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

Richardson, Lewis

(born: 1792) 

In 1846, an escaped slave named Lewis Richardson gave a speech about having been treated badly while a slave of Henry Clay at the Ashland Plantation in Lexington, KY. Richardson's speech was given at Union Chapel in Amherstburg, Canada West on May 13, 1846. Richardson said that Henry Clay had been portrayed as a kind master, but based on his experience, that was not true. It was well known that Henry Clay was opposed to the protection given to escaped slaves in Canada. Clay was a very public figure: he was a U.S. Senator, a former Secretary of State, and a U.S. presidential candidate. Clay was not in favor of freeing slaves in the United States but was for freeing them and colonizing them in Africa.

A response in opposition to the colonization scheme appears in an editorial by Kentucky native Henry Bibb in his Canadian newspaper Voice of the Fugitive, "To the Honorable Henry Clay of Kentucky," 07/02/1851. Henry Bibb was speaking on behalf of the former slaves who had escaped to Canada, including Lewis Richardson, Clay's former slave. Lewis Richardson is referred to as possibly "a slave difficult to manage" in Black Refugees in Canada, by G. Hendrick and W. Hendrick. Richardson had five previous owners before he was purchased by Henry Clay in 1836.

The publishing of Lewis' speech in several newspapers caused Henry Clay to speak out. He denied the accusations. According to authors Hendrick and Hendrick in an article in the Lexington Observer & Reporter newspaper, overseer Ambrose Barnett also denied Richardson's claim of being flogged with 100 lashes and said the whipping of 16 lashes was justified due to several infractions. The debate continues today as to who was telling the truth. It is not known what became of Lewis Richardson after the speech in Canada West.

For more see "From the Signal of Liberty - The Slave of Henry Clay," Signal of Liberty, 03/30/1846 and in The National Anti-Slavery Standard, 04/16/1845; chapter 6 - "Lewis Richardson, formerly a slave on Henry Clay's plantation" on pp. 73-76 in Black Refugees in Canada, by G. Hendrick and W. Hendrick, (quotation from p. 75); Lewis' speech at the website, Lewis Richardson, "I am free from American Slavery" 1846; and Narrative Compromise: African American Representation at Henry Clay's Ashland Estate by Sarah McCartt-Jackson [online .pdf at Western Kentucky University, Manuscripts and Folklife Archives].

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“Richardson, Lewis,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 23, 2024,

Last modified: 2017-12-02 19:11:48