Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate
120 Sycamore Rd., Lexington, KY 40502
Ashland was once a 600-acre plantation and home of Henry Clay. While Ashland was never a plantation in the sense of the cotton or sugar producers of the deep South, it did have a significant cash crop - hemp. Enslaved workers grew thousands of pounds of hemp for fiber at Ashland, turning it into rope and bagging for the Southern cotton industry.
For nearly half a century, hemp was the principal focus of Henry Clay’s personal economy and remained a mainstay of this Ashland farm. In 1811, he wrote to Adam Beatty, "With regard to Hemp I feel all the solicitude that belongs to this great staple of our Country." Hemp became such a part of Henry Clay’s personal economy that it greatly influenced his public career. He was a staunch advocate of American hemp and often used his political clout in Congress to advance and protect the domestic industry.
Clay's public platform, the “American System,” was heavily influenced by hemp. He wanted the government to invest in road, bridges and waterways to improve his access to markets across the country. He also supported protective tariffs against cheaper, foreign fibers to help encourage the purchase of domestic hemp. Specifically, he sought to interest the Navy in purchasing Kentucky cordage for its ships over preferred Russian hemp. In 1842 he wrote, “I’m going to rig the Navy with cordage made of “American Hemp - Kentucky Hemp - Ashland Hemp.”
Today, The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation currently owns and operates Ashland, maintaining the estate as a national historic landmark and educational center for the cultural and social history of the 19th century and specifically, interprets the life and times of Henry Clay, the Clay Family and other residents of the estate for the public. In 2016, hemp returned to Ashland as part of the Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program. A small demonstration plot grows near the mansion for visitors to view. Click here to learn more about Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate.