Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay

Born April 19, 1822, Belfast, Ireland, d. Sept. 3, 1875 at Jordan Springs near Winchester, VA

by Austin Matlack Courtenay, 1898, Amy Valiant Courtenay, 1969, and Thomas Thatcher, 1996.

The following material was provided to the Courtenay Society by Thomas Thatcher who is a descendant of Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay. Thomas Thatcher's E-mail address is: ttha@uhura.cc.rochester.edu

This article on the life and family of Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay was compiled from biographies written by his son Austin Matlack Courtenay (my great-great-grandfather) and Austin's son Amy Courtenay Valiant (my great-grandmother). I have attempted to edit them, although the first-person narrative peeks out every now and then. When the writer refers to herself and her experiences, it is Amy Valiant Courtenay's reminiscences of her family - Tom Thatcher, 1996.

Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay was born in Belfast, Ireland on the 19th of April, 1822. He came from Ireland to St. Louis when he was eighteen years of age to join his older brother, William, who was engaged in trade up and down the Mississippi River. They had a successful business, shipping supplies down the Mississippi to plantation owners, and returning with a load of cotton to be shipped to England. Thomas also established himself as an insurance agent, selling fire, marine, and life insurance from an office at the corner of Main and Olive streets in St. Louis. In 1860, Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay was the sheriff of St. Louis county.

In 1847 Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay married Mildred Ann Clendenin. Mildred Ann Clendenin was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 3, 1827. Her father's people, the Clendenins, were from Harford Co., Maryland, although originally from Scotland, by way of Pennsylvania. Her mother's family were the Peays from Virginia. Her uncle, Austin Peay, married Peachy Speed, of a famous Louisville family. Joshua Speed was in President Lincoln's cabinet.

Mildred's (or Minnie, as she was known) father was a merchant in Louisville. Drawn by the prospect of new opportunities in the west, he moved to St. Louis. Before he finally settled there he took Minnie with him on a visit to St. Louis. There she met a dashing young Irishman, Thomas Courtenay, and they were married. Since her father had already sold his home in Louisville, she was married at the home of her uncle and aunt, Austin and Peachy Peay. Their home was called "Farmington." It has been restored by the Kentucky Historical Association, and may been seen probably looking much as it did when Mildred and Thomas Courtenay were married there.

When the War Between the States came, Thomas had a thriving business in St. Louis, and was well established in a pleasant home. Naturally his sympathy was with the Confederacy. He enlisted in the Confederate army and received the rank of Captain. His family, consisting of his wife, a son Austin, and daughter Ellen (Nellie) moved to Harford county, Maryland, to live in the home of Henry Watters, a great-uncle of my father's mother.

Captain Courtenay developed the "coal torpedo;" hollow metal castings resembling lumps of coal, which, when filled with powder, were secreted in the coal bunkers of enemy vessles. When the bogus coal was shoveled into the fire boxes of ships' boilers, the resulting explosions either damaged or sank the ship. On 30 November, 1863, he submitted plans for using the Coal Torpedo against Union shipping to President Davis. The plan was approved by the Confederate Congress and on 9 March 1864 Secretary of War James Seddon authorized Captain Courtenay to employ up to 25 men in a Secret Service Corps. He was authorized to act against Union traffic on the waters and rails of the Confederate States, and was prohibited from acting against passenger vessels and vessels flying a flag of truce. Unfortunately for Captain Courtenay, a Confederate mail carrying details of the plan was captured and Courtenay and his associates became wanted men. Union Admiral of the Mississippi David Porter ordered, "I have given orders to commanders of vessels not to be very particular about the treatment of any of these deperadoes if caught--only summary punishment will be effective." Captain Courtenay obtained permission from President Davis to leave the country and go to England to raise money for the Confederacy.

In about 18645 Thomas Courtenay took his family to England where they lived until 1867. His family included his wife, daughter Ellen, and son Austin. Two sons had died in infancy, and another daughter, Mary Amelia Isabella, would be born in Baltimore in 1867.

After the war ended it was almost two years before Thomas Courtenay was permitted to return to the United States. His fortune was gone, as was his entire way of life. He established a branch of a London insurance company, and conducted a business of sorts. But his health was broken, and the obstacles to security too great for him to combat. He died at the age of 53 at Jordan Springs near Winchester, Virginia, on the 3rd of September, 1875. He is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

His letters to his children show him to have been a cultured and educated man, kindly and deeply concerned for his family's welfare--not only in material ways, but for a growth in character and matters of the spirit.

Mildred Ann Clendenin Courtenay lived with her son Austin's family from her husband's death in 1875 until her death in 1903. I recall her very vividly as a sad and disappointed woman. Her portrait and early photographs indicate she was a pretty and vivacious young woman. She was musical and I have books of her music, the sweet sentimental airs dear to her generation. I know she sang at "benefits" given in London on behalf of the Confederacy. She did exquisite handwork. Sadly, life dealt harshly with her and her training and discipline had given her no armor with which to withstand the blows. Mildred Ann Clendenin Courtenay died in Chillicothe, Ohio, February 23, 1903. She is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Now briefly, I'll write of the three children of Thomas and Mildred Courtenay. Two boys died in infancy. Austin Matlack Courtenay was born 1850 in St. Louis, MO and died in 1938 in Delaware, OH.

After the war was over and his father returned to the United States Austin helped his father in his insurance business office in New York. But the call of the Methodist ministry was too strong to be ignored, and in April 1869 he was made a lay preacher in the Baltimore Conference.

In 1870 he married Mary Florence Valiant. She was the daughter of Mary Clendenin who was the daughter of Adam Clendenin and Sophia Chandler. So my mother's mother and my father's mother were both Clendenins and cousins, although not of the same generation. Mary Florence, called Florrie, was born on the Eastern shore of Maryland in 1853, and died in Meadville, PA, in 1897.

She was a lovely person, gentle, a little shy, but so kind and understanding. She was a skillful artist and an exquisite needlewoman. Her sense of humor and her courage in her illness endeared her to many people.

In 1903 he married Calista McCabe Manly of Delaware, Ohio. Her father Dr. Lorenzo Dow McCabe had been a professor at Ohio Weslyan University, and her mother, Harriet Clark McCabe was co-founder of the WCTU, with Frances Willard. Calista (Kitty, she was called) was a widow with one son John McCabe Manly, aged seven. Kitty was teaching Greek at OWU when my father met her.

He never actually retired, for released from active service, he raised money to build the Children's home in Worthington, Ohio, a Methodist project, preached for the Lord's Day Alliance, and worked for the Anti-Saloon League. He and Kitty lived in Delaware, Ohio, in the old McCabe house. It was there he died on December 18, 1938.

Thomas Edgeworth and Mildred Ann Courtenay had two other children who lived to maturity. Ellen Watters (Nellie) Courtenay was born in 1856 and died in Baltimore August 17, 1938. Aunt Nellie lived in Baltimore for many years. For many years she was connected with an architectural firm. She never married. She was alert, interesting, vivacious, a great reader.

The other daughter was Mary Amelia Isabel Courtenay, who was born in 1867 in Baltimore and died June 24, 1943 in Columbus, Ohio. Aunt Mary was never married. She loved a house, but lived her whole life in other people's houses; her brother's for most of her life, and mine for the last twenty years of her life. I believe she thought of my home as hers. I hope so. My husband (Joseph Herbert Brightman) died in 1922, and I had three small children. I was going to teach Latin in Bexley High School, and Aunt Mary came to care for the children and "keep" house. She was so good and kind and thoughtful and we loved her. She had the faculty of making other people's tasks, their joys or sorrow, hers. She was cheerful and energetic. If I were to write her epitaph, it would be to use her own words, said as she tied on an apron, "what can I do to help?"

But I must relate one incident of Aunt Mary which she loved to tell. During World War I she was living in Chillicothe with a dear friend who needed her. She joined the Red Cross sewing team and became all involved in the work. Camp Sherman was located on the outskirts of Chillicothe, and they were training big dogs there for Red Cross field work--carrying medical supplies to the wounded. One day a call came from Camp Sherman to the Red Cross to ask if someone could deesign, cut, and sew coats for these dogs to wear when they were on duty. Aunt Mary thought she could, and she made patterns and fitted well tailored coats to Saint Bernards and German Shepherds, making them the most stylish and best dressed animals ever sent out on a mission of any sort.


"The Courtenay Family" by Austin Matlack Courtenay: