Five promissory notes made by Henry Clay Jr. (1811-47), the Kentucky legislator and soldier who was the third son of the U.S. Senator Henry Clay. Four of the loans totaling $900 were advanced in June and August 1845 to Clay by George M. Sutton.
A graduate of West Point, Clay returned to Kentucky to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1833. In 1835, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives and served one term. He served in the Mexican-American War and was killed in 1847 at the Battle of Buena Vista, leaving behind a wife and five children.
The funds borrowed from Sutton are equivalent to more than $30,000 today, and it’s not known whether the notes were repaid because the earliest due date was July 1848, well after Clay was killed in battle. The group contains one other promissory note for $250 issued in August 1847 by P.B. Thompson.
It appears debt afflicted both father and son. In his essay “Capturing Henry Clay: Through A Year of the Days of His Life” (2013), Charlie Muntz notes that the senior Henry Clay wrote to his son in 1845 concerning a $5,000 gift from friends which reduced his debt to John Jacob Astor to $10,000: “I mean to write in a week or two and propose a further indulgence of two years for this latter sum, and to state positively that it is the last indulgence that will be asked.” Over the course of his life, Astor would loan Clay large sums of money. However, Clay Sr. managed to pull himself out of debt before his death in 1852 and ultimately left his heirs a large inheritance.
The promissory notes are handwritten and signed by Clay Jr. on light blue and cream color strips of paper. The Thompson note has been repaired with silk tape on the verso. Item #72613