Henry Clay and His Wife Lucretia
Henry Clay (1777-1852)was an American
statesman known as "The Great Compromiser." Clay was a congressman,
senator, speaker of the house, and secretary of state. He was a major promoter
of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the compromise tariff of 1833 that ended
the Nullification crisis, and the Compromise of 1850, all efforts to balance
the rights of free and slave states. He was twice the unsuccessful Whig
candidate for president. His wife, Lucretia Hart Clay, was the daughter of
Colonel Thomas Hart. They had eleven children -- six daughters and five sons.
Notes for Lucretia (Hart) Clay:
History of Kentucky
Vol. 3, William Elsey Connelley (American Historical Society 1922)
The following account of Lucretia Hart
Clay, wife of Henry Clay, is abridged from a paper written by Susan M. Clay,
her daughter in-law:
"Every now and then we see in a
book or newspaper some slighting allusion to the wife of Henry Clay, who is
spoken of as inferior in birth mind, education, etc., to her distinguished
husband. This is, possibly, owing to the fact that for eighteen years she
did not accompany him to Washington, but led a quiet, almost secluded life at Ashland.
"As a daughter-in-law of Mrs. Clay
and one who was intimately associated with her I feel it is due to her memory
that I should correct these false impressions. I am now an old woman, in my
eightythird year, and, therefore, can not attempt to elaborate my sketch of
Mrs. Clay and her antecedents, but will give the bare, plain facts, the
absolute truth as I know it to be."
Lucretia Hart Clay was a daughter of
Col. Thomas Hart and Susanna Gray. The Hart family was established in Hanover
County, Virginia, in 1690. The only son of a pioneer was Thomas Hart, who
married Susanna Rice, and their oldest son was Col. Thomas Hart, who was born
in 1730 and accompanied his mother and the other children to North Carolina in
1760. He became prominent in the Colonial and Revolutionary history of North
Carolina, being a member of the Provincial Congress at New Bern of August 25, 1774, also
attended the Convention of April 4, 1775, and was a delegate to the
Assembly at Hillsboro August 21, 1775. He was an officer in the
Revolutionary army, and was a member of the famous Transylvania Company.
His brother, Captain Nathaniel Hart, was killed by the Indians near Boonesboro,
Kentucky in 1782, and it was Susanna, daughter of Capt. Nathaniel, who married
Col. Isaac Shelby, first governor of Kentucky. Col. Thomas Hart reared in
his home his orphan niece, Ann, who became the wife of Jesse Benton, and her
oldest son was the famous Thomas Hart Benton, the distinguished United States
senator from Missouri.
Lucretia Hart Clay's mother was Susanna
Gray, an heiress, only child of Col. John Gray and granddaughter of John Gray
Sr., who came to this country with Governor Gabriel Johnston in 1734 and
settled in North Carolina. His son, Col. John Gray, was born in 1724 and
died in 1775. He was a loyalist and is said to have opposed the marriage
of his daughter on the ground that Colonel Hart was a rebel.
Col. Thomas Hart lived in North
Carolina until 1780, when he moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, where his
daughter, Lucretia, was born March 18, 1781. In 1794 he removed from Hagerstown
to Lexington, Kentucky, where he died in 1808. He was the father of three
sons and four daughters. His son, Capt. Nathaniel Hart, commanded the
Lexington Light Infantry in the War of 1812, and was wounded and taken
Prisoner at the battle of the River Raisin and massacred by the Indians.
His oldest daughter married Dr. Richard Pindell, a surgeon in the Revolutionary
army. The second daughter married Samuel Price, a lawyer, and she was the
mother of Mrs. Marshall, wife of Chief Justice Thomas A. Marshall, of Kentucky.
The third daughter married James A. Brown, United States senator from Louisiana
and afterward minister to France during two administrations.
Lucretia Hart received her education in
Hagerstown to the age of fourteen and afterward in Lexington where there were
better educational advantages than in most other inland towns. In a
letter written by Colonel Hart to a friend in 1796 he speaks of his youngest
daughter: "Lucretia, our first rylander, is now fifteen years
of age, a fine, sprightly, active girl, and pretty well accomplished in her
education. She was married to Henry Clay in 1799 at the age of
eighteen. At this time she was a slender, gracefully formed young girl
with beautiful hands and feet, her complexion was fair, her features delicate,
her eyes blue, and she had a wealth of beautiful auburn hair.
Soon after their marriage Mr. Clay
entered public life, and Mrs. Clay became what is now termed a national woman,
the wife of one of America's greatest statesmen. For some inexplicable
reason the public has an erroneous idea of her, and now, having given her
antecedents, I will speak more particularly of herself. I knew her before
my marriage, and intimately, from 1843, when I became her daughter-in-law.
"Let us first see what the author
of a recent history entitled 'The True Henry Clay' says of her: 'Mrs.
Clay was of good family, but uneducated; had she possessed intellectual
qualities--those which would have acted as a counterbalance to her husband's
impulsiveness-his career might have been different! Having been
intimately associated with Mrs. Clay for many years, I speak advisedly when I
say that she was better - educated than most women of her day, had exceptional
advantages. And as to her intellectual qualities, I scarcely understand what
the writer means.
"From Mrs. Clay's antecedents,
rearing and associations it can be seen that there could have been nothing
commonplace about her. Her intellect was vigorous and remained unimpaired up to
the time of her death in 1864, when she had just passed her eighty-third
year. Her character was strongly marked, and all who knew her were
impressed by the simplicity and sincerity of her nature. Unlike her
illustrious husband, she was reserved in manner and undemonstrative, but beneath
a seemingly cold exterior was a warm-and loving heart, full of generous
impulses and ready sympathy. She had a nature, too, of rare unselfishness, and
a wonderful amount of self control which sometimes astonished members of her
"Again the writer of 'The True
Henry Clay' says Mrs. Clay seldom went to Washington. She had no taste for
public life and the farm made great demands on her time. The estate was large
and the slaves numerous. She superintended every operation. * * * She made the
farm pay when her husband did not use up all the surplus in entertaining. On
leaving for Washington he always gave her a generous check for expenses, which
she as regularly gave back to him on his return. She was said to be the 'best
farmer in Fayette County!
"There is not a single assertion
in the above that is not incorrect. In the first place, contrary to the
author's statement, Mrs. Clay nearly always accompanied her husband to Washington
until 1835. She was there during Madison's second term, and often told me
of the ladies holding up their handkerchiefs to see which way the wind was
blowing, fearing the coming of the British ships in the War of 1812. Mr.
Clay left her in Washington when he went to Ghent in 1814. In a letter
written from that city in March of the same year, she tells him that her
sister, Mrs. Brown, will accompany her to Kentucky. Upon Mr. Clay's return to
this country in 1815 he joined her almost immediately at Ashland, and in 1816
she went with him to Washington. The next year, November 9, 1817, their son,
James Brown Clay, was born in that city. She returned home with her
husband in 1818. In 1820, Mr. Clay, being obliged to retire from Congress
on account of pecuniary troubles, brought on by loaning his credit, resigned
the speakership and vacated his place in Congress until 1823, when he was
returned again to the House of Representatives and re-elected speaker.
Lucretia Hart was born in Hagerstown, Maryland,
on March 18, 1781 and was the youngest daughter of Colonel Thomas and Susanna
Gray Hart. She married Henry Clay, (1777-1852) who had a long political
career and was U.S. Diplomat, U.S. Congressman, Speaker of the House of
Representatives, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and Presidential Candidate.
More about the Harts and related families
In Lucretia's great granddaughter's
journal, it is noted, "Henry Clay, a young lawyer, came to Lexington in
1797. Although penniless and almost friendless in the midst of a distiguised
Bar, he was full of courage and of hope. Very soon he was a constant and
welcome visitor at the hospitable home of Colonel Hart where two charming
unmarried daughters and the first piano brought to Lexington, made an
attractive social center; and when young people gathered at her home, Lucretia
played for them to dance. Two time-stained piedes of music, The Lexington Grand
Waltz and The Ashland Quadrilles, dedicated to Mrs. Henry Clay by Professor
Wilhelm Iucho, are tributes to her musical ability." (Simpson, Letter to)
"Clay surely did not choose
Lucretia because of her 'good face, form, or personal appearance' since she,
like her husband, lacked physical beauty. Far more important were her amiable
disposition and family connections, for the marriage placed Clay among the best
and most influential economic and political circles in Kentucky. He now had
impeccable connections that allied him to some of the most eminent families in
the state. He married as well as his highest expectations could have demanded.
Dark-eyed and dark-haired, lively and plain-looking indeed, 'a very plain and
unadmired woman' by eastern standards - she nonetheless captured Clay's fancy.
In describing her, all observers, even the most sophisticated and cynical in Washington,
said she was 'kind,' 'good,' and 'above all discreet.' During the many years
she lived in the capital it was reported that she never made a single
"After a brief courtship Lucretia
agreed to marry young Henry Clay. She was eighteen at the time of her marriage,
and the wedding took place in her home on Mill Street in Lexington. It proved
to be a successful marriage, and Lucretia made a dutiful and loving wife. A
spirited woman, she nonetheless tolerated her husband's swearing and his
periodic gambling and drinking bouts. In fact, she was once asked if she minded
her husband's habitual gambling. 'Doesn't it distress you,' sniffed a Boston
matron, 'to have Mr. Clay gamble?' Lucretia looked surprised at the
question. 'Oh! dear, no!' she replied very innocently, 'he most always
"Lucretia also proved to be a most
competent manager and businesswoman, selling milk, butter, and cured hams to
earn additional money when necessary. Because of her husband's frequent
absences from home, she necessarily took over the management of their property.
She made a practical study of agriculture when they later moved to a plantation.
She supervised the overseer and became something of an 'oracle' among farmers
in the vicinity where they lived. It was reported that every time Clay
left home he gave her a large check with which to manage their home. Upon his
return she invariable returned the check to him with the remark that she had
found no use for it. Lucretia loved her home and all the domestic chores
associated with running it. She hated the social whirl in Washington that so
attracted her husband later on."(Remini)
Lucretia Hart Clay
Lucretia was an adoring mother of the
eleven children she bore her husband. "Henrietta, the oldest child died
when she was still a little girl. Theodore, the oldest son, was injured when he
was a boy and had to live in an asylum. Thomas Hart married Marie Mentelle and
was a farmer. They lived at a beautiful place called 'Mansfield' on part of Ashland
farm. Susan Hart, Mrs. Martin Duralde, died as a young married woman of
twenty-one. Ann Brown married James Erwin and died when her child was born.
They lived at the 'Woodlands' (then a part of Ashland farm, now a part of Woodland
Lucretia Hart died at fourteen, and
Eliza died at the age of twelve while on the way to Washington with her family.
Another daughter, Laura, died at the age of three months. Henry Clay, Jr.,
married Julia Prather after graduating at West Point. Their home was called 'Maplewood'.
Henry Clay, Jr., was killed at the battle of Buena Vista during the war with Mexico.
At the time of his death, he was leading a charge of his troops. James Brown
Clay married Susan Jacob of Louisville and became a lawyer and congressman.
They lived at 'Clay Villa', now in Bell Court. After fighting in the
Confederate Army, he died in Canada. John Morrison Clay married Mrs. Josephine
Russell Erwin, the widow of Henry Clay's grandson.
It was very sad for Henry and Lucretia
to lose all their daughters when they were young. In fact, of the eleven
children, only four sons lived longer than their father. But while they lived,
they had gay times in Ashland. It was a great event when their father came home
from Washington, often bringing important guests with him. Among those were
James Monroe, Aaron Burr, Martin Van Buren, Daniel Webster, Lafayette and Lord
Morpeth. When the members of the family were separated, they kept up a lively
correspondence." (Simpson, The Cat)
Ashland - The Henry Clay Estate
Richmond and Sycamore Roads, Lexington, KY
Henry Clay was a leading figure in
the first half of the 19th century. He was a senator, Speaker of the House of
Representatives, Secretary of State, and three times candidate for the
presidency. He came to Kentucky in 1792 and married the wealthy heiress,
Lucretia Hart, with whom he had eleven children. He lived at Ashland from 1811
until his death in 1852.
The estate is surrounded today by 20 acres
of historic grounds and is very beautiful. Clay had hired the famous L'Enfant,
who had laid out Washington City, to plan his gardens, and Clay set out only native Kentucky
plants and trees and shrubs. The original house was finished in 1811. The
one-story wings, were drawn up by Benjamin H. Latrobe, with an astonishing
design: the white bricks on the ends of the house were almost intertwined with
Clay spent extravagantly on his 600-acre
farm he called his Promised Land. For the house he bought marble and silver and
books of handtooled leather for his octagonal library. For the farm he imported
livestock including thoroughbreds which were trained on one of the first private racetracks
west of the Appalachians. Many important people visited here, for example, the
Marquis de Lafayette in 1825. As a young girl, Mary Todd would visit Ashland frequently to visit
the family of the man who was a hero not only to her father, but also to her husband-to-be.
In 1857 his son James finished rebuilding
the house which had been torn down to its foundations due to structural
problems. The architect Thomas Lewinski redesigned the new house.
Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, Progressive reformer, moved to this house
when she was ten years old.