Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of John R. CLIFFORD


         John R. CLIFFORD, the son of Isaac and Satilpa Clifford, was born at Williamsport, Grant County, West Virginia, on September 13, 1849. During the Civil war, he was a Union soldier in Company F, 13th United States Heavy Artillery, attaining the rank of Corporal. Volunteering at Chicago and serving for three years, John R. Clifford saw service in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Eastern Virginia under General Grant. His brother, the Rev. Theodore K. Clifford, was also in the Union service. Evan Kent, grandfather of John R. Clifford, belonged to the “Mingo Tribe,” which inhabited Hardy County in 1776. His father’s grandfather, Jacob Clifford, was of Irish descent and contributed to the settlement of Hardy County, West Virginia. A valley in that county is called “Clifford’s Hollow,” in Jacob’s honor.

         J.R. Clifford was the first African-American lawyer admitted to the bar in West Virginia. He was educated at Chicago High School, graduated at Storer College, 1875, received a diploma, degree of A.M. Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina. He taught at Keyser and Williamsport, West Virginia, Grant County, and Moorfield, Hardy County, West Virginia. He founded and published the "Pioneer Press" at Martinsburg for 16 years — it was the first African-American newspaper in West Virginia, and the oldest in the country at the time of its discontinuance. It was devoted to "the uplift of that race."

         On December 28, 1876, at Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, West Virginia, John R. Clifford and Mary Franklin were married. She was born in Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia, on March 29, 1859, and was a daughter of Albert and Mary E. Franklin. Her mother continued to live in Jefferson County; her father was deceased by 1884. John R. and Mary Clifford had the following children: Albert F. Clifford, October 28, 1877-?; Maud K. Clifford, August 19, 1879-?; and Paul P. Clifford, July 1, 1882-?.

         John R. Clifford was a 32nd Degree Mason; lecturer for the State of West Virginia; Past Grand Master of West Virginia; First Vice President of the American Negro Academy; a member of a Committee on the "Wise Men," an organization that met in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1881

         John R. Clifford was principal of the colored city school of Martinsburg, Berkeley County, West Virginia.


    Submitted by Marilyn Gouge and extracted from West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, Volume 3, a reprint of Hardesty's Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia Berkeley County, WV, Biographies List, 1884, and History of Berkeley County, West Virginia, 1928.

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