Farmer Henry Clay, the Progressive Sage of Ashland – Part One

YOU ARE HERE -> c1812 to 1852

Part One:  An Introduction by James F. Hopkins, excerpted from The Journal of Southern History, February 1949

Henry Clay, Farmer and Stockman

During the years in which Henry Clay was active in politics, he was at the same time a farmer who never lost his love for the soil.  Near to his heart was Ashland, the estate lying on the Richmond Road about one and one-half miles east of Lexington, which he accumulated by his own efforts and which was to him a source of great pride.

Ashland grounds during Clay’s time

To Clay, Ashland was home, a place of refuge where after strenuous effort in the arena of politics he might return to recuperate and to wrestle with plans for future campaigns.  There he could relax, stroll meditatively along the shaded paths, look across his fields of clover, hemp, and grain, and hear amid the trilling of the birds the surly bellow of the Durham bull, the whinny of the thoroughbred colt, and the more raucous though no less pleasing song of the imported Maltese jackass.

“An Eventful Day with Henry Clay” by Alvan Fisher, only known image of Clay tending his livestock. (From Eric Brooks, Images of America, Ashland The Henry Clay Estate. Thanks to Vose Galleries.)

Ashland was more than a place where the statesman might become absorbed in the details of agriculture and thereby escape thoughts of the strife and disappointments of public life; it was a farm operated in a practical manner and according to the most progressive methods of the time.  Clay followed the principles of diversification and rotation of crops, the use of fertilizer, and the planting of legumes.

The results seemed to justify the efforts, and his own opinion of his ability as a farmer was expressed on one occasion in a letter to a friend: “My farm is in fine order, and my preparations for the crop of the present year, are in advance of all my neighbors.  I shall make a better farmer than statesman.” [HC to Frances Brooke, 19 April 1830]

In the case of at least one crop, hemp, his successes led him to publish for the benefit of others accounts of the methods which he practiced at Ashland. [More about hemp at Ashland:]

Clay was deeply interested in livestock and in the improvement of breeds of various farm animals.  He imported breeding stock from abroad, he brought fine sheep and cattle from the seaboard states, and he availed himself of the presence in Kentucky of stallions of good blood which were imported by other stockmen.

Ashland’s barnyards contained many fine pigs and sheep

In regard to this interest in stock raising he once wrote:

‘There is a great difference, I think, between a farm employed in raising dead produce for market, and one which is applied, as mine is, to the rearing of all kinds of livestock.  I have the Maltese ass, the Arabian horse, the merino and Saxe merino sheep, the English Hereford and Durham cattle, the goat, the mule, and the hog.  The progress of these animals from their infancy to maturity, presents a constantly-varying subject of interest, and I never go out of my house, without meeting with some of them to engage agreeably my attention.’

Marker installed at Ashland in 1937

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s