African Americans at Ashland

Henry Clay purchased around sixty African Americans, enslaving many more over the course of his life. The men, women, and children who were enslaved at Ashland did more than work to build wealth for the Clay family. They were human beings with hopes, dreams, concerns, struggles, and beliefs.

Historical documentation about the enslaved men, women, and children at Ashland is, unfortunately, often limited to their labor or their purchase. There are some written accounts, however, that give us a glimpse of life for the enslaved people at Ashland.

Ashland was an approximately 600 acre estate. Enslaved people worked long hours against their will either inside the mansion or on the farm. Every facet of life at Ashland was made possible by forced labor–from growing, harvesting, and breaking hemp, to raising livestock, cooking, and cleaning for the Clays. Families were always under threat of being separated by assignment to work on different parts of the farm or being sold apart.

After emancipation, there were African Americans like the Hummons family who lived and were employed at Ashland by the McDowells (Henry Clay’s granddaughter and her family).

Stories of courage, heartbreak, and resistance are forthcoming on the website. Check back soon for resources including lesson plans, maps, and more. Thanks to a Local History Trust Fund Grant administered by the Kentucky Historical Society, we will be launching an African American History tour in the autumn of 2019.

If you have an ancestor who lived or worked at Ashland, or if you have artifacts, documents, or photos we would urge you to share them with our Curator, Eric Brooks (ebrooks@henryclay.org or 859-266-8581 x 203). If you are interested in becoming involved as a volunteer or discussing our programming, please contact Manager of Tours & Education, Cameron Walpole (cwalpole@henryclay.org or 859-266-8581 x 205). Please check back here to see what we have discovered about the African Americans who lived and worked at Ashland.

Henry Clay’s enslaved valet Aaron Dupuy. Courtesy of University of Kentucky Department of Special Collections
Charles Dupuy, son of Aaron. Followed his father as Henry Clay’s enslaved valet. Courtesy of a Private Collection.
Bob and Agnes Holton, employees of the McDowells. Courtesy of University of Kentucky Department of Special Collections.
Thomas Hummons, employed by Nannette McDowell Bullock as a driver and valet, pictured here with Larry and Carey Bogard.