I just finished reading a couple of books on Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, and instead of providing a standard summary and overview of the books as I usually do, I thought I'd share a few of the stories I found especially interesting on this unique man.
Clay was a distant cousin to famous Kentucky statesman Henry Clay and was born in 1810 and grew up in Madison County. He was educated at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, Transylvania in Lexington, and finally at Yale in Connecticut, where he heard famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and first developed his antislavery stance. When Clay returned from his studies in the North and entered law school (again at Transylvania) he proposed to Mary Jane Warfield. Although her family was opposed to their union he prevailed, but not before having and "affair of honor" with another suitor.
Dr. John P. Declarey had also desired the marriage of Mary Jane Warfield and had not made it a secret to Clay. Finally things came to a boil and Clay went to Louisville to settle the matter man to man. The two combatants brawled briefly on the steps of the doctor's hotel then Clay offered Declarey a chance to duel. The two met, but for some reason were unable to complete the duel. Clay returned to Lexington and married Mary Jane. The doctor did not drop the business though even with losing his desired bride. During the Clay couple's honeymoon Declarey circulated stories of Clay being a coward. At first Clay let it go, but finally he had had enough and went again to Louisville to settle the issue once and for all. Clay went to the doctor's hotel and waited to see him. When Declarey arrived and saw Clay waiting he did not address Clay and quickly went to his room. Clay waited in Louisville a couple of days, but Declarey made no appearance, so Clay returned to Lexington. Clay soon learned that the doctor had committed suicide by severing his wrist arteries.
Clay was a firm believer in the freedom of speech and he defended that right to the fullest. In 1843 while he was attending the Robert Wickliffe and Garret Davis debate at Russell's Cave Spring he was attacked by a hired killer, Samuel Brown of New Orleans. Brown fired at Clay at close range and hit him in the chest, but Clay, who never went anywhere without one of his trusty bowie knives, fiercely defended himself and seriously injured Brown. Clay was carried from the scene by friends to check his wounds. When his coat was removed it was discovered that Clay's bowie knife scabbard had stopped Brown's bullet; Clay was left with only a sore red spot on his chest.
In 1849 Kentucky was moving toward another constitutional convention. One of the hot topic, as it was throughout the nation, was slavery. Clay attended a meeting at Foxtown in Madison County to stump for antislavery delegates to the convention. After speaking Clay was dismounted the stage when he was called a liar and was stabbed deeply in the chest by Cyrus Turner, the son of a pro-slavery delegate candidate. Clay attempted to draw his own knife, but the closeness and hostility of the crowd limited his movements and his knife fell to the ground. Clay was finally able to wrest the knife away from one of the throng, cutting his fingers to the bone. Clay gathered up the strength to finally get at Turner and stabbed him. Clay's 14 year-old son Warfield tried to had his father a pistol, but Clay's loss of blood caused him to lose consciousness. Another member of the Turner party tried to shoot Clay in the head but the pistol misfired on several attempts. As he passed out due to loss of blood, Clay reportedly said, "I died in the defense of the liberties of the people." Clay wouldn't die that day, although his attacker Turner did die a few days later.
C.M. Clay appears to have been somewhat of a ladies man for practically his whole life. His successful campaign to have Mary Jane Warfield as his own despite her parents and her other suitor's objections shows his determination and a romantic side that otherwise was seldom on display by this seemingly rough and independent individual. But, it appears that Mary Jane was not the only woman that caught Clay's eye over his lifetime. Clay's participation in the Mexican War did not bring him the martial honors that he had hoped for. Rather he and a number of his men were captured and spent the majority of their time in the country incarcerated. While being held captive Clay was allowed a liberal stay. He was often allowed to venture out at his leisure. He met a Mexican woman on one of these ventures that he later explained was one of the most captivating and beautiful women he had ever met. Later while serving as Minister to Russia during the Civil War he allegedly had an affair with a Russian ballerina. The relationship produced a son that he called his "adopted" boy and that came to live with Clay in Kentucky in the 1870s. Clay's relationship with Mary Jane obviously suffered from his extramarital liaisons and they were finally formally divorced in 1878. Clay's last romantic adventure was in 1894, when he was 84 years old. The old man married 15 year-old Dora Richardson, daughter of one of the tenant farmers on his property. The relation was short lived though as Dora left after a couple of years and Clay granted her a divorce. He later bought her some property in Woodford County where resettled and married a man much closer to her age. Cassius M. Clay lived a lonely existence his last years in his White Hall mansion until he passed away in 1903.
In an age of intriguing individuals, Clay is one of the most interesting personalities I have come across. If you want to learn more about this unique Kentuckian, read Lion of White Hall: The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay by David L. Smiley, or Cassius Marcellus Clay: Firebrand of Liberty by H. Eward Richardson.