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BIOGRAPHY: Matthew Clay, Jr. born March 25, 1795

This biography is included in the Book  First Families of Lawrence County, Alabama Volume I




Lawrence County, Alabama


Matthew Clay (b. March 25, 1754 Halifax Co., Virginia – d. May 27, 1815 VA) was the father of the Clays of Lawrence County, Alabama, and a Revolutionary War Soldier. During the Revolutionary War, he entered the Ninth Virginia Regiment in 1776, transferred to the First Virginia Regiment in 1778, and to the Fifth Virginia Regiment in 1781, being successively promoted to first lieutenant, captain, and quartermaster. He was mustered out in 1783. After serving in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1790 to 1794, he was elected to Congress as a Democratic-Republican, serving eight terms, from 1797 to 1813. Defeated for reelection in 1812, he was again elected two years later. He served from March 1815 until his death May 27,1815. Matthew Clay, Sr. was the son of Charles Clay(1716-1789) and Martha Patsy Green Clay (1719-1798) and the grandson of Henry Clay (1672 Chesterfield Co., VA – August 3, 1760) and Mary (Mitchell) Clay (Jan 16, 1693 Chesterfield Co., VA-Aug. 7, 1777)


His second son, Matthew Clay, migrated to Madison County, Alabama in 1816 in the company of his intimate friends, Arthur R. Hopkins, and John Moseley.

Matthew Clay, Sr. (b. 1754) supported ardently supported Thomas Jefferson. He is said to have been an imposing person with dark eyes and hair. He married Miss Polly Williams, the mother of his children. She died in 1798 and he afterward married a widow Saunders.

“In 1811 Matthew Clay, Sr.. had to bear the infliction of a great sorrow; he had a daughter, Mary Clay, of great beauty and promise, who was one of the victims in the fire which consumed the Richmond Theatre. Some of the wealthiest and most distinguished citizens of Virginia were in this sad list. Governor Smith, of Virginia, had married a niece of the wife of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, (the identical Miss Reed who saw the Doctor when a youth walking down the street munching his roll of bakers bread) and had carried his wife, and another lady, to the Theatre that night. On the alarm of fire, he hurried out the two ladies he was escorting and dashed back into the body of the burning building to rescue other ladies, and that was the last of this noble man. Mary Clay, (as I have been told by a venerable lady who married her brother), was soon to have been a bride, and the last time she was seen, she was standing at a window, with her arm resting in that of her lover, waiting for a rescue—which never came.

Amanda Clay, another daughter of Matthew Clay, Sr. of Virginia, was an invalid and had epileptic fits every two weeks. Her father supposing she would never marry, gave her a much larger portion of his estate, in his will, than any other child. But nevertheless, she found a husband in George P. Kezee a man of great sagacity. I saw him but once, and that was when he came to this county, to get “his belongings” from the Executor. She lived but a few years, and had several children.

Joseph Clay was the eldest son of Matthew Clay, Sr. of Virginia, and had blue eyes and light hair. His father was boring for salt, near Sparta, in middle Tennessee, and young Joseph was sent to superintend the work. There he came across a sprightly blooming girl (thirteen or fourteen years old), the daughter of a respectable farmer of that vicinity, Margaret Bowen, and married her against the consent of her parents. She made him an excellent wife, and after his death, in West Tennessee, she reared his children well, for she was a woman of intellect, and much decision of character. When over eighty years old she became blind from cataract, and not only consented to a surgical operation but refused to be held when under the knife. At ninety years of age (1887) she was living with her grand-daughter, Mrs. Stevenson, in San Francisco, and had uncommon activity, and could see well to read.

The children of Joseph Clay and Margaret Bowen (except two who died unmarried) were Amanda Clay and Clement C. Clay. Amanda married Norment Cherry. Their daughter Hetty married a Mr. Stevenson and was a widow living in San Francisco with three children in 1887.

Major Clement C. Clay son of Joseph Clay was a gallant soldier during the civil war— settled in Memphis, after it as a commission merchant, and afterward removed to San Francisco, California, where he has amassed a large fortune. He had a high character in business circles, and also in the Methodist Church, South, to which he belongs (having been a lay-delegate to the last General Conference). He married the only daughter of Rev. Phillip Tuggle of the same church, and had at least two children.”

Matthew Clay, Sr.. died suddenly while making a speech at Halifax Court House, Virginia in 1815.

Matthew Clay Jr., son of Matthew Clay, Sr. being young and fiery, engaged in a fight with pistols, during a heated election, missed his antagonist, Rice, and the ball broke the jaw-bone of Major William Fleming, who was then and continued through life, one of his best friends.

In January 1819, he removed to Lawrence County, Alabama, with the same friends, Hopkins and Moseley, who settled on adjoining places. Matthew Clay, Jr. possessed himself of the magnificent plantation, later owned by Capt.. C. C. Swoope. He soon established a comfortable home, where a generous hospitality was dispensed to his young friends. He built, at once, a double log house, with two stories, hewn neatly, with a broad hall below; and at that early day, such a house was considered a badge of gentility. On the walls of this hall, hung the antlers of many a buck who had been killed in the chase, and each one had a story. But there was one pair not broad, but crumpled, that had more points than any other in this hunting gallery, and which had a peculiar history, which he was fond of relating.


The Chase at Melton’s Bluff


“Early one Monday morning, a man belonging to Matthew Clay, Jr. came home from his wife’s house (which was in the valley to the north) and informed him that he had’ seen the largest and fattest buck his eyes had ever beheld, leap from a field of corn and peas. Clay felt sure it was the ” big buck” which had been so often hunted unsuccessfully. Instead of sending the man to the field, he mounted him on his mule and sent him round to summon his friends to the hunt. Horses were fed, guns were cleaned and loaded and breakfast was dispatched, and the signal horn was blown. It was long, scraped very thin, and blown by Clay (whose lungs were strong), and who knew how to modulate the notes of the instrument, from its loudest blast to its lowest flute-like notes. The music rose first above the trees, and then on the lower stratum of the clouds until it was lost in the distance. Presently it was answered by one at Hickman’s Spring (now Wheeler), and then by another, far away. The cavalcade then started, Horace in front. But I must tell you who Horace was. In those days, when a planter could live like a gentleman and entertain his friends, there was one great drawback on his personal comfort, and that was, that he had to ride with the hounds and drive the deer from his lair amidst briars and thickets. Now, Horace was a mulatto boy, very smart, very light for his years, fond of dogs and a bold rider; and he was gradually inducted into the office of ” driver.” Mounted on “Long Hungry,” a long, lean horse, of good blood, it was rarely the case that he failed to come to the stand with the hounds. He used a ram’s horn, whose shrill, penetrating notes could be distinguished over every other in a hunt.

On this particular morning, Horace led out his hounds and put them on the track of the deer. At firs,t the “old buck” rose and hoisted his white flag, and bounded contemptuously before the hounds, like a high-mettled charger just turned out to pasture, in large circles. The ramshorn interpreted every movement as plainly as if you had seen it. But pack after pack came to the help of the Clay hounds, and the clamor behind him sounded louder and louder. Moreover, he was fat and began to be thirsty, as, in the autumn, the surface streams are dried up, and he took a straight course for the Tennessee River. The ramshorn now gave no uncertain sound, the hounds no longer baffled on the track, the hunters closed in with shouts behind the noble animal. He mounts the ridge from which he can see the azure gleam on the surface of the broad river, which had been so often his refuge. He plunges down the long slope, in sight of the whole field of hunters and hounds. He nears the bank and his hopes revive, when, just in front, he is met by a shot from a gun heavily loaded, but aimed badly by a raw hunter who had the “buck ague.” In his desperation, he turns back through the hounds and huntsmen, and seeing no other opening, he dashes into the main and only street of Melton’s bluff. Clay now on a fine horse, was on his right, and a towering perpendicular bluff on the left, and the hounds snapping at his heels. Every man, woman, and child in the place, stood and witnessed the unwonted spectacle.

Clay fires his short rifle as it lay across his saddle, but the bullet passes over the back, and quick as lightning, he turned squarely to the left and leaped over the bluff, while three of Clay’s best hounds leaped after him. They were all four found dead at the foot of the bluff, and so ended the hunt of the “Big Buck.” His horns are still kept in the family, as a trophy of this chase.

We have noted Matthew’s qualities as a citizen and a neighbor, and we will now notice him as a public man. His first services were in the House of Representatives of our State Legislature, of which he was a member in 1820, 1821 and 1822. His natural abilities were great, but, up to this time, he had not profited by the opportunities afforded him of obtaining a complete education. But when stung by ambition, he gained information rapidly not only by reading but by association. He and Mr. Hopkins were intimate friends, although Hopkins was a wonderful student, and he was warm-hearted and social to a fault. They were quite dissimilar; but, as in chemistry with two substances of a different nature, so there was an affinity between them. Clay in the intervals of time he could spare from his friends, his hunts, and his canvasses, gained much knowledge in his intercourse with Hopkins, by absorption.

Matthew Clay, Jr. was the embodiment of independence and fearlessness. There was no policy in his movements, and he was sometimes reckless; but like all the Clay’s I have known, he was incapable of doing a mean thing. He had warm friends and vindictive enemies; and when he was engaged in a canvass, it was a whipping race, from the drumbeat to the moment the candidates passed ” under the string.” He was a strong public speaker, and very efficient as a member of the Legislature. His influence was increased by his gaiety, affability, and love of fun.

At Cahaba during the session mentioned, he and DR. Shackelford, of Texas fame, met for the first time, and they soon found they were congenial spirits. At that early day, Cahaba was dependent for its supplies entirely on Mobile and steam navigation. During one very dry season, steamboats could not run, and members were put upon short rations. Clay had bought a ham and had been filling up the cavities of himself and friends by night suppers of broiled ham. But the bone had been polished clean. One night, at bedtime, when the wood-fire had burned down to coals, as he and Dr. Shackelford were sitting alone, a rollicking member came in, and Clay proposed to bet him an oyster supper for twelve, and champagne, that he could have a dozen members in his room in fifteen minutes, without saying a word. The bet was made, and Clay laid the ham bone on the live coals. The delightful flavor soon permeated the hotel, and the members filled the room, before the expiration of the time. When the first steamboat arrived the oyster supper came off, and they had a high time. One incident I remember: A gentleman who presided over one of the houses, of fine abilities, but whose form was crooked from rheumatism, after being thoroughly relaxed by the champagne, rose up, flourished his arm over his head, and cried out, “By George, Matt! I am as straight as a shingle.” This was too much, and the party adjourned with a good laugh.

Year by year, without losing the cheerfulness and animation which made him the life of every company, he seemed abler, as a politician. When John Qunicy Adams became President, he opposed his administration. This was painful to him because it was sustained by Henry Clay, the statesman of Kentucky, who was a kinsman, and who when a young man was the protege and favorite of his father—as will be seen in a subsequent number. But Clay, of Lawrence, as much as he admired his Kentucky relative, could not forget the Jeffersonian creed he had inherited. If some young reader should inquire, what that creed was, I answer that it is to be found in the tenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, which provides that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This doctrine secures home rule to the States, prevents collision between the general and State Governments, and faithfully observed, will “invoke the music of the spheres.” But you sometimes hear it said that the Civil War altered the constitution. War cannot alter a constitution unless it overturns the government founded upon it.

Mr. Clay was elected State Senator in 1825 and made a very efficient member until his career was suddenly arrested by death. Early in February 1827, he left the Capital, and traveled home by stage, across the mountain, during a very cold spell. He was seized with pneumonia and fell its victim at the early age of thirty-two years. He is buried on his plantation at Swoope Cemetery #4 in Lawrence County, Alabama.

Mr. Clay had married May 1824, Frances Ann Saunders daughter of Rev. Turner Saunders, and sister of the writer, and she is still living and in full possession of all her faculties (1887). She married 2nd Jacob Swoope, after his death, she married Col. Thomas C. Billups (1804-1866)

The children of Matthew Clay, Jr. and his wife Frances A., were Thomas F. and Matthew.

Thomas F. Clay was born in 1825 and was, in person and character, much like his father. His home was the abode of hospitality, and he was nearly always surrounded by friends. His life was short, and he died in 1856, after having been in feeble health for several years. Thomas F. Clay, in 1845, married Caledonia Anne Oliver. She was the daughter of John Oliver who married Ruth Ann Weedon They once lived on the place, later owned by Malcolm Gilchrist, Jr. in Lawrence County, and moved afterward to Columbus, Miss. John Oliver was born in Petersburg, Ga., and was the son of John Oliver of that place, and the brother of Mrs. Robert H. Watkins, Mrs. Caledonia Clay was still living in 1887 and was amongst the excellent of the earth. Their children were (besides one who died in infancy), three in number:

  1. Alice Clay who married in 1871, Wheeler Watson, who entered the C. S. Army at the age of sixteen, and served to the bitter end, making a splendid soldier, and since the war an energetic planter. They had five young children living: Asa W., Caledonia C., Alice, Fanny B. and Thomas C.
  2. John Oliver Clay who married in 1884, Fannie Wilson Lawler He was a young energetic planter, living in the Mississippi bottom. They leave one young son, Thomas F.
  3. Fannie Lou Clay who married Henry D. Watson, in 1881. He was a progressive planter living near Columbus, Miss. They had one young child.

Matthew Clay, second son of Matthew and Frances A. (Saunders) Clay was born on February 18, 1827, two weeks after the death of his father, and was still living in 1887. He was a Doctor. In person, he differed from his father, for, like his mother, he had blue eyes and a light complexion; but had a disposition much like his father He married Mary Virginia Harrison, the youngest child of Mr. Isham Harrison and, as the Harrison family were well worthy of union with the Clays. Mary was black-eyed and noted for beauty, in a family of sisters who were famous for attraction. She had fine judgment, and, like her mother, great force of character. She loved her husband and children and the Baptist Church; was neutral in nothing, and yet her manner was so sweet that her decision of purpose never gave offense. It was a sad misfortune when she died.” Dr. Matthew Clay, died August 13, 1901, and is buried in Friendship Cemetery in Lowndes County, Mississippi along with his wife, Mary.



  1. Early Settlers of Alabama” written 1899 by Col. James Edmonds Saunders and published in New Orleans.
  2. Find A Grave Memorial# 84952029 # 12916145 # 12916111 # 12916112 #12916144 # 53791211# 42730851# 42730995# 42731442# 104022951

This biography is included in the Book  First Families of Lawrence County, Alabama Volume I



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