John Clayton was born in Fulham, Kent, in England in 1695. He is believed to have attended Eton College and the University of Cambridge to study law. Clayton first appears in colonial records in 1720, as the clerk of Gloucester County. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had three daughters and five sons and lived on a tobacco and livestock plantation. Clayton devoted time to studying botany, and assisted Mark Catesby with specimens. Clayton identified plants, and traveled throughout Virginia to collect samples. He compiled a Catalogue of Herbs, Fruits, and Trees Native to Virginia for Gronovius, a botanist in the Netherlands, who published the collection as Flora Virginica. Clayton formed a friendship with Bartram, a botanist from Pennsylvania, who later included him in the American Philosophical Society. Clayton traveled to Canada in the 1740s, and later traveled West. In the mid-1750s Clayton attempted to publish his own Flora Virginica, but demand for the book was nonexistent due to a new edition published by Gronovius’s son. Even late into his life, Clayton’s enthusiasm for botany continued, and he was elected the first president of the Virginian Society for the Promotion of Usefull Knowledge. Clayton died in 1773 in Gloucester County.
Clayton is the Virginia Cottage at Mountain Lake Biological Station. Lewis described him as “clerk of the court of Gloucester County, friend of Linnaeus and Gronovius, explorer of the Virginia tidewater country, author of the first book on Virginia flora.”