A Directory of Towns, Villages, and Hamlets
Past and Present
of Clay County, Missouri

Compiled by Arthur Paul Moser

Clay County

Clay County (is) a county in the northwestern part of the State, bounded on the north by Clinton County, on the east by Ray County, on the south by the Missouri River, separating it from Jackson County and on the west by Platte County...

The first white settlement was by French traders about 1800, at Randolph Bluff, on the Missouri River, but no trace of their occupancy remains...The first permanent settlers came in 1819, and among them were John Owens...Samuel McGee...and John Braley.

Clay County was created January 2, 1822, by detachment from Ray County*, and was named after Henry Clay, of Kentucky. It extended to the northern boundary of the State, and included the area now constituting the counties of Clinton, DeKalb and Gentry and the large portion of Worth...(--Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, 1901, Conard, Vol. 2, p. 19.)

*Ray County was organized out of the territory of Howard County, November 16, 1820, and was named in honor of John Ray, a member of the constitutional convention from Howard County... (--Conard, Vol. 5, p. 304.)

Under the territorial act of 1812, all west of the Mississippi River and north of the Mississippi River (sic) (no doubt the Missouri River is meant), formed St. Charles County, which continued until 1816, when that part of Howard County north of the Missouri River was taken, and from Howard, in 1829, Ray County was formed, including all areas west of Grand River to the State Line, and from the Missouri north to the Iowa Line.

Clay County was formed from Ray, January 2, 1822, extending from the Missouri River north to the Iowa Line, with its present width of twenty-one miles, and its length, about one hundred miles...

Following the establishment of the county seat, it was deemed advisable to limit the area of the county, and on January 2, 1833, the reduction was made to its present limits (see above.) The county was divided into only two townships--Gallatin and Fishing River; the county seat being in Gallatin until May 2, 1825, when Liberty Township was created. Platte Township was created June 4, 1827; Washington Township, August 9, 1830 and Kearney Township was created September 3, 1872.

That part of the county north of its present limits in 1831, extending to the Iowa Line was called Lafayette Township, and was very sparsely settled, and on the west limits of the county "attached for civil and military purposes," was the Platte Country, or rather the greater part of what now constitutes Platte County, was in 1837, divided into Pettis, Carroll, Far West and Preston Townships...


In 1820 the territory embraced in Clay County formed a part of Howard County, and the county seat was Old Franklin. At that time, there was not a store at which goods could be purchased within the confines of Clay County. It is true some Frenchmen had a trading post at Randolph's Bluffs, where barter and trade were made for furs and beeswax...At this time if a settler wanted a new axe there was no place to obtain it north, south or west, but only at the nearest place, which was five miles this side of Old Franklin, in Howard County, to a certain blacksmith...who made the axe head...It was estimated for a settler to leave home, with his saddle bags, go to this blacksmith's, get his axe made, then return home, sharpen the axe with an old fashioned grind-stone, would take about two weeks of the settler's time. Up to 1819 there was no money in circulation, nor was there in what is now Clay County...a silk ribbon. (--History of Clay County, 1920, Woodson, pp. 73, 74, 75.)



Fishing River Township was one of the first permanently settled townships in Clay County. In the fall of 1820, David McElwee and his good wife, Mary came...to Section 20, Township 52 N, R. 30 W, about a mile north of Cooley's Creek... (--p. 375.)

Gallatin Township was one of the original townships of Clay County, comprising in 1822, the western half of the county. Settlements were made along Big Shoal in 1822. David Manchester's mill was a noted point in 1825. It is alleged that a few French families lived on Randolph Bluffs in 1800... (--p. 507.)

Kearney Townships -- Settlements were made in this township at a very early day. In the northwestern part of the township two miles south of Camp Branch, (east half Sec. 23, Twp. 53 N, R. 32 W) Anthony Harsell settled in the fall of 1827...

Liberty Township -- As to the first settlers in what is now Liberty Township, it is possible that they were Richard Hill, Robert Gilmore, James Gilmore and others, who settled on Rush Creek in the southeastern part of the township in 1820... (--p. 280.)

Platte Township -- Among the first bona fide settlers in Platte Township, was Humphrey Smith...His mill, at what afterwards became Smithville, was the nucleus of head of subsequent settlements. Smith came in the summer of 1822... (--p. 421.)

Washington Township -- As early as 1824, Travis Finley settled on Sec. 26, in that township, two miles southeast of Greenville...Ryland Shackleford located northwest of Greenville soon after Finley came. Mr. Shackleford often declared that when he made his location, and for a year afterwards, there was not a white settler between him and the North Pole. (--p. 498.)

Note: It must be remembered that Iowa was not admitted to the Union until 1846. Prior to that time, it was settled by Indians.

Also, Minnesota was admitted to the Union in 1858. It is safe to say that in 1824-1825, there were no white settlers in Minnesota.

Likewise, in 1824-25, Canada was settled by the Indians; so Mr. Shackleford was right. (--Any standard encyclopedia.)

Page numbers refer to History of Clay County, 1885.

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