and most other furnishings are original, said Ms. Bartlett.
The 200-seat sanctuary is primitive. There is no toilet, just a little privy behind the chapel. Water is piped from a neighbor's well.
Interior walls and ceiling, made of 6-inch boards, are painted white. There is no plaster on them. Floor boards are bare. But like the walls and ceiling, joints are straight and tight - there's not a warp anywhere.
A capped chimney pipe in the ceiling and a black smudge below mark where a pot-bellied stove once stood. ``When we have some wind or rain, we still get soot,'' Mr. Wright said.
Dividers on the center pews indicate that one side was for the women and one for the men, Ms. Bartlett said.
There are rows of short pews on the outside and a wider set of pews down the center. They are painted tan except for the preacher's seat, now refinished to reveal the rich red of aged pine.
There was a move a couple of years ago within the family to upgrade furnishings, but most members want the chapel to remain a country church like they knew growing up, Mr. Wright said.
Tables and saw horses, stacked at the back of the sanctuary, wait most of the year to be pulled out for the reunion.
That is the only time some see each other from year to year. Many people are related on both sides of the family, Ms. Bartlett said. ``People didn't move around much in those days. They visited cousins in the summer, and (so they) married cousins.''
Those at the reunion brought lawn chairs to sit around and chat. Tables were loaded with fried chicken, salads, fresh vegetables, fancy breads and cakes and pies that are ``out of this world,'' Ms. Bartlett said. ``You can have anything you want ... I think that's a lot of the reason they come.''
So exactly how did a guy from New Jersey end up in Georgia? Years ago, as I was prowling about the Presbyterian churchyard in Westfield, a fellow enthusiast told me that the Clark family spent its winters in Savannah. After the Revolutionary War, Charles III apparently decided to pursue his life in Georgia, where he labored unselfishly to populate that empty wilderness.
The Clarks in Georgia meet every year in October at the Clark Chapel. If you are interested in attending, please get in touch with the
Charles Clark III Historical Society
68 Spring Lake Drive
DeBary, FL 32713
As well documented as the Clark family history is, I do have gaps I'd like to fill. There is some discrepancy in the genealogies I have looked at regarding who is descended from whom, how many generations there are between Samuel and Charles I, and the like. Help in clarifying this would be much appreciated. As always, any anecdotes or facts regarding the family would be much appreciated as would corrections, references, additions, and comments. I am also interested in the connections among the Clarks, Carswells, Rhodes and Murpheys and in any family history of the Clarks in England before Samuel emigrated to North America.
Here is a descendant report for Samuel Clark.