History of Clay County, Alabama
Clay County was established on December 7, 1866 from land taken from Randolph and Talladega County. Named after the famous statesman Henry Clay, the county seat itself was named after his estate in Lexington, Kentucky called “Ashland”. Clay County was formed for geographic reasons.
The citizens of the area had a difficult time reaching the county seat of Wedowee in Randolph County because of the Tallapoosa River to the east. Talladega was difficult to reach because of the intervening mountains.
Clay County lies in what was some of the last lands occupied by the Creek Indians before their removal west in 1832. Due to its hilly terrain and lack of rich land, early settlers to the area tended to be poor farmers.
During the antebellum period, the land was characterized by small farms of less than 50 acres with corn being the major crop. During Reconstruction, legislators created new property taxes that forced farmers into indebtedness and tenancy and by the 1880s, Clay County had one of the highest rates of indebted farmers. The Populist movement which swept Alabama during the 1880s and 1890s took firm hold in Clay County, which became known as “the cradle of Alabama populism.”
In the county seat of Ashland, Populist Party members published the People’s Party Advocate and threw their support behind the party’s gubernatorial candidate Reuben F. Kolb. As the Populist Party and farming waned, Clay County’s economy switched to mining and manufacturing, as mines, timber firms, and chicken plants moved into the area.
The county remains one of the most rural and sparsely populated counties in Alabama. Natives of Clay County include Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, and Commander Joe Edwards, Jr., U.S. Navy Astronaut.
Learn More Resources
Articles by Don C. East, Local Historian
A Brief History of Clay County, Alabama by Don C. East (PDF Download)
A Brief Historical Sketch of Lineville, Alabama by Don C. East (PDF Download)
A Sketch of Clay County – The Land and Its People by Don C. East (PDF Download)
Thar’s Gold in Them That Clay County Hills by Don C. East (PDF Download)
The Indians of East Alabama and The Place Names They Left Behind by Don C. East (PDF Download)
A Historical Overview of the Forestry Industry in Clay County by Don C. East (PDF Download)
The War of 1812 in Clay County, Alabama by Don C. East (PDF Download)
The Old Indian Stone Fort by Don C. East (PDF Download)
Springtime on Lake Wedowee by Don C. East (PDF Download)
Nature’s Autumn Color Show in the Lake Wedowee Area by Don C. East (PDF Download)
Books and Pamphlets Written About Clay County, Alabama, compiled by Don C. East, 2009
Northeast Alabama Genealogical Society
P. O. Box 8268
Gadsden, AL 35902
Publication Northeast Alabama Settlers