Virginia Caroline Clay-Clopton

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Virginia Caroline Clay-Clopton (Tunstall)

Also Known As: "Virginia Clay"
Birthplace: Nash, North Carolina, United States
Death: June 23, 1915 (90)
Huntsville, Alabama, United States
Place of Burial: Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Dr Peyton Randolph Tunstall and Ann Tunstall
Wife of Clement Claiborne Clay, US and Confederate States Senator and Judge David C. Clopton
Half sister of Mary Catherine Tunstall; Lucy Tunstall; William Leigh Tunstall and Rebecca B. Atkinson

Occupation: Author, Suffragette
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Virginia Caroline Clay-Clopton


Taken from and then edited

Virginia Clay-Clopton (1825–1915) was born as Virginia Caroline Tunstall to Peyton Randolph Tunstall and his wife Anne Arrington on 17 January 1825 in Nash County, North Carolina, and died 23 June 1915 in Huntsville, Alabama. She was known as Virginia Tunstall, Virginia Clay, Mrs. Clement Claiborne Clay, and after her second marriage, as Virginia Clay-Clopton.

Virginia was a political hostess, memoirist and activist in Alabama and Washington, D.C. As the wife of US Senator Clement Claiborne Clay from Alabama, she was part of a group of young southerners who boarded together in the capital in particular hotels. They were among the Southerners imprisoned at Fort Monroe after the war; they were suspected of being involved in the assassination plot against President Abraham Lincoln. Also held at that prison was Jefferson Davis, their friend and former president of the Confederacy. They became even closer friends during this time. Varina Howell Davis used to visit her husband, bringing their youngest daughter. The Clays were released in 1866, but Davis was not released until 1867.

The families had some continued contact after the Clays returned to Huntsville, Alabama. About this time, Jefferson Davis is believed to have fallen in love with Virginia Clay, carrying on a passionate correspondence with her for three years. In 1871, he was reported by newspapers across the country as having been seen on a train with an unidentified woman, and the incident gained him unwanted attention.[3]

Virginia Clay's husband Clement died in 1882. In 1887, she married Judge David Clopton, and became known as Mrs. Clay-Clopton. He died in 1892.

In the late 19th century, Clay-Copton became an activist in the < United Daughters of the Confederacy >, a group established after the Civil War that was instrumental in shaping public discussions about the war and role of the South. She worked to raise funds for Confederate cemeteries and memorials. She also worked for women's suffrage.

Clay-Copton was one of a number of Southern women to publish her memoir at the turn of the 20th century; these women's accounts became part of the public discourse about the war. The United Daughters of the Confederacy specifically recommended her book as one of three for serious discussion by the membership. Such works helped shape memories of the antebellum years and the < Lost Cause >.

Clay-Clopton is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama, near her first husband. She had no surviving children.


One might also note the possibilities for studying the role of women in southern society and on the plantation. See, for example, references to Virginia (Tunstall) Clay in the Clement Claiborne Clay papers. The guide refers to her as a 'truly remarkable woman-a plantation mistress, a social matron in pre-Civil War Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, ultimately a prominent suffragette--and indefatigable correspondent.... Letters to Virginia (Tunstall) Clay are very rich in social matters, women's concerns, and reactions to issues presented by her male correspondents.'10

Mr. Garrett speaks of Mr. Clay’s marriage very felicitously. “An event in the life of Mr. Clay took place at this session, which may be mentioned as contributing much to his future happiness; and no doubt to his great popularity and success. In February, 1843, his marriage with Miss Virginia Tunstall was celebrated by a wedding party, and by preparations at the residence of Chief Justice Collier, in Tuscaloosa, which had never been equaled on any similar occasion in that city. The Rev. Thomas H. Capers officiated in the nuptial ceremony. Most of the members of the Legislature and many citizens were invited guests. The bride was a daughter of Dr. Peyton Tunstall, formerly of Virginia, and a near relative of Mrs. Collier. At another point of his narrative I shall refer again to the bride as a moral heroine after she had been more than twenty years a wife.” (Public Men of Alabama). Another historian speaks of her as “a lady of fascinating attributes of mind, and elevated qualities of heart. While her husband was in Washington, Mrs. Clay was one of the brightest ornaments of society.” (Brewer’s Alabama.) Mrs. Clay gave early promise of her success in society, for she had beauty, a quick perception, tact, great kindness of disposition, was entirely unaffected, and I observed that she was not only a fine conversationalist, but an eloquent listener, which is rather uncommon with the female sex!

Old Huntsville: An Affair of the Heart. < link >


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Virginia Caroline Clay-Clopton's Timeline

January 17, 1825
Nash, North Carolina, United States
June 23, 1915
Age 90
Huntsville, Alabama, United States
Maple Hill Cemetery, Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama, United States