From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Clay, Henry (formerly enslaved)

(born: 1861) 

Henry Clay was born to enslaved parents in Louisville, KY. In 1892, he left for New Orleans to join a railroad construction crew that was transported to Guatemala in Central America. The crew of 75 men were to build a railroad from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City. The pay was to be in Guatemalan silver at $10 per day per worker, but none of the men got paid because the contractor ran off with the silver and left the crew stranded.

Clay remained in Guatemala for 39 years. He was one of the last three crew members still living  when he returned to the United States in 1931. Many of his fellow crew members had died fighting during the revolts in Guatemala; revolutionists were recruited with the promise of $150 in silver and a rifle. Clay had preferred to fish for a living rather than fight as a Guatemalan revolutionary.

For more see "Old Negro returns, ends 39-year exile," New York Times, 7/15/1931, p. 21.

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NKAA Source: The New York times (newspaper)

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“Clay, Henry (formerly enslaved),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-01-03 20:44:02