John Clayton

John Clayton, who went on to become a renowned botanist, came to Virginia in 1715 when he was around 22 years old. He became the assistant to Peter Beverley, Gloucester County's clerk of court, and by October 1720, had succeeded him in office. In 1723 he married Elizabeth (Betty) Whiting, the daughter of Major Henry Whiting of Elmington plantation, Peter Beverley's son-in-law and a former member of the Governor's Council. 

Clayton purchased a total of 450 acres in Ware Parish and developed it into a family estate he called Windsor. The Clayton plantation was one mile from the Piankatank River and bordered the east side of Wadinger Creek, in what became Mathews County. John and Betty Clayton occupied a two- story dwelling that had an English Basement and two wings.

Botany Career

John Clayton became keenly interested in botany and by the 1730s, had begun collecting native plant specimens that he sent to colleagues overseas and in other American colonies. His garden contained native plants and cultivars he obtained from contacts in Europe. He had time to explore the countryside and collect plants because he could have his deputy clerk perform routine tasks. Clayton began compiling his "Catalogue of Plants, Fruits and Trees Native to Virginia," using Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus's classificatory system. He sent a copy of his manuscript to Dutch botanist John Frederick Gronovius, who published it as Flora Virginica. 

As a botanist and plant taxonomist, John Clayton was greatly respected by his peers, and he corresponded with Linnaeus and other greats. Over the years, he carefully collected, identified, and then dried plant specimens that he preserved in his herbarium but also sent to colleagues.

Agricultural Crops

Although John Clayton was preoccupied with collecting and preserving native plants, he was interested in agricultural crops, such as varieties of wheat the would thrive in Virginia. In fact, he was highly successful planter who sent his hogsheads of tobacco to the East River warehouse (at today's Williams Wharf) so that they could be inspected and readied for an overseas market. His correspondence indicates that he was a man of discriminating tastes who could be fractious and litigious.


In May 1773, John Clayton's selection as president of the Society for the Advancement of Useful Knowledge, a significant honor, was announced in the Virginia Gazette. Perhaps on account of failing health or a keen awareness of his advancing age, he made his will on October 25, 1773 and died in late December, having served as Gloucester County's clerk of court for a remarkable 53 years. In 1794 the hundreds of Plant specimens that John Clayton sent to Gronovius became the John Clayton Herbarium, part of London's Natural History Museum.

About Martha W. McCartney

  • Martha is an American research historian and writer
  • William and Mary graduate
  • Worked 13 years for Virginia Research Center for Archaeology
  • Independent historian
  • Consultant for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
  • Project historian for the five year-Jamestown Archaeological Assesment conducted by the National Park Service
  • Martha has won historic preservation awards, including a National History Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2001

Her Books

  • The Free Black Community at Centerville (2000)
  • The History of Green Spring Plantation (1998)
  • James City County: Keystone of the Commonwealth (1997)
  • Jamestown an American Legacy (2001)
  • Jordan's Point, Virginia: Archaeology in Perspective, Prehistoric to Modern Times (2011)
  • Mathews County, Virginia: Lost Landscapes, Untold Stories (2015)
  • Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers - 1607 to 1635: A Biographical Dictionary (2007)
  • With Reverence for the Past: Gloucester County Virginia (2001)