Notes on Rev. D.B. Clayton

Daniel Bragg Clayton was born on April 18, 1817 in what is now Woodruff, SC.  He died November 12, 1906 after having suffered a heart attack in Greenville, NC.

He grew up in a Baptist household, converting to Universalist after reading Universalist newspapers and hearing South Caroloma circuit riding Universalist minister Allen Fuller preach. He was ordanined by Fuller and took over the circuit, when Fuller moved west. In the late 1840s, Clayton himself moved west; settling in Mississippi.

During the Civil War, his home and library were burned down, and Clayton returned to SC. After the war, he owned a hotel in Columbia, and preached part time.

In 1880, he moved to Atlanta.  Rev. Clayton briefly supported the nascent Universalist church started by Rev. W.C. Bowman in 1879. Clayton is thought to have edited a new paper, Atlanta Universalist, started at this time in Atlanta. It is believed that Clayton found this newspaper a “losing business” and turned the subscription list over to Burruss and his Herald (published in Alabama.  Source The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church of America 1770 – 1870.

He returns to Columbia a few years later, and except for a short time living in Cash’s Depot; he spends the rest of his life in Columbia. Well the rest of his life where he is not a traveling Universalist missionary that is. Father Clayton goes to preach in Georgia. Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessese, North Carolina – and even once as far west as Texas.

From the Universal Register, 1907

Rev. Daniel Bragg Clayton, D.D., suddenly passed away, at the home of his son, William Clayton, in Columbia, S. C., Nov. 13, 1906. He arose early in the morning and was preparing to start on a trip to Greenville, N.C. He had put everything in readiness for his journey; when he stooped down to pick up an article. While in this attitude he fell, and within three minutes breathed his last.

Father Clayton was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, on April 8, 1817, and from this it will be seen that if he had lived until April 8, next, he would have attained to the age of ninety years. Sixty-eight years of this long life were spent in the ministry of the Universalist Church.

It was in 1838, while teaching school in his native county, that he heard his first Universalist discourse. The sermon was delivered by Rev. Allen Fuller, a native of Massachusetts, who had arrived in South Carolina a few years before. This sermon made a profound impression on the mind of the young teacher, who had been brought up in the Baptist church. He soon severed his connection with that church and became the ardent, tireless advocate of Universalism.

Sixty-eight years ago the Southern people knew little of this faith. Everywhere it was “evil spoken against.” The pubic advocate of Universalism was almost universally regarded as a dangerous character, and for that reason he suffered much of social ostracism. Only a few had the moral courage to face the unkind, unjust opposition that had to be encountered on every hand. But a few fearless souls have ever been found to bravely and as witnesses for the truth. Father Clayton was one of that number.

While he encountered opposition at every step, instead of yielding to, or compromising with, what he conceived to be false, it only nerved him to greater efforts in the propagation of what he believed to be true and just. Possessing an unusual degree of the sterling qualities of character, he had little patience with the shams and vices of life. With him the paramount question was in no sense one of time-service, of policy; but it was ever one of truth, of right, of principle.

In regard to his worth and ability as a minister, as an advocate of the faith of the Universalist Church, I need say little to the people among whom be labored. It is well known to them all that, as an expounder of the Scriptures and and an advocate of the correct principles of living, he has had no superior in the Scriptures.

Perhaps he has had no superior anywhere. His marvelous familiarity with the Bible has constantly been a matter of surprise to those who have been privileged to hear him preach. During his long ministry he held no less than twelve oral discussions, and at no time did the cause of truth suffer in his hands.

Not only did he largely master the teachings of the Scriptures, but he was also master of himself – was able to control himself on all occasions—and for these reasons he was the greater power in theological discussions.

During his entire ministry he was preeminently a Bible preacher. The negative side of his preaching related in the main to the errors of partialism.

In relation to the fundamentals of the Christian faith he was always positive. He realized that no minister could fulfil a constructive mission by preaching his doubts. Not long since he remarked to the writer that most people could find doubt enough without the assistance of the minister.

In early life his opportunities for an education were meager. But by studious habits and close application to the few books at his command he rapidly acquired a splendid elementary education. During his entire ministry he was a close, painstaking student, adding knowledge to knowledge, until few were his peers in either breadth or profundity of knowledge.

Father Clayton’s life was one of ardent service and true self-denial. He lived for a cause, and that cause was the emancipation of humanity from error and sin. He was surely guided by the spirit of the Master, going about doing good. His motive to service was of the highest. Filled with the love of truth and right, and filled with affection for the universal brotherhood, he was directed in the way of unselfish, unremitting toil.

For all that he did and for all that he accomplished never once did he ask for pecuniary reward. Not once during his great ministry of sixty-eight years did he ask for a public collection in his own behalf. Neither did he work for a salary during any portion of this time. But he had his reward—not in dollars and cents, but in treasure worth infinitely more—in the coinage of God’s kingdom. His reward was ever present in the consciousness of faithful service in the kingdom of the Divine Master.

Often have we heard him say he wished to die in harness. His wish has been granted him. Having put his hand to the plow never once did he look back. To the very last he publicly advocated the truths that had been precious to him.

During the past summer and autumn he did much preaching, often traveling long distances. In early summer he made a missionary tour extending into Mississippi. Later in the season he came to North Carolina and gave the writer of this sketch much valuable assistance. Following the meeting of the North Carolina Convention early in October, he went to South Carolina, expecting to come back to North Carolina in a short time. On the morning of Nov. 13 he had gotten everything in readiness for this later journey, when the final summons came.

It is needless to add that Father Clayton has been held in the highest esteem by Universalists in the South, while others, not of this persuasion, have shown him the respect his noble life has commanded.

Speaking of his pedigree the morning following his death, “The State,” of Columbia has this to say:

“Dr. Clayton was descended from Capt. Newport, for whom Newport News, Va., was named, and on the other side from Capt. Bragg, also of the British navy. Capt. Newport’s wife. Miss Ball, was a sister of the wife of George Washington. Newport and Bragg were the great-greatgrandfathers of Dr. Clayton.

Of his grandfathers two were Baptist ministers during the Revolutionary war. Three of his great grandfathers and four great-grand-mothers sleep their last sleep in Spartanburg County. The other great grandfather died in the Revolutionary war, and the place of burial is unknown. Both grandfathers and one grandmother also were buried in Spartanburg County. The other grandmother died in Alabama. William Clayton, father of the deceased, married May Newpart Bragg, descended from the old British sea captain who brought hope to the starving, despairing colonists. Daniel Bragg Clayton, who passed away yesterday, was born on Enore River. His boyhood was one of hard work.”

The funeral service was conducted by the writer at the home of the eldest son of the deceased, Mr. William Clayton. Thus closes a long and useful life. Bui he will continue to live, not only in the spiritual realms, but also in the hearts of a great multitude that his noble life has blessed in the past.

Thomas Chapman

Source: The Universalist Register for the Year 1907 found in Google Books, pages 120 – 123
Other Research

  • entry for Danial Bragg Clayton
  • Forty-Seven Years in the Universalist Ministry autobigraphy by D.B. Clayton
  • Happy Day: Or the Confessions of a Woman Minister (1901) by Emma Eliza Bailey who describes Clayton in her autobiography




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