Henry and Lucretia Clay and Their Eleven Children

When studying history it is easy to forget just how different the past is from our own times.  The people we encounter in history are children of their times, just as we are children of ours, and the impact of that fact should never be forgotten by anyone seeking to understand a period of history.

Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, one of the towering figures of the first half of the nineteenth century, and his wife Lucretia provide a simple example.  They had eleven children.  In a time when families with more than three children are a rarity, that alone is a fact that separates them from most of us, but it is the fate of those children that points out another major difference.  At the time of his death, Henry Clay had outlived all of his six daughters and one of his five sons. Of the six girls, two died in infancy, two as children and two as young women.  One son, Henry Clay, Jr, predeceased his father, dying at the battle of Buena Vista in 1847.  By the time that Lucretia Clay died, she had outlived another son, who died a few months before her in 1864.

The sorrows of the Clays were not unusual.  High mortality among children was simply a sad fact of life.  Abraham Lincoln viewed Henry Clay as his ideal of what a statesman should be, and modeled his political principles after those of Clay.  Lincoln was preceded in death by two of his sons, and Mary Todd Lincoln would outlive the third, leaving their oldest son Robert as the sole survivor of the Lincoln family.  Such familiarity with death was a constant feature of life until the advent of modern medicine in the last century, and is a factor that separates us from life as it was lived by almost all the generations that came before ours.  Just one of countless factors we must keep in mind when viewing “as if in a glass, darkly” the foreign country that is the past.

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Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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4 Comments

  1. My Paternal grandmother hsd 13 siblings as I recall. I remember only three of her sisters and one brother. One child died at home literally while they were burying one in the family graveyard. Measles, swine flu and a third disease small pox maybe came through the area in three succesive years in early 1900’s was responsible for most of the deaths. What broken hearts must they have had.
    Good point of history.
    In Christ
    Dennis McCutcheon

  2. My paternal grandmother lost one infant Dennis, a baby girl, and also had five sons and one girl. The family, my grandfather was a shoemaker, were poor as Church mice, but everybody got fed, clothed and had a roof over their heads. My dad told me that his first new suit of clothes was the uniform he was given when he joined the Air Force at 18 in 1951. My dad’s feet were twisted around when he was born, and the doctor who delivered him cried when he did so, saying he would probably never walk, After several surgeries he did and even ran track in high school. People in those days accepted sorrows as a part of life that would quickly break the spirit of most people today.

  3. People talk about the good old days, I am glad I live in the age of antibiotics… I enjoy your blog. Well the lego things were a little strange awhile back.
    Ha.
    In Christ,
    Dennis McCutcheon
    Vine International – Guatemala

  4. Lego forever Dennis, or so my kids would have said ten years ago when they were still kids!


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