Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy 192nd Birthday, Clara Cleal James (1819-1876)!

Gayle Wells' second-great-grandmother

Clara was an early British convert who lived in Victorian England. However, her proper decorum did not adjust well to polygamy in the Wild West, and this distress eventually killed her.
This is either Clara, or her daughter's mother-in-law Catherine Williams--
we're going with Clara for today

Clara Ann's mother died when she was a young girl, and she was sent to live with a stern religious aunt.  To keep the children quiet in church, this aunt would hand the children an apple to hold but they weren't allowed to nibble it during the service.  One Sunday, Clara and her cousins were left home to prepare dinner, but failed to finish by the time Aunt Susan returned.  She scolded and shook the girls, and that night Clara crept away.  She walked for miles through a storm to her grandfather's houses, who took her in and raised her.

Clara grew up to be a very pretty seamstress.  In a store one day purchasing fabric, a middle-aged gentleman stared at her as if trying to place her face.  He asked, "You seem to remind me of someone.  Would you mind telling me your name?"  This turned out to be her father, whom she had not seen since her mother died.  Clara was confused and bitter, and told him she could never call him father as he had never been a father to her.

Clara married John James, a noble young man who worked as a valet for Sir Robert Ray, a very strict English gentleman.  His uniform consisted of a pair of tight-fitting trousers, black patent boots, red coat and a powdered wig.  Clara accepted the gospel and was baptized as a young mother, although her husband never investigated it seriously.  He attended the Church of England services with his employer and didn't object to his wife's beliefs, but insisted that the children also be christened in the Church of England.  Several of their seven children died young, and the family adopted twin girls, Lilly and Polly Spencer. 

Years later, widowed Clara followed her daughter Ellen and emigrated to Utah.  Ellen’s husband Miles had rented and furnished a home for the James family.  However, when Clara arrived she was so distressed to find that Ellen had married into polygamy that there was great tension in the family, and she wouldn’t speak to her daughter. 

In addition to the emotional distress, Clara was ill when she arrived in Utah, and spent the winter months housebound under the care of a doctor and her children.  She was unable to recover, and passed away without being able to enjoy her new surroundings.  Nevertheless, she was remembered in her obituary as being a “loving, kind, and affectionate mother.”  

I would give her a pen--please sign the photo, Clara, and have a happy birthday! 


  1. Now that I have these additional wonderful stories from Gayle about the apple at church, Clara's father,and her difficult childhood, I have so much more compassion for Clara. I would give her a whole bushel of apples to eat anytime she pleased!

  2. I'd give her a nice long vacation somewhere tropical: it sounds like she would have benefited from some rest and relaxation.