C. C. Clay papers, 1811-1925

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Clay, C. C. (Clement Claiborne), 1816-1882
Clement Claiborne Clay (1816-1882) was a lawyer, U. S. Senator, Confederate diplomat, planter, and enslaver from Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama. He was married to Virginia Carolina (Tunstall) Clay (1825-1915). His father, Clement Comer Clay (1789-1866) was a U.S. Congressman and Governor of Alabama. Collection includes personal, business, and political correspondence, bills of sale for enslaved people, accounts, diaries, memoranda, college notes, scrapbooks, and clippings of Clement Claiborne Clay, and of his father, Clement Comer Clay; his mother, Susanna Claiborne Withers Clay; his wife, Virginia Caroline Tunstall Clay; and brothers, Hugh Lawson Clay and John Withers Clay. Letters deal with family matters, including Alabama and Washington, D.C., social life, education, the management of cotton plantations, bills of sale for and correspondence regarding enslaved people, civic affairs in Huntsville; state and national politics and elections; Clay Sr.'s governorship; Clay Jr.'s service in both the U.S. and Confederate senates; ante-bellum politics; the organization of the Confederacy; Reconstruction politics, including Clay Jr.'s arrest, imprisonment, and his wife's efforts to obtain his release; Clay Jr.'s efforts to retrieve his property and re-establish farming operations, and to settle his father's estate; Virginia Clay's dissatisfaction with Reconstruction period social life, her tour of Europe, 1884-1885, and her efforts to operate the plantation after her husband's death.
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Material in English
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Personal, business, and political correspondence, bills of sale for enslaved people, accounts, diaries, memoranda, college notes, scrapbooks, and clippings of Clement Claiborne Clay (1816-1882), lawyer, U.S. senator, Confederate diplomat, and planter; of his father, Clement Comer Clay (1789-1866), lawyer, planter, U.S. congressman and senator, and governor of Alabama; of his mother, Susanna Claiborne (Withers) Clay (1798-1866); of his wife, Virginia Caroline (Tunstall) Clay (1825-1915), who wrote A Bell of the Fifties: Memoirs of Mrs. Clay, of Alabama, covering Social and Political Life in Washington and the South, 1853-1866: Put into Narrative Form by Ada Sterling (New York: Doubleday, 1904); and of his brothers, Hugh Lawson Clay and John Withers Clay, and of their wives.

Letters deal with family matters, including education of the elder Clay's three sons at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville; management of two or more cotton plantations and approximately fifty enslaved people, including a number of bills of sale; civic affairs in Huntsville; state politics, 1819-1860; Democratic and Whig party alignments, rivalries, and disputes; presidential elections, especially in 1844, 1852, and 1856; Clement Comer Clay's governorship, 1835-1837. the Creek War, 1836; the panic of 1837, Clement Claiborne Clay's election as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1853 and his reselection in 1857. Other political matters referred to include the Compromise of 1850; Kansas-Nebraska difficulty; break with Stephen A. Douglas; Democratic Convention of 1860; secession; and organization of the Confederate government. Personal letters refer to social life in Alabama and in Washington, D.C.; visits to springs and health resorts; the movement and welfare of enslaved people, including discussions of hiring out to other plantations or households; and Clement Claiborne Clay's travels for his health through Florida, 1851, and later to Arkansas and Minnesota.

Subjects of the Civil War years include Clement Claiborne Clay's political activities in the Confederate States Senate; his relations with Jefferson Davis; Federal raids on and occupation of Huntsville, consequent disruption of civilian life, and demoralization of slaves; J. W. Clay's publication of the Huntsville Democrat in various towns; Clay's defeat in the election of 1863 for the Confederate Senate; his and other agents' work in Canada, assisting in the return of escaped Confederate prisoners to Confederate territory; plots of a general revolt in the Northwestern states designed to join these states to the Confederacy; the Democratic Convention of 1864; Horace Greeley's efforts for peace, 1864; plans and execution of the Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont, 1864; Clay's return from Canada, and the final days of the Confederacy.

Material relating to the aftermath of the Civil War concerns accusations against Clay for complicity in Lincoln's assassination, Clay's surrender to Federal authorities, his imprisonment at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and the efforts of Virginia (Tunstall) Clay to obtain her husband's release. Papers for the period 1866-1915 generally pertain to personal matters, principally Clay's poverty, his attempts to retrieve his confiscated property, the settlement of his father's estate, efforts to re-establish farming operations, and his years in the insurance business, 1871-1873, with Jefferson Davis; and Virginia (Tunstall) Clay's dissatisfaction with a restricted social life, her tour of Europe, 1884-1885, and her efforts in later years to operate the plantation. There are occasional references to political affairs.

The volumes consist of an executor's book of the estate of C. C. Clay, Sr., 1866-1869; letter books, 1864-1865; letterpress copy covering insurance business; memorandum books, 1853-1864, containing a mailing list of constituents and other notations; notebook, 1835-1841, containing college lecture notes; receipt books; legal fee book, 1814-1815; scrapbooks, ca. 1848-1903, one of which contains plantation accounts, 1870-1873, and minutes of the Madison County Bible Society, 1820-1830; and the diaries and scrapbooks, 1859-1905, of Virginia (Tunstall) Clay.

Correspondents include Jeremiah S. Black, E. C. Bullock, C. C. Clay, Sr., C. C. Clay, Jr., David Clopton [Virginia (Tunstall) Clay's second husband], W. W. Corcoran, J. L. M. Curry, Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, U. S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, L. Q. C. Lamar, Clifford Anderson Lanier, Sidney Lanier, Stephen R. Mallory, Nelson A. Miles, James K. Polk, John H. Reagan, R. B. Rhett, E. S. Shorter, Leroy P. Walker, Louis T. Wigfall, and William L. Yancey.

Description above taken from Guide to Cataloged Collections in the Manuscripts Department of the William R. Perkins Library, Duke University (1980) and added to in 2023 to indicate documentation of enslaved people.

Acquisition information:
The C. C. Clay Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift from 1933 to 1958.
Processing information:

Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff

Encoded by Noah Huffman, November 2010

Accessions from 1933 to 1958 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

Additional description to highlight enslaved people and evidence of slavery, in Correspondence folders dated before and during the Civil War, added by Tracy M. Jackson, November 2022 and May 2023.

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[Identification of item], C. C. Clay Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University