--A sturdy, far-sighted and eminently progressive pioneer, an experienced, highly-esteemed and influential public official, James A. Clayton, who died on April 14, 1896, became an extensive landowner and one of the best-known residents of Santa Clara County, as he was one of the leading citizens of San Jose. He was born in Derbyshire, England, October 20, 1831, the son of John and Mary (Bates) Clayton, the former a lead-miner and farmer. They came to America in 1831, and settled for a short time at Mifflin, Iowa County, Wis., where John Clayton worked in the lead mines; in 1840 the family removed to a farm near Mineral Point in Iowa County, where Mrs. Clayton died in 1853, followed four years later by her devoted husband. They were the parents of twelve children, for each of whom they did the best they could. In passing it might be mentioned that the farm from which the family moved at Mifflin was left to one of the younger sons and by him was sold at a later date and on this same farm was developed one of the most valuable and productive lead and zinc mines in Wisconsin, discovered by deepening a well that had been put down by Mr. Clayton.

James A. Clayton was brought to America by his parents in infancy and remained at home until 1850, when he came out to California. One brother, Charles Clayton, who eventually became a member of Congress and the surveyor of the Port of San Francisco, had preceded him to this state in 1844, and this doubtless influenced the ambitious and adventurous spirit of another brother, Joel Clayton, who made four round trips to California prior to 1850, driving superior American cattle, which he sold to the native Californians to improve their native wild herds. Though the country was infested with Indians, many of them hostile, he always managed to get through in safety, being a diplomatic leader.

In 1850 influence was brought to bear upon Joel Clayton, who had expected to retire after his various California expeditions with cattle, to make up a train and pilot it through to the West. This he did with the definite understanding that his orders on all matters, even to making of wagons, be obeyed implicitly, The mother prevailed upon Joel to let James accompany him so that he would be under his protection enroute. Joel did so, but he made certain stipulations by which James was not to ride a horse or in a wagon during the journey; also that he and his companion David Grenewalt, of the same age, were to keep the train of ten wagons supplied with fresh meat enroute. This was carried out to the letter by young James, although he endured many hardships and privations to do so. He and his chum were the only ones in the partly who were permitted to have guns. The first and only real money he ever saw prior to coming to California was obtained from the sale of a hand-made saddle, made out of a pig skin taken from a pig he had raised until it was ready to kill. He tanned the skin by hand and when the saddle was finished it was taken down the river to one of the large cities where real money was in circulation and was sold for eight silver dollars; the young man was then sixteen years old. His education was limited to but four months schooling one winter, but he was patterned after Abraham Lincoln and anxious to absorb knowledge so he borrowed every book he possibly could from those who had them in his neighborhood and by constant reading became a superior, self-educated man. It was also during the long winter evenings that he attended revival meetings held by some itinerant circuit rider, was converted and joined the Methodist Church. This act affected his entire life and he never backslid from his teachings.

It took the train piloted by Joel Clayton eighty-seven days to reach California, arriving in Santa Clara County in August, 1850. This short time was made because of the superior leadership of Joel Clayton, by whom no single detail was lacking to keep men, teams and wagons in the best of condition, so that on their arrival they were able to state they had lost neither man nor beast during the long journey. It usually took six months or more to make a journey of that length by most of the immigrants. James Clayton and his chum stuck together and he tried his luck in mining in Placer and Mariposa counties; even going to Australia. Upon arriving there the party was warned of the animosity the Australians had for the Californians because of the hanging in San Francisco by the Vigilantes, of the "Sydney Ducks." The Californians were distinguished, in those early days, by their red-top boots worn outside of their pantlegs. By concealing their boot-tops and avoiding public taverns Mr. Clayton and his chum reached the mines, which proved, to their disgust, that there was vastly more gold in California than in Australia. The young men had saved money enough to pay their way home and were ready to make the return voyage. The ship being short of seamen the captain told them if they would ship as sailors and help bring the boat to San Francisco he would refund their passage money and pay them $100 in money; to this they agreed and James Clayton became third mate. After a hazardous journey, fraught with many hardships, the most important being the lack of water for drinking, they reached port. Upon arriving at San Francisco the captain decamped for the mines and the men were unable to get any part of their money by the sale of the ship and its cargo, there being so many similar cases of abandoned ships in the bay.

In 1853 Mr. Clayton became permanently identified with Santa Clara County, located in Santa Clara, where he opened and conducted a photograph studio, this being the second one to be opened in the state. Later he moved the studio to San Jose, which had become the largest of the two towns, and in the latter part of the '50s, he moved there with his family. Then the photographer made his own plates and the "patient" had to sit for five minutes in order to have the impression made on the negative. While in Santa Clara, Mr. Clayton with John B. Hewston, started the first movement ever made in the town to curb the extremely common use of liquor; and he started the first movement to open a Y. M. C. A. In 1861 Mr. Clayton was elected county clerk on the Republican ticket, and reelected in 1863; at the same time carrying on his photo studio. In 1867 he embarked in the real estate business in San Jose and thereafter remained active in the realty field until his death. The result of his identification with this department of commercial and financial affairs was that he became a large property owner, was able to accomplish a great deal of good in his time, and left a large estate to others to administer and enjoy, when he finished his period.

Prior to 1887, all the salable property and grant lands in Santa Clara Valley passed through his hands at least once. He acted as advisor to the native Californians, by whom he was trusted implicitly to buy and sell for them, also to loan their money, often in the earlier days with no compensation. He started the first abstract and title business in Santa Clara County, one of the first in the state as well; was also one of the promoters and original owners of the first electric lighting plant in the county; one of the original promoters of the First National Bank of San Jose in 1874 and later became its president, serving for many years. This was organized to reduce the rate of interest to 10% per annum, the rate having fluctuated from 1 1/2 % to 10% per month. After he had been in the realty business several years he branched out into the original booster for this Valley and prepared neat illustrated literature which he scattered widely in the Middle West and thus was the cause of so many settlers coming from as far East as Illinois to take up homes in this county. As a land boomer he was a success, the majority of the settlers coming from the mining camps in the early days, while later they came form the states west of Illinois. He always made good his guarantees.

In March, 1860, James A. Clayton was married to Miss Anna L. Thompson, who had come to California in 1857. Seven children sprang from this happy union. Mary E. married Caroll W. Gates and lived in Los Angeles; both are deceased; Edward W., now deceased, was for many years associated with his father and later with the James A. Clayton Company in the realty business; Willis C., also was connected with the James A. Clayton real estate interests and is now president of the First National Bank of San Jose {see bio below}; Ethel, graduated from the University of the Pacific and is associated with her father's company; Grace Elizabeth, died in infancy; and the youngest members of the family are John J., and Florence Clayton. Mrs. Clayton passed away in 1914.

Mr. Clayton was a member of San Jose Lodge No. 10, F. & A. M.; also of the Methodist Church, and in 1888 he served as lay delegate to the conference held in New York; was a standpat Republican, and that same year was an alternate delegate at large to the National Convention held in Chicago. He was a trustee of the University of the Pacific, and no man ever did his duty more conscientiously in such a position, and few have done more to advance on broad, inviting lines the permanent interests of this important institution of higher education.
Transcribed by Joseph Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 803


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight