Clay, Henry (1777-1852)
Perhaps Kentucky’s most famous man was Henry Clay, who was actually born in Virginia. His father died when Clay was five. He did manual labor and worked in a drug store to help support his mother and family. At 16, he found a mentor, a Virginia lawyer who took him to Richmond to study.
Arriving in Lexington in 1797, Clay was seeking his fortune as a lawyer in a place known for many land disputes. His success in the courtroom propelled him into politics where he spent 43 years as a public figure, 27 years of which he was a U.S.Congressman and Senator. Among his accomplishments were the acquisition for the United States of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, the admission of Missouri to the Union, and the annexation of the Republic of Texas. Clay served four years as Secretary of State. He is also remembered for his three unsuccessful quests for the presidency.
Following his death in Washington, his remains were returned to Lexington by train, carriage and barge. All along the 1,200 mile route, people gathered to salute “The Great Compromiser.” In Lexington, Clay lay in state at his home, Ashland, and it is said that when his funeral cortege was entering The Lexington Cemetery gates, the end of the procession of mourners was just leaving Ashland, more than two miles away.