The Mill Boy of the Slashes

The Mill Boy of the Slashes


Henry Clay is a native of Hanover county, Va. He was born on the 12th of April, 1777, in a district of country familiarly known in the neighborhood as the “Slashes.” His father, a Baptist clergyman died during the revolutionary war, leaving a small and much embarrassed estate, and seven children, of whom Henry was the fifth, to the care of an affectionate mother. The surviving parent did not possess the means to give her sons a classical education; and the subject of our memoir received no other instruction than such as could be obtained in the log-cabin school houses, still common in the lower parts of Virginia, at which spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic are taught.

He was only five years old when he lost his father, and consequently, his circumstances in early life, if not actually indigent, were such as to subject him frequently to hard manual labor. He has ploughed in cornfields, many a summer day, without shoes, and with no other clothes on than a pair of Osnaburg trowsers and a coarse shirt. He has often gone to mill with grain to be ground into meal or flour; and there are those who remember his youthful visits to Mrs. Darricott’s mill, on the Pamunkey river. On such occasions his general equipment was a horse, with a bridle made of rope, and no saddle. Upon the horse would be thrown a bag, containing three or four bushels of wheat or corn; on this bag the future statesman would mount and go to mill, get the grain ground, and return home.
It is from these facts that Mr. Clay obtained the sobriquet of “the Millboy of the Slashes.”


The Hanover County Slashes is an area of piney woods in south-east Virginia, just north of Richmond.  The “slashes” are narrow ravines in the sandy clay soil.  Slash Church (erected 1729) is the oldest frame church in continuous liturgical use in Virginia.  The nearest town to Clay’s birthplace was Ashland.  In later years, Clay called his estate in Kentucky “Ashland.”

“Osnaburg” is a type of fabric, very rough, of linen/jute.

The Pamunkey river is about five miles northeast of Ashland.  It is a tributary of the York river.

Tomorrow: The Farewell Speech of Henry Clay to the Senate of the United States

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