Chest and Trunk


As is often the case with Americans, we can trace our ancestry back to immigrants who came here searching for a new life. The same can be said of many Kentuckians whose families then took it one step further, moving from one state to another in hope of new opportunities. Historically, Virginia was a popular starting point when settlers embarked on their journey westward. Much like our modern luggage, these families also had baggage to hold their belongings. Instead of a rolling suitcase, it was more than likely a chest or a trunk such as the examples submitted by Jean from Lexington and Michell from Worthington, respectively.

Jean is descended from immigrants from Scotland. Her ancestors used this chest (pictured left) to carry their possessions to the U.S. in the 1820s and her family has kept it as a reminder of their Scottish origins. Michell’s grandmother came from Virginia to Bear Creek, KY with this trunk (pictured right).  There, she started a family of 13 children of which there are now 180 descendants in Kentucky. We can wonder what these two families might have brought with them in their luggage to start their new lives.  

The Clay family story is similar to Jean and Michell’s. Henry Clay’s ancestors were from the British Isles and settled in Virginia. After many years, Clay’s mother and step-father decided to move the family west to Kentucky. While there are no artifacts in Ashland’s collection that came with the Clay family to this country, we do have an artifact that came with Henry from Virginia to Kentucky. You might be thinking we would pair Clay’s own trunk with this submission, but he used the trunk we have later in life after he had already established himself in Kentucky. The only thing in our collection that we know he brought with him was his law license. This single piece of paper provided him a career of over 50 years and the means to insure his family’s wealth and growth. Perhaps it came in a trunk like Michell’s! 

Now you may be thinking we have no artifact at all associated with Ashland from the British Isles–surprise! Though it did not belong to a member of the Clay family, it belonged to someone who spent many years with them and was a companion, helper, and friend. The Clays had an English housekeeper, Sarah “Sally” Hall. She came from Hull, Yorkshire, England in about 1802 and brought these stockings with her . They are silk and the designs at the ankles, called clocks, show that they were moderately expensive. They may have been among the few possessions she brought over (perhaps in a chest like Jean’s!). Her family kept them as a reminder of that journey and later donated them to Ashland. They are the only surviving possession of anyone employed or enslaved at Ashland as far as we know. 

To view Henry Clay’s law license in our online catalog, click here!

To view Sally Hall’s stockings in our online catalog, click here!


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