While the world remembers Henry Clay as one of the most significant and effective politicians and statesmen in American history, few realize that he was equally skilled as a progressive agrarian and stockman. It was in this role that Clay was happiest. In the spirit of Washington and Jefferson, Henry Clay embraced the emerging scientific approach to agriculture and animal husbandry in particular, in order to develop his estate, Ashland, into a national model of progressive farming.
At Ashland, Clay introduced jacks from Spain and Malta and Durham short horn cattle from England. He was the first to import Hereford cattle into America. Clay’s vision was to breed the finest animals best suited for his farm, his state, and the country he served so well. While home at Ashland, Clay exchanged the “strife of politics” for a “passion for rural occupations.” There he was surrounded by well maintained outbuildings, fields of grain and a variety of trees, plants and vegetables. Henry Clay’s major cash crop was hemp and he grew thousands of pounds of it. It was predominantly made into rope and bagging for the cotton industry. Clay’s agrarian knowledge was evident in his letters and articles, and he was both judge and award winner at local stock fairs. He sat on the committee of the Kentucky Society for Promoting Agriculture as early as 1819. Clay contributed articles to major farm journals and frequently corresponded with the leading agriculturalists of the day. When traveling in England and Europe, he made a point to observe the latest farming and breeding techniques, always looking for ways to adapt them to his farm.