Jack Williams and Frances Clalin-Clayton

I have spent some time now considering things that a gentleman might appreciate—articles of attire, pastimes, accoutrements, and philosophies.

However, I have either neglected or through my subconscious avoided outlining the necessary character traits that make a gentleman. To do so would be a difficult task, as being a gentleman is more qualitative art than quantitative science.  Nevertheless, in an effort to rectify this omission, I have spent considerable time perusing my library for the names of men who have set examples of exemplary gentlemanly behavior. My mission is, simply, to make a clear distinction of gentlemanly traits — those qualities that separate a gentleman from a common man.  During my research, I encountered the names and stories of several men who exhibited uncommon lives. I read about swashbuckling heroes who risked all and showed no fear in the face of danger; I read about professorial types who worked diligently to improve the lives of others through cures or humanitarian inventions; and I read about men who lived lives of extraordinary experiences—who sought to suck out all the marrow of life.  Upon my bookshelves, big names and big personalities abound. However, it was the story of one innocuous man that, for some reason, seemed most compelling to me.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, a Minnesota farmer named Jack Williams traveled to Missouri to enlist in the Union Army. Apparently a capable horseman, he was assigned to both the Missouri Cavalry and (mounted) Artillery. His service took him eastward to Tennessee where some of the most intense fighting was taking place. He was involved in numerous engagements with the Confederate Army, including the Battle of Fort Donelson and the Second Battle of Murfreesboro. Williams served gallantly in a total of seventeen battles, was wounded seriously three times, and captured by the enemy once. He sought no recognition and, by all accounts, preferred no attention at all. Those that know him knew only that he believed in the cause and was willing to sacrifice all.

By any measure, Jack Williams was a true patriot and gentleman who voluntarily risked his life for the sake of the Republic. What makes his life truly remarkable, however, is the fact that Jack Williams was actually a woman. Frances Clalin-Clayton changed her name, donned the attire of a man, and traveled to Missouri to join the Union Army despite being officially forbidden to do so.

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Frances Clalin-Clayton’s contribution to her nation was equal to any other soldier in that war, though she did not receive equal recompense. Because she eventually revealed her gender to superior officers, she was was not eligible for full payment for her service. This soldier loved her country enough to risk her life, despite the fact that her government would, at the same time, snub her for doing so. That is, I am certain, at least one true mark of gentlemanly behavior.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that I am not much closer to defining the necessary qualities that make a gentleman. However, I am  now certain that those qualities are not necessarily anatomical.

*  *  *  *  *
The character Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, seems to me very similar to Frances Clalin-Clayton—scheming but exceptionally moral, faithful to a cause despite the risk, and comfortable with leadership.  I therefore recommend that you revisit this play while giving special attention to Rosalind and her male alter-ego Ganymede.


Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Semantics « Modern Gentleman - October 21, 2011
  2. KM Parentin - October 21, 2011

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