Clinton, Charles (1690–1773), colonist in America, was born in Co. Longford. It is possible that he was distantly related to the de Clintons, prominent Anglo-Norman landowners in Co. Longford and Co. Louth who remained catholic until 1660 at the earliest. Alternatively he may have been one of the economic migrants who moved from Ulster to Co. Longford in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. One chronicler has suggested that his paternal grandfather was an adherent of King Charles I who fled to Ireland after the defeat of the royalists, and that his maternal grandfather was a captain in the army of Oliver Cromwell (qv).
Charles Clinton was an elder of the presbyterian congregation at Corboy, Co. Longford, and helped to organise a group exodus to North America. His title ‘colonel’ (he was either in the militia or once in the regular army) would suggest that he had some social standing in the county. His diary gives an insight into the appalling conditions that travellers faced on their outward voyage to the New World. They set sail from Dublin on 9 May 1729 and reached America on 4 October (twenty-three weeks later). It would seem that measles or some similar acute viral infection broke out, and Clinton recorded the names of eighty-three passengers who died on the voyage, including two of his own children. Given that ships of this date carried an average of 150 passengers one can surmise that about half of Clinton's Corboy pilgrims died en route. Another, less convincing account, suggests that the captain of the ship tried to starve the passengers in order to obtain their goods.
In spring 1731 Clinton and his brethren reached Ulster county, sixty miles (96 km) north of New York, and settled there. He purchased a tract of land and became a farmer and land surveyor. Clinton became a useful and respected member of the colony and served as a JP and as county judge. He also drew on his earlier military experience and became lieutenant-colonel in the Ulster county militia; he served under Col. Bradstreet at the siege and capture of Fort Frontenac from the French in 1758.
His children had important military and political careers in America. His eldest son, Alexander (b. c.1730), graduated at the University of Princeton and became a physician; his second son, Charles, was an army surgeon and served in the Havana campaign in 1762; the third son, James (b. 1736), pursued a military career and reached the rank of colonel in 1775 and brigadier-general in 1776. Clinton's fourth son, George (b. 1739), was also in the army and served alongside his father and brother James at the capture of Fort Frontenac. He was elected to the New York assembly (1768) and the New York provincial congress (1777). From 1804 to 1812 he served as vice-president of the United States. Charles Clinton and his sons demonstrated their loyalty to the crown during the wars against France in the 1750s and 1760s, but the Clintons became fierce defenders of the ‘liberties of their country’ and opposed Britain during the imperial war of 1775–83.
Charles Clinton died in Orange county, New York, on 19 November 1773. Some Clinton family papers are held at the New York State Library.