By Mike Steely
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Kentucky’s controversial politician, Civil War ambassador to Russia, and emancipationist will be the topic of historian Ed Archer’s speech on Tuesday, January 13, before the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable. Archer, the great-grandson of Confederate General James Jay Archer, is also noted for his demonstration of Civil War medical equipment.
Cassius Clay was born into a wealthy, slave-holding family. His father, General Green Clay, was a Revolutionary Soldier and veteran of the War of 1812. Gen. Clay settled in Kentucky, built and operated a ferry on the Kentucky River, and built a two-story brick home. Cassius inherited the home (White Hall) and the business.
As a young man Cassius grew to hate slavery and fought politically to free slaves. He spoke at rallies and chanced to meet Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln became president he named Cassius his minister to Russia.
Clay served in the Kentucky Legislature, published an anti-slavery newspaper and was one of the founders of the national Republican Party. He also helped negotiate the sale of Alaska from Russia.
When Clay returned to Kentucky he brought a small boy with him and, after 45 years of marriage and 10 children, his wife divorced him. He was remarried at 84 to a 15-year-old girl, but the union only lasted a few years. In his final years, Clay became demented and occupied the large mansion, often sitting on the porch with loaded guns at hand. He died in 1810.
The White Hall State Historic Site is open for visits April through October each year and is located just off Interstate 75 at the Boonesborough Road Exit, west of the interstate on White Hall Road.
The monthly meeting of the Roundtable features speakers on many aspects of the Civil War and is always held on the second Tuesday of each month. The meeting is held at the Bearden Banquet Hall, 5806 Kingston Pike, and open to the public. Dinner buffet is served at 7 p.m. for $ 15 for members and $ 17 for non-members and reservations can be made by calling 671-9001.